One of the victims of the Rotherham abuse scandal has revealed she was initially denied a compensation payout, having being told that, at 14 years old, she had not been “manipulated or progressively lured” into a ‘relationship’ with a 24-year-old man.
Sammy Woodhouse, one of an estimated 1,400 children abused by a paedophile gang in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013 and systematically ignored by authorities, recently waived her right to anonymity in order to discuss the shocking sexual exploitation.
And while the ringleader, Arshid Hussain, was jailed for 35 years in 2016 for multiple offences against 15 girls including rape, abduction, making threats to kill and indecent assault, Woodhouse says her initial claim for compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) was turned down.
According to the BBC’s Inside Out Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, the response read: “I am not satisfied that your consent was falsely given as a result of being groomed by the offender.
“The evidence does not indicate that you were manipulated or progressively lured into a false relationship.”
Woodhouse told the BBC: “If an adult can privately think that it's a child's fault for being abused, beaten, raped, abducted, I think you're in the wrong job.”
Woodhouse appealed and was eventually awarded the maximum amount of compensation she qualified for.
Hussain’s brothers Basharat and Bannaras were jailed for 25 and 19 years respectively, while their uncle, Qurban Ali, was found guilty of conspiracy to rape and imprisoned for 10 years.
Earlier this year, BBC One’s drama Three Girls drew attention to the way the physical, sexual and emotional abuse and violence suffered by children over several years was consistently ignored by police, the council and social services – with vulnerable, underage girls being treated as if they were in genuine adult relationships with grown men or dismissed as ‘child prostitutes’.
In an interview with The Guardian in April, Woodhouse revealed how she was groomed, alienated from her friends and family, raped, subjected to almost daily violence and threatened with death. She fell pregnant twice, first having an abortion at the age of 14 then having a child when she was 15. She says the police knew her well, but didn’t see her as an underage girl being taken advantage of: “They always saw me as his equal. I was never treated as a victim. I was [seen as] part of his gang, his mistress.”
She added: “People say they didn’t know what grooming was back then. But if a police officer didn’t know it’s wrong for a 14- and a 24-year-old to be involved, then they were in the wrong occupation […]
“We were ‘slags’ and ‘little criminals’ [to them]. To this day, some people look at us like that.”
Devastating details were revealed in court, such as one woman who said abuse started when she was just 11, and she was passed around men as “payment” for the debts of her ‘boyfriend’ for years.
The extent of the problem was uncovered largely thanks to the dedication of Sara Rowbotham, a crisis intervention team coordinator working for a sexual health support service, who made it her mission to expose what she called a “major crisis where girls were being raped on an industrial scale.”
Woodhouse’s solicitor said of CICA’s initial decision: “I am utterly shocked by the notion that decision-makers in a government organisation can consider that 14 or 15-year-old girls can consent to sex with adults.
“They decided she must have consented when it’s just not legally possible.”
A Freedom of Information request by the BBC revealed nearly 700 child victims of sexual abuse, including grooming, have been refused payments.
A CICA spokesperson said the compensation body was reviewing its guidance by consulting with organisations such as Barnardo’s and Victim Support to make sure the new advice would be “as robust as it possibly can be”.
Image: BBC One / Rex Features