Children in Rotherham do not feel safe to walk the streets, to wait for buses or take taxis alone, the author of a damning report into the town’s ‘unrelenting’ child sexual exploitation scandal told The Star today.
Professor Alexis Jay OBE, whose independent inquiry exposing an estimated 1,400 child victims has sent shockwaves around Britain and beyond, said she had spoken to many young people and asked them if they felt safe in Rotherham.
“The most common response was ‘no’,” she told The Star.
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The report revealed the ‘prominent role’ of Rotherham taxi drivers in the abuse of children. In one council safeguarding meeting in 2010, minutes record three girls complaining of abduction attempts, and seven alleging being sexually exploited by taxi drivers. Four drivers, all from different firms, have had licences revoked since 2009 in connection to child sexual exploitation. One was arrested for sex offences and supplying drugs to a 15-year-old girl – but was not charged. Prof Jay said the inquiry interviewed 24 young people aged 14 to 25 – and ‘all avoided taxis if possible’.
“The girls described on occasions they would be taken the longest, darkest route home,” she said. “One said the driver’s first question would be, ‘How old are you, love?’.
“All talked about the conversation quickly turning flirtatious or suggestive, with references to sex.”
The report said young people in Rotherham prefer the bus – but are equally scared of Rotherham Interchange.
“All the young people we met preferred to use the bus – despite their nervousness and dislike of the Interchange, which they described as attracting drug dealers, addicts, and criminals.
“The young people described a sense of intimidation and ‘running the gauntlet’ to get to their buses.”
Prof Jay told The Star she had been shocked by the extent of child sex exploitation going on in the town.
“I have had a lot of experience investigating shocking incidents,” she said. “But they were generally focused on a single family or individual - rather than this unrelenting 16-year period where so much abuse had taken place.”
Prof Jay’s report exposed a litany of failures by police and council bosses. Police viewed victims with ‘contempt’.
And, while South Yorkshire Police have improved how they investigate such crimes, victims may still struggle to trust the force when needing to report abuse, she added.
“I don’t know if they would feel confident,” she said. “I would be confident the police would respond better – but a lot more needs to be done.”
No-one from Rotherham Private Hire Drivers’ Association was available for comment when contacted by The Star yesterday.