Shaheen Hashmat says the Rotherham report struck a note of personal horror for her.
I’m a Pakistani woman born and raised in Scotland, as part of a Muslim family. And, at the age of 12, I relied on the help of police and local authorities to help me escape from honour abuse and the threat of forced marriage. As a result of my experiences, I now dedicate most of my spare time to raising awareness of these issues. I’m currently working to establish a free mental health service for those who have suffered similar abuses.
Doing the work she does, she’s learned that rape victims get a terrible time if they report their rape.
While some may believe that the handling of rape and sex abuse cases has become more effective in recent years, it’s now clear that this is simply not the case.
The Rotherham report states that police regarded many of the victims involved with contempt; disbelieved reports containing ‘stark evidence’ of child sex exploitation; closed cases of such abuse prematurely; and failed to follow up on information they had been given. (Indeed, a young female victim speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme alleged that a bag of clothes she’d collected as evidence was ‘lost’ by police).
A former leader of Rotherham Council agreed that the organisational culture was ‘macho’ and sexist, and there was mention of an issue with members accessing pornography on council computers. One officer, who was interviewed as part of the inquiry, recalled a colleague being told that “she ought to wear shorter skirts to meetings and she’d get on better”. Another remembers a senior member of staff saying, “I know what I’d like to do to you if I was ten years’ younger”.
This attitude goes some way in explaining why professionals tasked with the job of protecting vulnerable individuals, might arrest a 12-year-old girl for being drunk and disorderly in a derelict house with a number of adult males, without questioning why she was there in the first place.
And then, she says, there was the fear of appearing racist issue.
And, contrary to popular belief, this lack of understanding didn’t only endanger white victims. Cases were cited where Pakistani landlords and taxi drivers targeted Pakistani girls. Some victims were described as vulnerable because they were separated from their families, as I was at that age. There were issues of forced marriage and child abduction described. In 2005 alone, 12 cases of forced marriage were investigated in Rotherham – the highest statistic in the South Yorkshire area.
Nazir Afzal, Chief Crown Prosecutor for the North West, has extensive experience in dealing with this type of abuse, particularly after his involvement in the Rochdale ‘grooming trial’.
Afzal told me: “no community is entirely safe for women and girls. Many perpetrators were Asian but they did not limit their criminal behaviour to white girls, though many were. In many cases, non-white victims are even more reluctant to report these crimes, in part because of honour and shame issues.”
She also addresses the problem with the police habit of asking local imams to help with communication. The trouble with that is, imams don’t have the right training and expertise. (I would add, they’re also male. That doesn’t help either.)
Hashmat was one of the lucky ones, but only relatively lucky.
I consider myself lucky – the police took my situation seriously and worked with discretion, speed and sensitivity. However social services did not follow up adequately after my escape and made the mistake of trying to mediate, saying that a continued relationship with my abusers was in my best interests. Most devastating of all was the lack of support offered in recovering after abuse.
It has had a lifelong impact and further cuts to mental health services have put me at risk on a regular basis.
This report demonstrates that lessons are not being learned. Isn’t it time they were?
Way past time.