A mephitic hole in Yorkshire

Randeep Ramesh is sickened by the Rotherham report.

The putrid mess that oozes from the 160 pages of Alexis Jay’s report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham is so thick that one gags rather than read the words.

Children in the town were systematically identified by gangs as vulnerable, seduced with drugs and drink, brainwashed into believing they were in a relationship with an adult and then used for sex, often raped before sometimes being trafficked to nearby cities to work as prostitutes.

The brutal violence that surrounded this depraved process was shocking. Children who refused to acquiesce to ever more macabre demands were doused in petrol, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and told they would be next if they told anyone.

We get numbed to it; we have to fight that. The violence in northern Nigeria…in Iraq…in the villages of India where dalit women are forced to clean up human shit every day of their lives…in Rotherham…We have to keep getting un-numbed to it.

What allowed these crimes to continue was not just that abused children were cowed into silence or mentally enslaved by older men, but that even when they spoke out they were met by a culture of disbelief from the authorities.

Time and time again, police and social workers appear to talk of mothers being unable to deal with children “growing up”.

In one instance, a girl of 12 was groomed, raped and then trafficked. The authorities “blamed the child … for placing herself at risk”.

In another case an 11-year-old girl had been sexually assaulted, then a year later found drunk in a car with a suspected abuser who had taken indecent pictures of her on his phone. She was declared to be at “no risk of sexual exploitation”.

If that’s no risk, what would at risk look like?

What made South Yorkshire perhaps more politically charged is that in many cases the victims were underage white girls and the perpetrators were Asian men.

There were other abuse cases – in Oxford and Telford – with the same mix of ethnicities.

The far right had a field day with slogans which cast Muslim men as dangerous paedophiles. The tabloids leapt on remarks made in 2012 by the judge in a widely reported Rochdale case, Gerald Clifton, who in sentencing nine Asian men for 77 years for abusing and raping up to 47 girls said: “I believe one of the factors which led to that is that they [the victims] were not of your community or religion.”

Discomfiting, isn’t it.


  1. AsqJames says

    Samira Ahmed’s (@SamiraAhmedUK) was tweeting snippets of the report earlier, and then linked to a blog post from 2012 (after the Rochdale case). Here’s how it starts:

    15 years ago the renowned filmmaker Peter Kosminsky made No Child of Mine, a controversial drama about a teenage girl in care who’d ended up being passed around by men for sex. The phenomenon was called “conveyor belt grooming”. The script was based on the experience of a real young woman.She was played in the film by Brooke Kinsella. It won a BAFTA in 1998 for best single drama, but the TV company which had commissioned it, threatened not to show it and there was a huge row about its content, with tabloid newspapers expressing outrage. The same papers which this week are outraged by the scale of such abuse. I asked Kosminsky today how he felt about the revelations from Rochdale.

    No Child of Mine was made in 1997.

    The phenomenon was called “conveyor belt grooming”.

    Professor Jay’s report covers the years 1997-2013.

    The general public may be forgiven for not knowing this was a thing, but not those in positions of trust within the council, the police and elsewhere. The process was well enough established to be recognised as a specific phenomenon and be named. In 1997.

    It wasn’t in the consciousness of the general public in 1997, but it wan’t exactly secret either. Some people knew in 1997. Some of them cared enough to write a film to raise awareness in 1997, others were telling the police or social services in 1997 (and apparently ever since, perhaps earlier too).

    But other people were ignoring it. Other people were pretending they didn’t know. Other people were unwilling to acknowledge things that made them uncomfortable or would be too difficult to tackle. Other people were dismissing the reports of victims because they were slutty sexual deviants, or of their families because they were bad parents or had other social problems, or of the victim’s advocates because they were fantasists or racists.

    When their jobs were not to do that.

    I hate that there are people out there capable of doing this kind of evil, but I accept it is a fact. It’s why we have social services and child protection officers and police forces and all the other agencies and bodies we tell each other make us a civilized society. What cannot be accepted is that those bodies, the very ones charged with protecting the most vulnerable among us, were institutionally prejudiced against those vulnerable people.

