For 16 years, 1,400 children in the impoverished South Yorkshire town of Rotherham were stalked, reported missing, or seen leaving school with strange men. At first, they were "white British children" and more recently, they were Pakistani, Kashmiri, and Roma, the AP reports. A new report reveals they were victims of a disturbing, and largely ignored, sex-abuse ring. "Children … had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone," writes professor Alexis Jay in a report commissioned by the town to investigate the claims of abuse. "Girls as young as 11 were raped by large numbers of male perpetrators." Police regarded the kids with "contempt," a third of whom were already known to them and child protection agencies, writes Jay.
The abuse started in 1997. In 2010, five Rotherham men were jailed for grooming teens for sex, and similar rings were uncovered in three more towns. No other arrests were made. In 2012, an investigation by the Times of London newspaper revealed that police and child protection agencies knew about the abuse for a decade, including formally in three reports, according to the Guardian. Town council members say the data was kept from them. Political correctness may have also prevented action—the perpetrators were believed to be Pakistani, and authorities may have feared that targeting one ethnic group would be seen as racist, explains AP. "The collective failures of political and officer leadership were blatant," Jay writes. So far, 29 people have been charged with child sexual abuse, reports the BBC. The number of convictions is unclear.