The £6million report by police watchdog, The Independent Office for Police Conduct, has examined South Yorkshire Police’s (SYP) responses to allegations of child sexual abuse and exploitation (CSA/E) in the town between 1997 and 2013.
In the report’s foreword, IOPC Director General Michael Lockwood said investigators found that officers were ‘not fully aware, or able, to deal with child sexual abuse and exploitation (CSA/E) offences’ and showed ‘insufficient empathy’ towards survivors who were vulnerable children and young people.
The report details the experiences and views of survivors of CSE in the town. The Professor Jay report, released in 2014, concluded that failures by police and politicians contributed to the sexual exploitation of around 1,400 children in Rotherham by groups of men in the town.
Mr Lockwood added: “Survivors’ complaints reveal they were not always believed when reporting what had happened to them and this has had a lasting impact on their lives and their trust and confidence in the police.”
One survivor, who was sexually exploited from the age of 14 told IOPC investigators they frequently went missing from home, generally to be with their older ‘boyfriend’ and came into contact with officers three or four times a week.
They said: “When I look back now, I can’t believe how many times I came into contact with the police and how many chances they had to question me…but didn’t.”
Another survivor revealed how they were told more than a dozen times that they were responsible for their behaviour for being sexually exploited and abused by grown men when they were just 13-years-old.
She said: “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.”
The IOPC report states that it had contact with around 75 survivors up until August 2020, and the legacy of what they endured includes issues such as: poor mental and physical health; problems with fertility and ongoing sexual
health concerns; becoming enmeshed in criminal behaviour and leaving the place they called home, for good, because of family/community pressure to not report CSA/E incidents.
One survivor detailed their additional distress at having to relive her horrific experiences, and explained that had they been listened to years ago, they would not have been forced to ‘fact this all again’.
The report outlines the experience of a CSA/E survivor who was involved in multi-agency training in South Yorkshire.
They said officers ‘often looked uninterested in their shared experiences, or tried to discredit their story, while other officers expressed frustrations about the role of the police in tackling CSA/E’.
The survivor claimed officers often asked inappropriate questions, such as ‘are you able to enjoy sex?’.
Speaking after the publication of the report, Deputy Chief Constable, Tim Forber said: “We let victims of CSE down. We failed to recognise their vulnerability and failed to see them as victims, for that I am deeply sorry. They deserved better from us.”