    So 1,400 children in one small corner of Yorkshire were victimised.

  2. RJW says

    According to a report on the radio, the CEO of the Council and the local police commander are offering ‘sincere apologies’, apparently they haven’t resigned yet.

  3. sonofrojblake says

    This post doesn’t mention the reason for this apparent bureaucratic wilful ignorance. Yes, people in power knew what was going on. And what was going on was that gangs of Pakistanis were committing horrible crimes.

    But they had a calculation to make – would they rather be seen as incompetent in some hypothetical future, or would they rather be condemned as racists right now? Because those were their two realistic options. And while possibly being labelled “incompetent” later might harm your chances of a bonus or promotion, being branded “racist” right now is a guaranteed end to your career, especially in the New Labour utopia of Britain post-1997.

    There’s a phrase reactionaries and conservatives use when they see (or more often have made up) something that they don’t like that promotes the idea of treating all people decently. “It’s political correctness gone mad”, they say. They’re usually talking rubbish, some nonsense about a council banning Christmas or similar.

    Unfortunately, the situation in Rotherham is precisely that madness. Public employees so terrified of doing something politically incorrect that they ignore the abuse of hundreds upon hundreds of vulnerable children.

    It’s clear this was not an isolated bad apple or two covering things up. This was an across the board *policy* of not interfering in the activities of ethnic minorities (or rather one specific ethnic minority) for fear of being seen as prejudiced, even in the face of overwhelming evidence, and that policy came from the top.

    It’s true that heads should roll, but the heads should be those of the ones who held up “cultural sensitivity” as more important than the equal enforcement of the law.

  4. Maureen Brian says

    sonofrojblake @ 3,

    How many times do we have to say this? The phrase “politically correct” was made up by the extreme right to slur the, to them, very dangerous people whose fight for real equality made the self-satisfied uncomfortable. They applied it to people doing Freedom Rides and bus boycotts in the American South, the ones suggesting that the murderers of Emmett Till should have a proper trial and not a kangaroo court and those terrible women demanding that they be paid exactly the same money for doing exactly the same work. Oh noes! How utterly dreadful!

    Your fixation on this one notion is causing you once again to miss the point.

    Try instead this account in today’s Independent, a summary by their well regarded crime correspondent, Paul Peachey – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/rotherham-child-abuse-scandal-threats-and-collusion-kept-justice-at-bay-9692578.html Now, because it is a summary it reads as more colourful than the reality actually was, as a fair amount of the blame will be down to people moving “next business” in a Council Meeting or forgetting to read a report. It also offers you the beginnings of a far better explanation for all of this. Some of it in practice will have been totally banal but that’s why we have experienced Councillors with specific responsibilities and paid staff with, in theory, enough clout to insist that some hint of a problem must be investigated.

    You know, like the merest suspicion of drug dealing in a particular back lane in Rotherham would have been.

  5. sonofrojblake says

    Compare and contrast:

    The phrase “politically correct” was made up by the extreme right

    And from Wikipedia:
    “Historically, the term was a colloquialism used in the early-to-mid 20th century by Communists and Socialists in political debates, referring pejoratively to the Communist “party line”, which provided for “correct” positions on many matters of politics. The term was adopted in the later 20th century by the New Left, applied with a certain humour to condemn sexist or racist conduct as “not politically correct”.”

    Only later did the right turn it into a term of abuse.

  6. says


    being branded “racist” right now is a guaranteed end to your career

    Ferguson, one, current UK prime minister, two. Exactly where, in the world, right now, being branded as a racist actually ends your career? In general, I see the sudden worry about these accusations as somewhat suspicious.

  7. Maureen Brian says

    Which communists and which socialists? And where geographically?

    We come in a number of varieties, you know!

