They found her in the back of a car, drunk. She was with a man who was found with pornographic photos of her on his phone. She was 12.
This child, only known as Child H, is just one of an estimated 1,400 children who were sexually exploited in Rotherham, England, between 1997 and 2013, according to a new report.
Like many others, Child H was identified by authorities for being at risk of sexual exploitation at a young age. At the age of 11, she reported to police that she and another child had been sexually assaulted at the hands of adult men.
But sometime after her 12th birthday, a social worker investigating the case declared that she was “at no risk of sexual exploitation,” and closed it.
A month later, she was found in a house with another child and several adult men. She was arrested for being drunk and disorderly. Her abusers went free.
The report documents a long litany of systemic failures that left several children dead, and many others scarred by deep psychological and physical trauma as a result of repeated rapes, trafficking and sexual abuse at the hands of dozens of men.
Like Child H, police, social workers and other officials charged with protecting children failed to intervene despite numerous encounters with the young child and her adult abusers.
Some of the children were violently raped, beaten, intimidated, doused in gasoline and warned that they would be set on fire. They were threatened with guns to discourage them from reporting the abuse they suffered.
In some cases, the men raped children in groups. Others acted alone. Few were ever convicted.
“Overall, the small number of prosecutions and convictions has been disproportionate to the numbers of children abused and the seriousness of the offences committed against them,” the report found.
In nearly all cases highlighted in the report, there was a single overarching conclusion: The system had failed these children.
This is the dark history that Rotherham, a town in northern England of just over 250,000 people, must now contend with.
The report found that despite reports of a serious issue with child exploitation, senior managers in the town downplayed the issue.
When the victims reported similar descriptors of their abusers — “Asian” men — council officials feared being labeled as “racist” for highlighting the problem.
According to the report, most perpetrators were of Pakistani origin. Little effort was made to work with the Pakistani community to address the problem.
“Several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist; others remembered clear direction from their managers not to do so,” the report said.
Some of their victims were like Laura Wilson, a young white girl who had been groomed since she was 13 by an older Pakistani man.
“In a large number of the historic cases in particular, most of the victims in the cases we sampled were white British children, and the majority of the perpetrators were from minority ethnic communities,” the report said.
In 2010, when Wilson was 17 years old, she was murdered, her body dumped in a canal by a man she considered her “boyfriend,” Ashitaq Asghar. Asghar, 18, was convicted and sentenced to 17.5 years in prison for her murder.
Wilson had recently given birth to a child — the product of a sexual encounter with a different, older married man, Ishaq Hussain. Hussain was cleared of any wrongdoing in her death.
With Wilson’s murder, a review of her case was launched. That report, issued in 2012, acknowledged a serious failure to intervene on the behalf of a vulnerable young child when she was first identified as being at risk for sexual exploitation before she had even turned 11 years old.
Young white children were not the only victims. The failure to engage with the Pakistani community put young Pakistani girls at risk as well, the report found.
Girls of Pakistani heritage were sometimes lured outside the gates of their school by taxi drivers and older men who might sexually abuse them and traffic them to other men.
Pakistani women’s groups described the fear of reporting predators who would prey on young girls and pass their names on to other men, according to the report.
The voices of these women were not heard until it was too late.
“There was too much reliance by agencies on traditional community leaders such as elected members and imams as being the primary conduit of communication with the Pakistani-heritage community,” the report found.
In the wake of the scandal, South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright said he would not step down from his post despite having been in charge of children’s services for the Rotherham Council between 2005 and 2010, according to the Guardian.
Wright, a member of the Labour party, has been urged to resign by the leader of the party, Ed Miliband, according to a spokesman.
“The report into child abuse in Rotherham was devastating in its findings. Vulnerable children were repeatedly abused and then let down,” said the spokesman, according to the Guardian. “In the light of this report, it is appropriate that South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Shaun Wright should step down.”