Over a period of five years, a group of girls in Rochdale endured organised and sustained sexual abuse at the hands of a group of nine men. Some of these girls were as young as ten when the abuse began. The men used drugs, alcohol, shame and fear to entrap the girls into a life where they were passed round from man to man, like they were nothing. The men have now been jailed, using the evidence gathered from the experiences of five girls. Estimates indicate that as many as 50 girls may have been abused by this group in total.
The abuse didn’t go unnoticed. But the girls had the misfortune of coming from council estates and ‘chaotic’ backgrounds. The report published today by Rochdale Borough Safeguarding Children Board talks of ‘missed opportunities’, ‘patchy’ training of frontline staff, and ‘deficiencies’ in the response of social work staff to the victims.
All undoubtedly true. But all achingly euphemistic.
These girls were ignored. Their parents, teachers and other concerned adults, who saw the fallout of rape and sexual abuse in the lives of these girls and reported their fears to social services, were sent away after being told that the girls were prostitutes, or making a ‘lifestyle’ choice. Basically they were Chavs. And Chavs (sorry girls from council estates with chaotic backgrounds) do this sort of thing, for kicks and council houses. You can’t rape a slapper after all.
The report is based on the experience of one girl, who eventually fell pregnant at the age of 15. You can listen to just over a minute of her talking here. The picture she paints is sickening. Both of her treatment from the gang of men, but also from the people around her who could have, and should have stopped her abusers. Social services, the Police, the NHS, even the Crown Prosecution Service all failed to act against the abusers and protect her and the other girls. The very services that should have protected them from harm colluded with their abusers, and condemned them to years of rape and sexual abuse.
And the worst thing is, the men who abused them and the services who failed them were all giving these girls the same message; that they were worthless little slags who were getting no better than they deserved. The men targeted these girls because their home lives made them vulnerable. Social services, the Police, the NHS and the CPS judged these girls because of their backgrounds, and discounted their version of events for years because that’s what girls like that do, isn’t it? That’s their life choice.
Girls from council estates, girls whose parents are unable to look after them properly and keep them safe, girls who come from households where poverty is normal and education something to take or leave, don’t choose to be raped and sexually abused for years on end. They are chosen by others for this role because of their vulnerability. They don’t choose to spend years asking for help, displaying all the signs of children who are being abused, only to be labelled prostitutes or told their abuse counts as a lifestyle choice.
The Serious Case Review will no doubt throw up more damning evidence against the services that should have helped these girls. Some people will lose their jobs, and other people will talk about making changes to systems and services that will stop something like this happening again. Maybe it will help.
But this is a class and gender issue, and we are all responsible for the changes that need to happen. Every time you cheerfully call someone a Chav, you’re dehumanising a whole section of society and leaving them open to the stereotyping that meant educated professionals were happy to conclude that young girls from poor backgrounds having sex with a older men were doing so of their own free will. Every time we unquestioningly read a sensationalist newspaper report about an innocent woman being raped by a ‘beast,’ we’re leaving girls like these girls in Rochdale open to the abuse of the people who did rape them. Men. With jobs, and families, and friends.