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The reports are almost unbelievable – and certainly not for the squeamish. They describe a ring of vicious sex traffickers who preyed on adolescent girls and operated with impunity for years, as authorities deliberately ignored and even covered up the evidence.

Among the victims was Amy, a young girl who was groomed for sex by some exciting new friends she'd made in the big city. They showed her a good time and made her feel special. By the time she was 14, she had been raped and abused repeatedly by at least six adults in their late teens and early 20s. She went to the police, who ignored her. Her parents begged for help, in vain. Social workers and police treated her like a "stupid, naughty girl," she told the Times of London.

Amy was just one of at least 1,400 girls who were groomed and raped over two decades in Rotherham, a grim postindustrial town in northern England. Most of the victims were working-class. They were typically 12 to 14 when they were lured into a life of drugs, alcohol and abuse. Nearly all the abusers were Muslim men of Pakistani origin.

Britain has had more than its share of sex scandals lately. But this one is by far the most disturbing. It has shaken the country to the core, and prompted searching questions about the role of "cultural sensitivity" in covering up the abuse. And it has raised wider issues about Muslim integration into British life.

"Men of Pakistani heritage treated white girls like toilet paper," columnist Allison Pearson wrote in The Telegraph. But authorities tried to bury the problem because they were afraid of being labelled racist, or that it might cost them votes. Front-line workers who tried to get police and bureaucrats to act were repeatedly harassed and intimidated. One researcher who had gathered extensive evidence was told she must "never, ever" refer to the ethnicity of the abusers. Her report was suppressed, and she was sent on a diversity course.

But now, the truth is impossible to ignore. A damning independent report, released last week, has confirmed all this and more. It identifies a "deep-rooted problem of Pakistani-heritage perpetrators targeting young white girls." Girls as young as 11 were raped by large numbers of men. Some children "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." Some returned to their abusers because they thought that was the only way to keep their families safe. But instead of arresting the perpetrators, police and senior social work managers blamed the victims. One mother of an abused girl, when asked why the authorities did nothing, replied: "They thought they were dirty little slags."

Rotherham is not an isolated case. Alexis Jay, the author of the independent report, says similar abuses have taken place in towns and cities across England. The abusers are not pedophiles, but groups of men who enjoy having sex with young girls, and have no problem with violence. As former home secretary Jack Straw once said, they regard young white girls as "easy meat." (He caught hell for saying that.)

Yet even now, few liberal politicians are willing to speak out. One exception is Simon Danczuk, a Labour MP from the Rotherham area. He describes the typical attitude of constituents who ask him to get a family member off the hook for similar abuses. "When I refuse, I frequently receive a tirade of abuse," he wrote in The Telegraph. " 'These girls are prostitutes,' one man shouted at me, and warned that I would pay a heavy price for not supporting him."

Andrew Norfolk, the Times journalist whose investigative reports prompted this inquiry and others now under way, has explained why this travesty is so toxic to Britain's liberal elites. "The suggestion that men from a minority ethnic background were committing sex crimes against white children was always going to be the far right's fantasy come true," he wrote. "Innocent white victims, evil dark-skinned abusers. Liberal angst kicked instinctively into top gear."

But no amount of liberal angst will make this story go away. Current Home Secretary Theresa May has acknowledged that "institutionalized political correctness" has inflicted appalling damage on the innocent. And the broader failures of Muslim integration are now too obvious to ignore. It's not just all the young men who run off to join the caliphate and saw off people's heads. It's the Birmingham school scandal, where it was discovered that dozens of secular schools had been targeted for Islamization by Muslim radicals. It's the imported culture of violence and misogyny.

As Dan Hodges (a professed liberal) wrote this week in The Telegraph: "We can't carry on like this. We just can't."

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