My daughter's sexual abuse left me feeling like 'a zombie'

By Rickin Majithia
BBC Asian Network and Victoria Derbyshire

Image caption,
The session are held once a week

"You are walking round like a zombie. You have no heart, and you have no brain, because you just don't know where to turn," Jack says.

His daughter was sexually abused in Rotherham, a town where more than 1,000 children were subjected to appalling exploitation between 1997 and 2013 - mainly by men of Pakistani heritage.

Discovering what had happened to her left Jack - not his real name - feeling like he had been "ripped apart" inside.

Alongside his daughter, he now attends counselling sessions - held once a week outside the town - where they are given a chance to talk about what happened.

The centre which hosts the weekly sessions has also become a place where the wider family members affected by the abuse can receive support.

The organisers have given the Victoria Derbyshire programme and BBC Asian Network exclusive access to the sessions.

'Angry man'

One of those who attends the session is "Lisa".

She was groomed, abused and raped as a child and was pregnant at the age of 12. Her daughter is now a teenager.

Six men, including those who groomed and attacked her, were last month collectively jailed for 83 years. She described them in court as "pure evil".

She says their sentencing has reduced her anxiety and depression.

"I feel so positive and empowered now that I am finally using my horrific experience for something good."

Image caption,
Counselling is also open to siblings of those who were abused

Jack says the counselling has "saved not only me as a father, it has saved our family".

"I was a very angry person, probably up to 12 months ago.

"It has helped me because they have taught me how to handle things differently, how to see things differently, and it has shown me how to move forward properly," he says.

"It has allowed me to understand there are other ways to handle things without being 'angry man' all the time."

He says his family - like so many others who have been affected - will probably never fully recover from what happened in the town.

"We all know that, but we can move forward as a family, and that's what we intend to do," he says.

Jayne Senior, a whistleblower who helped to uncover abuse in Rotherham, said organisers of the session had decided to do something about a year ago.

"We offer numerous different things," she says.

'Kids, parents, grandparents'

"We will go and do art therapy, we have a counsellor outside so people can actually go into counselling and relive some of those awful experience, get the support they need and then come back to the group.

"Then, the group will work with them and help them get through that."

The sessions are also open to siblings of those who were abused.

Jack's other daughter, "Katie", says she was angry "a lot" of the time, after discovering what had happened to her sister.

"I still have my moments, but I am getting there," she says.

"If I need to talk to anybody now, instead of being angry and going on one, I talk to them now and people can listen to me. And they help me."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
At least 1,400 children were sexually exploited in Rotherham, a report found

Lizzy - again not her real name - also attends the sessions alongside her parents.

In 2010, five men were jailed for abusing her and other girls.

"It is the only place that does family therapy class," her mother, "Sally", says.

She says she was so consumed by the shock of discovering what had happened to her daughter that she did not have time to think what impact it was having on the rest of her family.

"At the time, I didn't think about how it would affect my husband. Then, when I did realise how bad it had affected him, I felt a bit selfish. Because it affects the whole family."

"When it is going off, your whole focus is just on the girl it is happening to," Lizzy's father, "Phil", says.

"You don't realise how it is affecting everyone else around you; your other kids, your parents, the grandparents. It is the whole family. It is not just the girl that it happens to, it does affect an entire family."

Image caption,
Jayne Senior said women were offered a number of different therapies

For the victims themselves, reaching out to all of the town's residents is another important part of the healing process.

"Elizabeth" and her father have visited local takeaways, pubs, and other businesses to help educate owners on how to recognise potential grooming cases.

One businessman, Sajjad Hamidi, who runs Papa Pizza in Rotherham, says there have been a number of occasions when he has helped potentially vulnerable children in the street, often late at night.

"There have been a few times when I have had to walk people home for their safety because I have seen people around who have had eyes on them," he says.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth's father says working to restore a sense of community in Rotherham, where the scars of the abuse are still so raw, is vital for the safety of children.

"What we have got to do from now on is put that to one side and look out for everybody's children, not just pick on a specific base or religion.

"We have got to look out for everybody's children and build this community back as one.

"The sooner people start to realise that, and try to build communities back together, the better off all our children are going to be."

Watch the Victoria Derbyshire programme on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News channel.