Sheffield & South Yorkshire

Sammy Woodhouse: Rotherham 'rapist offered role in child's life'

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Media captionRape victim Sammy Woodhouse says she is "constantly being re-victimised"

A victim of child sexual exploitation has called for a change in the law amid claims a man who raped her was offered a role in her son's life.

It is understood Arshid Hussain, who was jailed for 35 years in 2016, was contacted by Rotherham Council about care proceedings heard last year.

His victim Sammy Woodhouse told the BBC she was "shocked" when she was informed of the council's approach.

The authority said it had "no intention" of putting a child at risk.

Urgent efforts would be taken to "address the failings in this case", The MoJ said.

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Ms Woodhouse described Hussain as "a danger to myself and to other children".

In a video posted on Twitter she urged the government "to change the law to ensure rapists can't gain access to children conceived through rape".

'What about my rights?'

Hussain, known around Rotherham as Mad Ash, was one of three brothers behind the grooming and sexual abuse of more than 50 girls, including Ms Woodhouse.

She was just 14 when she met him.

Image copyright South Yorkshire Police
Image caption Arshid Hussain was convicted of grooming and sexually abusing young girls in Rotherham

Ms Woodhouse, who waived her anonymity in an effort to help other victims, said she thought when Hussain was jailed she could then get on with her life and would never hear from him again.

Speaking on the Victoria Derbyshire programme, Ms Woodhouse said: "We're constantly being re-victimised and as a rape victim I'm constantly told 'well actually, he's got his human rights'.

"What about my human rights? What about other people's human rights and our children and our right to constantly have to keep our children safe?"

Ms Woodhouse, who now speaks about child sexual exploitation and her experiences, is calling for changes to the 1989 Children Act, alongside Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh.

Although Hussain has not made any application, Ms Woodhouse said it was important to get the law changed to protect others.

"This is happening all over the country, and it needs to stop," she added.

Ms Woodhouse said her son was supporting her and had given his permission for her to speak out.

According to The Times, the council had contacted Hussain and promised to keep him informed about future proceedings, after he was listed as a "respondent" in a Family Court case involving the boy.

Solicitor Denise Lester, former chair of the Law Society's children law sub-committee, described it as "a very, very difficult case".

"The issue here is the law as it stands allows rapists and other abusers to participate in care and other public law proceedings

She added: "But, within that there are obviously procedures and decisions that would be made on a case by case basis by social workers to exclude a father or not".

What does the law say?

By BBC Reality Check

Legal guidelines in England and Wales state that all parents, regardless of parental responsibility, should be given notice of care proceedings.

This means that by default, a convicted rapist does have the right to be notified of care proceedings involving his child.

If they are married to their victim, men convicted of rape have parental responsibility and will automatically be a party in any court proceedings in which they will have their interests considered.

That's the legal status that gives parents right to be given information about and be involved in important decisions affecting their child's upbringing.

This doesn't mean they have any automatic rights to contact with their children however.

Any application for access will assess the risk to a child and their welfare before allowing contact.

Councils can apply to the court to make an exceptional order in order to avoid notifying a parent of care proceedings - although it's not guaranteed this application will be successful.

These are usually only granted in cases where the child has no relationship with the father - such as in cases of stranger rape - or where there is a risk to the child, for example in cases of extreme domestic violence.

In a statement, the authority said: "We must be clear that at no stage has it been the intention of the council to put any child at risk, or to allow any convicted child sexual exploitation offender to have care of any child."

It was seeking clarification from the Ministry of Justice as to how legal directions relating to Family Court proceedings should be applied, it said.

This was "not just for Rotherham," it added, "but to ensure that other councils across the country who may face similar issues are able to act with certainty and no more survivors of abuse have to experience further trauma".

A Ministry of Justice statement said: "Local authorities can apply to courts to request permission not to notify parents without parental responsibility about care proceedings, and courts should consider the potential harm to the child and mother when making this decision."

It added: "This is obviously a very distressing incident and the relevant departments and local authority will work urgently to understand and address the failings in this case."

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