Between 1997 and 2015 over 1400 children and young people were sexually exploited in Rotherham. Since then, cases in Telford, Rochdale, Oxford, and Newcastle have also made the front pages. One mother bravely shares her story and calls for more to be done to help protect our girls.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the family
Marie sits nervously and prepares to share the personal story of how her daughter became one of the 1400 young girls sexually exploited in the Rotherham sex abuse scandal.
Her mental health has suffered and she describes how she now has nightmares, anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. Regardless of this, she dedicates her time, working to bring about change. Hoping to make a difference and to prevent such horrific abuse from happening again. Here she shares her story.
*Ellie, the oldest of four children is described as a bubbly child, she was well behaved and loved school. Her school reports share a picture of the girl Ellie once was. Her mother *Marie tells how they were always brilliant, teachers gave praise, saying how much of a pleasure she was to teach.
Marie said: “We are a big family but a very close one. Ellie was like my best friend and a typical daddy’s girl, she adored him. She was brilliant and caring for her younger sister and brothers.
“Things were pretty much ‘normal’ for us and we didn’t face any problems until Ellie started secondary school. One day I received a phone call from the school, they told me that Ellie and some of her friends had been threatened and had been receiving calls from a group of men. One of the other girl’s dads had found this out and informed the school, but when I asked Ellie, she told me it wasn’t true.
“I asked her to show me her phone, but she snapped the phone in half so we couldn’t look at it. I knew then that something was going on, but what uncovered, was beyond anything I ever imagined”.
Ellie was only 12 years-old when a social worker and police officer came to speak to Marie about her daughter, they told her that Ellie had been seen hanging around with a gang of men and that these men were into drugs and guns. “They told us, they believed she was at risk of being groomed.
“The police explained that there was an ongoing investigation and that they had been gathering information about this gang of men for a number of years. They told us they were dangerous and asked if we could start to gather information from Ellie, like phone numbers, names of the gang members, car registration numbers.
‘I didn’t know what grooming was, at no point did anyone think to explain it to us. We need to educate parents about grooming and child sexual exploitation so they can recognise the warning signs sooner’.
“We started to question her whereabouts, we could see that she was becoming secretive with her phone and not being open about who she was going out with, or where they would be, her behaviour towards us, changed so fast and all of a sudden, she was very challenging”.
Before long Marie and her family were dealing with Ellie’s rebellious behaviour daily. She began to hit her parents when they tried to intervene with rules and punishments, she smashed up their home and attacked her siblings. Marie said: “I started to hear things from other children that lived in our area, about Ellie being in cars with men.
“I was shocked, heartbroken to hear that Ellie had told teachers and social worker about these men and what they had been doing to her.
“The behaviour got too much to deal with and I reached out to social services as a cry for help. They moved Ellie in with my mum, but the out of control behaviour just continued from there. She stopped coming home in time for her curfew on occasion she didn’t arrive home at all.
“There were cars full of men pulling up outside my mum’s flat, they rang the house phone, they showed no care. I screamed at them to leave us alone, but it got me nowhere. I was threatened, they said they would gang rape me and petrol bomb my house, I reported this to the police but still, nothing was done”.
0ver the next seven months Marie and her family’s life was turned upside down. Marie spoke about how she spent her days and nights “on lookout” collecting phone numbers, car registration details, nicknames of the men, sharing these details with the social worker.
“I had searched the streets every evening for a week looking for Ellie, I had my three other children with me until my husband came in from work, then he would take care of the kids, and I would go out again through the night. I had heard that the hotspot for groups of young people and anti-social behaviour was near the playing fields and I would circle the area for hours trying to find her”. On one occasion, Marie rang the police, begging for their help.
“I told them she was missing from respite and that I had found her but was scared that if I went over she would run away. I asked them to help me. I was with my best friend, and we waited for a couple of hours, but the police didn’t come, and so we decided to walk over to where she was. As we got closer, we could see she was with a gang of men. I saw one of the men pull Ellie’s head towards his crotch, she pulled away, but he pushed her back again.
‘I couldn’t breathe, I wanted to be sick. I shouted at him to get his hands off my daughter and cried that she is only 13’
“I really hoped I was seeing things, but my instinct was right and as we got closer, I could see he was forcing her to give him oral sex.
“To this day, my friend and I, have never spoken about that night, we both find it too hard. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her dad about what had happened that evening, or what I saw that man make her do”.
Following this incident, the social worker decided, it would be safer to move Ellie out of the area, her parents would not be told where she was going and would not be able to make contact with her.
“At this point, I still believed that Ellie had been abused off one man, and it wasn’t until the case review, two years later that I learnt there were multiple perpetrators.” Marie described how her family felt invisible. She said: “It was like this whole experience that we had been through didn’t matter, the authorities never informed our family of the verdicts. We had to find out through the media.
“It wasn’t until the day of sentencing, that we learnt if it wasn’t for Ellie speaking up there wouldn’t have been a court case. She was the main witness and her bravery helped prosecute six of the men that had abused her.
“I don’t know how, and where my daughter found such resilience, but that year Ellie went on to sit and pass her exams.
“I found out later, that the main perpetrator had groomed Ellie, by becoming her friend and gaining her trust, he had done this for a few months before abusing her.
“Looking back now, there were so many signs. She was secretive, constantly on her mobile phone. She developed new friendship groups, her grades changes at school, she truanted and became violent. “We learnt that she was self-harming and she lied about everything and was so distant, I thought she was struggling with being a teen.
“As a mum, I felt that I had let Ellie down. It is only now, I realise I did not and I know that I tried everything to protect her. The systems were wrong and blamed the victims, I feared for her young life but was powerless”.
WHAT IS CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION
Jayne Haslam is a specialist social worker, she supports families and victims of child sexual exploitation (CSE). “CSE is a form of sexual, emotional and physical abuse of children. “It can be difficult very difficult to recognise the warning signs of child sexual exploitation, as they are often similar to the usual behaviours that all parents of teens and children face. Child sexual exploitation happens when a person under 18 is coerced into sexual activities by one or more people. If you are affected by CSE, it is important to remember that it is not your fault. You can get help from a number of organisations including PACE parents against child exploitation”.