  8. karmacat says

    I am trying to understand how this could happen. From the article, it sounds like a mix of misogyny, not wanting anything revealed to make the town look bad. What I don’t understand was why there was no overwhelming need to protect children. And in fact people want to attribute adult motivations to children. I had a pediatric supervisor in med school who also evaluated child sexual abuse cases. He made the comment, “why do we hate our children?” I know I keep trying to escape into intellectualism to deal with these stories. Because I can’t imagine why people didn’t rush to save these children.

  9. quixote says

    karmacat @7, The victims are carefully called “children” but as far as I can tell they were mostly (or all?) girls. So, maybe, in addition to rampant incompetence and fear of appearing racist there was a biggish dollop of ignoring females. Sounds like the Council wasn’t quite sure that women from their own class were human. The various authorities sound certain that poor ones definitely weren’t. (These impressions from the Independent link from Maureen Brian @4.)

  10. Brony says

    It’s a tough thing when one is an authority in a nation that holds culture (of any kind including ethnic) to be a thing about as worthy of respect as religion. But this is just as blind as giving religion respect up front, even if some cultures have been treated badly for terrible reasons. “Grooming” is probably the closest thing we have to brainwashing, and I can not let my self feel any more sorry for these authorities than I do for my Catholic relatives and their excuses for how their church handles child sexual abuse (or any abuse).

  11. says

    It’s not just victim blaming, I suspect laziness is part of it. Those who have an obligation to get involved (legal, moral of otherwise) choose not to get involved because it doesn’t affect themselves and they don’t want to make the effort. It’s the same as with cops who refuse to enforce restraining orders or do anything until violence or murder happens. If they can do nothing and get away with it, they will do nothing.

    As for the issue of, “If you’re accused of racism, your career is over,” not necessarily so. If the facts are on your side, people will overlook the accusation and/or you can clear your name. And even if the false accusations stick, what sort of person is more worried about careerism than about the welfare of children who are being raped? Possibly sacrificing your own life and future to protect others’ lives and futures is as justifiable as a firefighter entering a building to rescue someone.

  12. Chaos-Engineer says

    And what was going on was that gangs of Pakistanis were committing horrible crimes.

    But they had a calculation to make – would they rather be seen as incompetent in some hypothetical future, or would they rather be condemned as racists right now? Because those were their two realistic options

    In that case, they need to think outside the box.

    It sounds like they thought the only two alternatives were not arresting anybody, or going around and arresting random Pakistanis and saying, “All those people look alike, and anyway if they didn’t commit this particular crime then they probably still need to be locked up for something else.”

    Why not just do some basic police work and build a solid case against the criminals? Then the police wouldn’t be accused of incompetence or racism! A good place to start would be by gathering information from the victims, instead of ignoring them and making excuses for the criminals. (Ref the 11- and 12-year-old girls mentioned in the article.) Plus, when the police made excuses for the criminals, that left them open to accusations of misogyny; wouldn’t you agree?

  13. johnthedrunkard says

    I too have recently seen ‘politically correct’ attributed to communists in the 1940s. It is one of those terms, like ‘useful idiots,’ that we’ll have to get used to the Right exploiting.

    ‘The far right had a field day with slogans which cast Muslim men as dangerous paedophiles. ‘

    All they have to do is quote the Koran and Hadith.

    To refer to David Lisak again: prosecuting rapists has to include background investigation. Rapists are not impulse criminals who need to be caught on camera, they are sociopathic predators with long track records of violence and sexual exploitation.

  14. Dan says

    Hasn’t anyone read the report?

    Before anyone else says “they ignored the abuse because of political correctness”, they should read the report.

    Because, according to the report, that’s not what happened.


  15. Folie Deuce says

    Whatever the merits or limitations of the label “political correctness” may be, does anyone deny that Britain (and the West in general) suffer from a problem of not being able to confront sensitive topics for fear of offending certain communities (and being labeled a racist or a bigot)? And this paralysis is particularly acute when the topic of discussion is Muslims or Islam?

