Rotherham abuse victim: 'I was raped once a week, every week'

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Media caption,

Emma, not her real name: 'Police lost my evidence'

A report has lifted the lid on the sexual exploitation of at least 1,400 children in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013, along with "blatant" collective failures to deal with the issue.

One victim, who had been groomed from the age of 12 and was raped for the first time when she was 13, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme her harrowing story.

She says she was raped "once a week, every week" until she was 15, that police "lost" clothing she had given to them as evidence and that she had feared for her family's safety.

"Emma" [not her real name], now aged 24, says she was 12 when she was first approached by a group of young men in an arcade in Rotherham. The boys, who she says were of "school age", began talking to her and struck up a friendship with her.

'Soft drugs'

What she did not realise at the time was that she was being groomed for sexual abuse, she says.

The grooming went on for about a year, during which time she began going to Rotherham town centre where she was introduced to "grown men".

Media caption,

Rotherham child abuse victim Emma: "I would get raped once a week, every week"

"They started introducing alcohol and soft drugs to me and then, when I was 13, I was sexually exploited by them," she says.

"Up until this point they had never tried to touch me, they had not made me ever feel uncomfortable or ever feel unsafe or that they could harm me.

"I trusted them, they were my friends as I saw it, until one night my main perpetrator raped me, quite brutally as well, in front of a number of people.

"From then on I would get raped once a week, every week."

'Different men'

She says her abusers began to force her to have sex with "whoever wanted to come and have sex with me".

Speaking to BBC Panorama, she tells of one incident when she was taken to a flat, locked inside a bedroom and repeatedly raped by different men.

"I just had to sit and wait until they sent man after man in and whatever they wanted, I had to give them," she says.

"I can remember begging one of the perpetrators who I knew quite well not to send anybody else into that room and to just let me go home and them just laughing at me, telling me to get up and basically just get on with it."

Charges dropped

She says she reported her abuse to the police "three months after my sexual exploitation started".

Emma says she saved the clothes she had been wearing during the attacks and handed the items to police as evidence. "They lost the clothing, so there was no evidence," she says.

After that, Emma says she was told it was "my word against his" and that the case "probably wouldn't result in a conviction, or even get to court".

At the same time, she says, her family were being threatened and intimidated.

"The men were parking outside my house, they were threatening my family, they were ringing my house phone - and they were quite dangerous men as well," she adds.

"The police said they couldn't offer any protection, so because of that I decided to drop the charges."

Mum rape threat

She says: "I was 13 at that point and my sexual exploitation went on until I was 15."

Her mum was the first person she told about what was happening but even then her family were unable to stop the abuse.

"My parents went to the relevant services, they went to the people who should have been there to help and protect [me], because as a family we couldn't stop these people," she says.

Emma says her parents even locked her up - "as many other parents" of victims had done - but threats from the men left her fearing for her family's safety.

"I had no choice really, because they used to threaten to get my mum and rape my mum," she says.

"So in my mind, as a 13 or 14-year-old, it was 'Well if I didn't go out and see them they are going to get my mum and are going to rape her'.

Parents 'saved me'

"They gang raped me, so what stops them from doing that to my mum?

"They used to follow my mum because they used to know when she went shopping, what time she had been shopping, where she had gone."

Emma adds: "I look back at it now - I was a child, these were adult men who were very, very dangerous, very nasty, they knew everything about me because in the grooming process I had told them everything.

"So they knew all about my family, they knew where we lived, they knew everything.

"I knew nothing about them apart from their nicknames."

In the end she says her parents decided the only way to stop the abuse was to move her "out of the country".

"That was the decision that saved my life," she says.

Abusers 'still free'

Emma says she was away from the UK until she was 17, and when she returned she got "fantastic" help from a psychologist and a psychiatrist.

"When I started talking to them, what I did find is that I wasn't the only child who had sat in their offices with this complaint against these men," she says.

But she says her attackers remain at large.

"I still see them, they still walk about the streets," she says.

"My way of dealing with that is just completely blanking out that they're there, but it just maddens me and sickens me that they've destroyed so many lives."