Some 1,400 children were abused over the course of 16 years in England's Rotherham, according to an inquiry. The revelation has raised questions of child protection, race, religion and political correctness.
The true scale of child sexual abuse in the town of Rotherham remains unknown, with 1,400 representing a conservative estimate of the total victims from 1997-2013, according to Professor Alexis Jay, the author of the inquiry's final report.
A town of 250,000 in northern England, Rotherham ordered the inquiry after five men were found guilty in 2010 for trying to groom teenage girls for sex.
"There were 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 if they told anyone," Jay said. "Girls as young as 11 were raped by large numbers of male perpetrators."
The perpetrators were mainly from the town's Pakistani Muslim community. Victims ranged in age from 11 to 16 and were at times trafficked to other cities. The victims were mostly white British children.
Fear of being labeled racist
Jay issued a scathing indictment of the local authorities in Rotherham, saying that "the collective failures of political and officer leadership were blatant." She said that the authorities had ignored the growing evidence of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.
"Some councilors seemed to think that it was a one-off problem, which they hoped would go away," Jay continued. "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."
John Cameron, head of the helpline for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said that "cultural sensitivities should never stand in the way of protecting children."
"It is hard to imagine the damage caused to victims who were preyed upon with almost impunity over many years, because of a reluctance to comprehend or address what was happening," Cameron said.
Other sexual exploitation rings, also run mostly by men of Pakistani Muslim origin, have been uncovered in Derby, Oxford and Rochdale.
slk/hc (AP, AFP)