Only a small fraction of more than 1,400 victims who were sexually exploited as children in Rotherham over a 16-year period have come forward for help, according to a lawyer representing survivors.
A year after the publication of the Jay Report, which produced the shocking estimate that more than 1,400 children had been raped, trafficked, groomed and violently attacked in the South Yorkshire town, David Greenwood said he believes fewer than 100 of the girls involved have engaged with the raft of new inquiries.
Mr Greenwood, who represents 58 girls who were subjected to sexual abuse by gangs of men in Rotherham between 1996 and 2012, says the much-criticised police and council have made progress in the town in the last 12 months.
But he believes many survivors will only trust the system again once a truly independent agency is brought in.
“Both agencies have improved in Rotherham in the last 12 months but survivors of exploitation will be unwilling to come forward to them unless radical changes are made,” Mr Greenwood said.
“An agency independent from South Yorkshire Police and RMBC (the council) is essential for the 1,400 young women who need help.
“I am aware of only around 50 to 60 girls having come forward. This means there are around 1,350 whose lives could be improved with specialist help.”
Professor Alexis Jay shocked the UK with her report, which was published on August 26 last year.
It was already well-known that girls in Rotherham had been subjected to sexual exploitation by gangs of largely Asian men.
The outrage provoked by the Jay Report stemmed from the sheer scale of offending that it outlined and the horrific details included of what had been going on in the town between 1996 and 2013.
Professor Jay said at the time she had found ‘utterly appalling’ 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 if they told anyone.’
She said: ‘’They were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten and intimidated.’’
She said she found that girls as young as 11 had been raped by large numbers of men.
Waves of criticism followed, aimed mainly at Rotherham Council and South Yorkshire Police.
Resignations included the leader and chief executive of the council as well as its director of children’s services.
The most high profile casualty was South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Shaun Wright, who was the councillor in charge of Rotherham’s children’s services between 2005 and 2010.
A further review of Rotherham Council by the Government’s Troubled Families chief, Louise Casey, heaped more criticism on an authority she labelled as “not fit for purpose” and “in denial”.
That lead to the then communities and local government secretary Eric Pickles handing over its powers to a panel of appointed commissioners.
Both the council and the police say their focus over the last 12 months has been on building trust among survivors.
South Yorkshire Police says it now has a team of more than 60 officers working on child sexual exploitation (CSE) and its joint operation with the council and Crown Prosecution Service - Operation Clover - is beginning to see suspected abusers brought before the courts in numbers.
The National Crime Agency has been brought in to investigate historical crimes and recently announced it was looking at 300 potential suspects.
The new Police and Crime Commissioner, Alan Billings, has set up a panel of survivors of CSE which he says is informing decision making and police training.
And a £3 million initiative was announced earlier this month which will see a Barnardo’s team of specialist workers work with children in South Yorkshire who are at risk of being sexually exploited.
Mr Greenwood said: “Only when large numbers of girls affected feel able to speak to the police and with confidence that they will be believed, protected and supported will we know more.
“I have spoken with many girls who simply want nothing to do with the police at present and until the police put in place really good tailor-made support from specialist and dedicated officers they will not engage.”
The lawyer said: “I would like to see a truly independent agency offering survivors good quality support, protection, talking therapies, help with housing, childcare and education. We still have a long way to go.”
See Wednesday’s Star for an in-depth special exactly one year on from the publication of the Jay Report.