The root causes of the sex abuse scandal which has engulfed the city may be tangled and complex, but Rotherham residents were united in directing their anger at those in authority who they believe allowed it to fester unchallenged.
In Eastwood and parts of Clifton, which make up the most deprived ward in the South Yorkshire town and were home to four of the five Asian men jailed in 2010 for child sex offences, locals berated the police and council for failing to act.
Steve, who has lived in Eastwood all his life, said: “It stinks. Rotherham council just has not done enough for these girls. It has always been close knit. Questions have to be asked whether councillors could have done more. All the councillors are looking to save their jobs now. It’s ridiculous only one person has resigned.”
Steve, who did not want to give his surname, said local deprivation contributed to the scale of the abuse. “Eastwood village used to be beautiful. There were five pubs in the area, now there’s none. Drugs are a huge problem,” he said, pointing to the post box where dealers operate in the open. “The police know about it but don’t do anything. Now everything’s come home to roost.”
Around the corner, children emerged from summer classes at Ridge Road Mosque but no one inside wanted to speak on the record on behalf of the community.
“Of course everyone’s shocked and appalled but it’s nothing to do with us,” one mosque representative said. “[Child abuse] is not just happening here, it’s going on all around the country and not just involving Muslims. The first thing the media does is whenever something like this happens the first words at the start of the story are ‘Muslim’ or ‘Asian’.”
Sonia Brailsford, a mother of four, said she was “shocked and disgusted” by the abuse inquiry report but that a much deeper problem concerning men in their 20s targeting schoolgirls was still going on today. “That is the biggest problem around here,” she said. “You see groups of young men – white, black, Asian - hanging around outside schools waiting for the end of school all the time. They drive up and down, trying to get girls’ attention. It happens here at Clifton Community School. People complain but nothing gets done. A lot of it is ignorance – people really don’t believe something on this scale could happen but it does. We need a lot more schooling outside the school gates, but girls aren’t just being targeted by Asians. Look at all the celebrities in the news. You can’t just blame one race.”
At Clifton Park where dozens of families were enjoying a day out in the sun, two mums from Sheffield visiting Rotherham for the day with their daughters said they had read about the Asian men jailed in 2010 but were shocked at the scale of Professor Alexis Jay’s report.
Both declined to be named. One said: “Why didn’t the Asian men pick on their own? Because they are at home doing the cooking and cleaning so they saw young white girls from deprived areas as easy targets. I’m 41 and it was different in our day. Our kids are six and seven and we never let them out of our sight.”
Waiting for his next fare in the centre of town was taxi driver Shokat Ali, who has lived in Rotherham for 33 years, and who wanted more accountability from officials.
“How can only one person resign over this? It happened on a shocking scale. The authorities knew what was going on but didn’t do enough to stop it. They were more interested in pushing this under the table. It’s very sad. It’s always Muslims that get reported about first. A white English guy raped three girls here last year but how many people outside Rotherham know about that?”
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