A new report concluded Tuesday that about 1,400 children were sexually exploited in one northern England town – a damning account of the collective failure by authorities to prevent children as young as 11 from being beaten, raped and trafficked.
Report author Alexis Jay cited appalling acts of violence from 1997 to 2013 in Rotherham, a town of about 250,000. The independent report came after a series of convictions of sex offenders in the region and groundbreaking reports in the Times of London that prompted the local council to launch an inquiry.
"The collective failures of political and officer leadership were blatant," said Jay, a former chief social work adviser to the Scottish government. "From the beginning, there was growing evidence that child sexual exploitation was a serious problem in Rotherham."
Attention first fell on Rotherham in 2010 when five men received lengthy jail terms after convictions of grooming teens for sex. Later, investigations began into why authorities failed to act even after front-line social workers suggested things were amiss.
Police "regarded many child victims with contempt," Jay said, adding that the first report that described the situation in Rotherham was "effectively suppressed" because senior officers did not believe the data.
Even more damning was the fact that victims described the perpetrators as "Asian" and yet the council failed to engage with the town's Pakistani community.
"Some councillors seemed to think it was a one-off problem, which they hoped would go away" Jay said. "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."
Jay cited examples of "children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next."