About 1,400 children were sexually exploited in a northern England town, a report concluded Tuesday in a damning account of "collective failures" by authorities to prevent victims as young as 11 from being beaten, raped and trafficked over a 16-year period.
Report author Alexis Jay cited appalling acts of violence between 1997 and 2013 in Rotherham, a town of some 250,000. The independent report came after a series of convictions of sexual predators in the region and ground-breaking reports in the Times of London.
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"The collective failures of political and officer leadership were blatant," said Jay, a former chief social work adviser to the Scottish government.
"From the beginning, there was growing evidence that child sexual exploitation was a serious problem in Rotherham."
Grooming teens for sex
Attention first fell on Rotherham in 2010 when five men received lengthy jail terms after convictions of grooming teens for sex.
'[Police] regarded many child victims with contempt.' - Report author Alexis Jay
Later, investigations began into why authorities failed to act even after front line social workers suggested things were amiss.
Police "regarded many child victims with contempt," Jay said, adding that the first report that described the situation in Rotherham was "effectively suppressed" because senior officers did not believe the data.
Even more damming was the fact that victims described the perpetrators as "Asian" and yet the council failed to engage with the town's Pakistani community.
"Some councillors seemed to think it was a one-off problem, which they hoped would go away" Jay said.
"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."
Jay cited examples of "children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally-violent rapes and threatened they would be next."
Council apologizes for 'horrific experiences'
Rotherham council's chief executive, Martin Kimber, told the BBC he accepted the report and its recommendations. He also apologized to the victims.
Council "failed in its duty to protect its young people," Kimber said.
"The report does not make comfortable reading in its account of the horrific experiences of some young people in the past, and I would like to reiterate our sincere apology to those who were let down when they needed help," he added.