  16. Chaos-Engineer says

    does anyone deny that Britain (and the West in general) suffer from a problem of not being able to confront sensitive topics for fear of offending certain communities (and being labeled a racist or a bigot)? And this paralysis is particularly acute when the topic of discussion is Muslims or Islam?

    I can’t speak for Britain, but that’s certainly not true in the US.

    In fact, the US has the opposite problem. For example, right now one of the hot topics is “racial disparities in procedures used during police activity”. It seems pretty obvious that the right answer is that people should be treated equally regardless of race, but if you try to make a case for that, some very loud and powerful people will label you a “race huckster” or a “professional victim” or “soft on crime”. And that’s assuming they don’t just lob tear gas at you.

  17. sonofrojblake says

    One more comment: I find the title of this post offensive. Rotherham may not be the most pleasant or picturesque town in England, but to describe it as a “mephitic hole” is disgusting.

    Not least because of the implication that Rotherham is in some way unique or unusual in having this activity going on. We know it is not. It has already been reported that gangs of Pakistani Muslims have been sexually exploiting white girls in Oldham, Rochdale, and even among the dreaming spires of Oxford, practically with impunity for years. A few prosecutions of a few men have been made, and very, very carefully reported so as not to offend anyone.

    And these are just the towns where it has come out. Given the clear and widespread policy of cover-up by bureaucracy and law enforcement in the face of this activity, how many other towns might be suffering similar depredations, with the only difference being we don’t know about it yet?

    Rotherham is NOT some uniquely horrible den of depravity.

  18. Maureen Brian says

    And once again sonofrojblake tries to slide neatly past the point.

    It is not a law of nature that we may have only one horribly smelly hole at a time, is it? Randeep Ramesh used the phrase, Ophelia picked it up because its a good one and both have been at pains to point out that this example is one of many.

    No-one as far as I can see has suggested that the situation in that one town is unique, nor that everyone who ever lived there is evil so why are we rushing to protect people from a slur which has not been made? Unless it’s to divert attention.

    Let’s stay with the facts. Ramesh has a good follow-up piece in the Guardian dated 28 August and this morning there’s a new story on BBC – that key figures in these exploitation rings were minicab drivers employed by the council to take the children to school who then came back in the evenings and took them off again to be abused – putting the second ride on the council’s tab! http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-south-yorkshire-28974336

    Why were these people not vetted? And shouldn’t that bother you more than the word choices of two professional writers, each of whom has a fair idea what she or he is about?

  19. sonofrojblake says

    Why were these people not vetted?

    There are many possible answers to that, but the most commonly offered (and to many most credible) one – that they were vetted, and vouched for, by leaders within their own community, isn’t acceptable as an answer. So the quest for something else goes on.

    And yes, that does bother me more than a writer’s word choice, obvs. But calling the town where my wife grew up a “mephitic hole” was surely calculated to offend. If I called Islamabad a “mephitic hole” because of the presence of a bunch of child-raping Muslims – and I guarantee there are at least as many child-raping Muslims there as there are in Rotherham – I can’t see me getting away with that without being accused of deliberate racist offence, can you?

  20. Maureen Brian says


    That’s not how vetting to work with children is done. This outline is from Wakefield – 30 miles from me, as against Rotherham’s 40 – but the timescale of the legislation and the general principles apply. http://wakefieldchildcare.proceduresonline.com/chapters/p_vet_staff_vis.html You will note paragraph 2.0

    2.0 Reasonable steps must be taken to ensure the safety of young people when they are driven in taxis, for instance to and from schools. This either should involve staff accompanying young people or using taxi drivers who have successfully passed Criminal Records checks in respect of a person working with children.

    I am not sure that a town can be shamed or feel offence, which usually require you to be human, but if you insist that it is possible then might not the city fathers have been willing to cut corners and instigate cover-ups lest the Town Hall burst into tears or other nearby towns imply that they weren’t very good at what they were supposed to be doing. Which they weren’t.

    Now we have the usual prescription in such cases – catharsis. Those who won’t go through it won’t be much use to Rotherham and its citizens in future.

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