A new report from a city in northern England suggests that social workers there feared being perceived as racist and “downplayed” the ethnicity of the sexual abusers of at least 1,400 children.
Authorities conducted an independent investigation into child sexual exploitation cases (CSE) between 1997 and 2013 in Rotherham, a town of around 250,000 in South Yorkshire.
“It is hard to describe the appalling nature of the abuse that child victims suffered. They were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten, and intimidated,” begins the report, commissioned by the Rotherham Metropolitan Bureau Council.
The report noted cases in which children were doused in gasoline and threatened with being set on fire. Others were threatened with guns and forced to watch rapes. Young girls as young as 11 years old were also gang-raped, according to the report.
“By far the majority of perpetrators were described as ‘Asian’ by victims, yet throughout the entire period, councillors did not engage directly with the Pakistani-heritage community to discuss how best they could jointly address the issue,” the report reads.
Fear of identifying the high proportion of Pakistani perpetrators contributed to the failure in thwarting the problem, the report concluded.
“Several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist; others remembered clear direction from their managers not to do so.”
As of 2011, Rotherham had approximately 8,000 residents of Pakistani or Kashmiri heritage. The area’s Asian community has grown in recent years and now houses eight mosques.
Religious leaders in those mosques also served as roadblocks to addressing the sexual exploitation problem, the report concluded.
“There was too much reliance by agencies on traditional community leaders such as elected members and imams as being the primary conduit of communication with the Pakistani-heritage community,” according to the report, which also noted that several Pakistani women said that the leaders erected a barrier that prevented open discussion of child sexual exploitation.
“One senior officer suggested that some influential Pakistani-heritage councillors in Rotherham had acted as barriers.”
“In the broader organisational context, however, there was a widespread perception that messages conveyed by some senior people in the Council and also the Police, were to ‘downplay’ the ethnic dimensions of CSE,” according to the report, documented interviews in which several counselors stated that they believed drawing attention to the ethnicities of the perpetrators would be “giving oxygen” to extremist political groups.
According to the Daily Mail, Rotherham first gained attention for its failure to address the crimes after five Pakistani men were convicted of sexually exploiting underage girls.