The shocking police failures exposed in Rotherham sex abuse probe

·5-min read
Police vans outside Rotherham police station following the publication of a report that found around 1,400 children were sexually exploited in the town over a 16-year period.
Police vans outside Rotherham police station following the publication of a report that found around 1,400 children were sexually exploited in the town over a 16-year period.

Failures by police investigating child sexual exploitation in Rotherham have been laid bare in a shocking new report which outlines how officers blamed victims for their abuse and treated vulnerable children like they "didn't matter".

South Yorkshire Police (SYP) admitted “we got it wrong and we let victims down” after the report by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) concluded the force “failed to protect vulnerable children”.

Between 1997 and 2013, more than 1,400 girls as young as 11 were abused, trafficked and groomed in the town by groups of men mostly of Pakistani origin.

However despite the IOPC looking into 265 separate allegations made by 51 complainants, most of them abuse survivors, no officers lost their job over the scandal.

Of the 47 officers investigated, eight were found to have a case to answer for misconduct and six had a case to answer for gross misconduct.

Five of these officers received sanctions ranging from management action up to a final written warning. Another faced a South Yorkshire Police misconduct hearing earlier this year, and the case was found not proven by an independent panel.

Rotherham police station following the publication of a report that found around 1,400 children were sexually exploited in the town over a 16-year period.
South Yorkshire Police (SYP) admitted “we got it wrong and we let victims down” after a report concluded they failed victims. (PA)

In many cases, officers had retired and could not face disciplinary proceedings, the IOPC said. Only two cases reached the point of a public adjudication hearing.

Read more: Rotherham child abuse scandal: IOPC report into police failings ‘lets down’ grooming survivors

The sun sets on a street with terraced houses in Rotherham, northern England, February 4, 2015. Rotherham's council leader and entire cabinet resigned after the publication of a report into their response to  years of child sexual exploitation in the town. The report said the authority was not fit for purpose and had been in complete denial after an earlier inquiry found that 1400 children, some as young as 11, were abused in Rotherham, by gangs of predominantly Asian men. REUTERS/Darren Staples   (BRITAIN - Tags: CRIME LAW POLITICS SOCIETY)
Despite widespread failures by police officers to protect child sex abuse victims in Rotherham, no officer lost their job (Reuters)

Here Yahoo News UK looks at some of the most shocking revelations in the report:

Police said child victims "consented" to their abuse

In some cases, police were not aware of the age of consent, and claimed girls as young as 12 were "consenting" to the sexual abuse.

In one such case, investigators were told that during a 2001 child protection conference, a Detective Constable commented a 12-year-old girl had provided consent in different sexual encounters.

IOPC director-general Michael Lockwood said in the report: “We found that officers were not fully aware, or able to deal with, child sexual abuse and exploitation offences and showed insufficient empathy towards survivors who were vulnerable children and young people.

“We saw examples of SYP seeing children, and young people, as ‘consenting’ to their exploitation, and a police culture that did not always recognise survivors as victims, or understand that, often, neither did those being groomed or abused.”

In one case, police received a report that a victim, aged 15, had been raped in a Rotherham park, suffering significant internal injuries.

According to the survivor’s father, the male officer dealing with the incident was "insensitive" and, even suggested to their father that this would "teach her a lesson".

A girl sits in Rotherham town centre.
A girl sits in Rotherham town centre.

Officers failed to obtain statements from victims

The report found officers "were not proactive in safeguarding victims", and there were "many" failures to obtain survivor statements, or to explore frequent missing from home behaviour, where the patterns could be linked to abuse.

When one woman called police to report an inappropriate relationship between her 12-year-old stepdaughter and an older man, she was told if the girl would not make a statement, there was nothing the police could do.

The woman felt there was no point in reporting the relationship and any future concerns, meaning the girl was further abused for the next four years.

Police did not see the victims as vulnerable children

Investigators discovered there were "stereotypes and misconceptions" relating to survivors which "persisted amongst officers" – and police records sometimes indicated survivors were viewed as perpetrators’ ‘associates’.

In 2008, concerns were raised that police had seen a survivor, in a stolen car, with a known perpetrator.

Instead of treating the survivor as a victim, she was treated as the "co-accused".

During one investigation, a former Detective Sergeant said described survivors as "worldly-wise and not meek and mild victims".

The report detailed how one parent concerned about a missing daughter said they were told by an officer it was a "fashion accessory" for girls in Rotherham to have an "older Asian boyfriend" and that she would "grow out of it”.

One survivor - who was 13 at the time she was abused - told the report: "No matter what bad experience I was going through there was never any concern for me as a child.

"I don’t recall a single time when the police treated me like I was a vulnerable child.

"Looking back, I now realise they had ‘adult expectations’ from children regardless of a child’s age. I was age 13 and I was told more than a dozen times I was responsible for my ‘behaviour’ for being sexually abused and exploited by several grown men."

Abusers weren't investigated after being caught with their victims

Many survivors told investigators that they were stopped in cars with perpetrators, but their names were never linked with perpetrators’ names on police intelligence systems.

There were also early intelligence records found regarding perpetrators, who were related, including concerns about them being seen with young girls and hanging around outside schools.

But police appeared to take no action.

The report detailed a survivor who was sexually exploited during the 1990s from the age of 11.

In once instance she was in the passenger seat of her abuser's car when it was stopped by police.

When she told the officer she was happy to be in the car, and volunteered information that she was living in a children’s home and that the perpetrator was their "boyfriend", the survivor said they were allowed to drive away.

In another case, police did nothing after they saw a victim involved in a sexual act with a perpetrator.

David Greenwood, a solicitor representing 80 Rotherham CSE survivors, said: “It shows the British public the level of disregard shown by South Yorkshire Police to female victims of sexual exploitation, it explains that even by the pathetically low standards of the police service it was ‘OK’ to not investigate these crimes properly or at all, and it will demonstrate how the system of police complaints has provided zero accountability and needs reform.”