Less than five percent of the 1400 children groomed, trafficked and raped by Muslim gangs in the Yorkshire town of Rotherham have come forward for help, according to the lawyer of one group of victims.
One year after a report compiled by academic Alexis Jay, which produced laid bare the shocking scale of the abuse, lawyer David Greenwood said he believes fewer than 100 of the girls involved have been able to trust the authorities enough to come forward to receive specialist help.
In her report, Professor Jay slammed Rotherham Council and local police for turning a blind eye to the abuse for years.
Mr Greenwood, who represents 58 girls subjected to abuse, says authorities have made some progress but many survivors will only trust the system again once an independent agency is brought in.
“I am aware of only around 50 to 60 girls having come forward. This means there are around 1,350 whose lives could be improved with specialist help.”
Professor Alexis Jay’s report, which was published on 26 August last year, exposed the details of the exploitation that took place in Rotherham between 1996 and 2013.
After the report’s publication there were waves of criticism, aimed mainly at Rotherham council and South Yorkshire police.
A number of resignations followed including that Rotherham’s Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright, who was also in charge of children’s services at the Council between 2005 and 2010.
The man who replaced Wright, Dr Alan Billings said: “I still don’t fully understand how the police could turn away from young girls who were being exploited but, whatever the answers, they do not excuse people, who should have recognised a crime, from failing to act.
“But I do know that the nature and scale of child sexual exploitation is only just being understood and I feel that with every meeting of the victims, survivors and their families panel we are getting closer to some of the answers.”
Both the council and the police say their focus over the last 12 months has been on building trust among survivors.
South Yorkshire police said it now has a team of more than 60 officers working on child sexual exploitation (CSE) and its joint operation with the council and Crown Prosecution Service, Operation Clover, is beginning to see suspected abusers brought before the courts in numbers.
The National Crime Agency has been brought in to investigate historical crimes and recently announced it was looking at 300 potential suspects.
Billings has set up a panel of survivors of CSE, which he says is informing decision making and police training.
A £3.1m initiative was also announced earlier this month, which will see a Barnardo’s team of specialists work with children in South Yorkshire who are at risk of child sexual abuse.
Greenwood said: “Only when large numbers of girls affected feel able to speak to the police and with confidence that they will be believed, protected and supported will we know more.
“I have spoken with many girls who simply want nothing to do with the police at present and until the police put in place really good tailor-made support from specialist and dedicated officers they will not engage.”
He added: “I would like to see a truly independent agency offering survivors good quality support, protection, talking therapies, help with housing, childcare and education. We still have a long way to go.”
Ian Thomas, Rotherham council’s strategic director of children’s services, spoke of how the organisation has changed since the Jay report, saying: “For me, it’s about really listening to what children and young people tell us and a culture of never giving up on a child again,” he said. “We’re trying to instil that but it does take time.”
Thomas said his team is supporting 2,300 children, of which 73 are sexual exploitation cases.
He said extra social workers have been drafted in and he hopes a decrease in individual staff workload will give them a better chance to do their work properly.
He said: “We’ve put things in place to improve our service, improve our practice. Things are moving in the right direction but it’s not done yet. Progress is being made, green shoots, but there’s still a long way to go.”