British police and social care workers are facing mounting criticism after a major report revealed widespread failure to help at least 1,400 children in the town of Rotherham who were subjected to horrific sexual abuse, mostly by Pakistani criminal gangs between 1997 and 2013, out of fear of coming off as racist.
"By far the majority of perpetrators were described as 'Asian' by victims, yet throughout the entire period, councilors did not engage directly with the Pakistani-heritage community to discuss how best they could jointly address the issue. Some councilors seemed to think it was a one-off problem, which they hoped would go away," the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham wrote in its 157-page report.
"Several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist; others remembered clear direction from their managers not to do so," according to the report.
"Over the first 12 years covered by this inquiry, the collective failures of political and officer leadership were blatant," it added.
The executive summary noted that "no one knows" the true scale of child sexual exploitation that occurred in Rotherham over the years, and said that the 1,400 number is a "conservative estimate."
"It is hard to describe the appalling nature of the abuse that child victims suffered. They were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten, and intimidated," the report detailed.
"There were examples of children who 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. Girls as young as 11 were raped by large numbers of male perpetrators."
Shaun Wright, the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner who was in charge of children's services in Rotherham from 2005 to 2010, has been asked to step down from his post.
Home Secretary Theresa May has called on Wright to "heed calls" and resign, BBC News reported, but said it is not her job to hire and fire PCCs.
"I think he has real questions to answer. I think in the circumstances he should heed those calls," May said.
Sarah Champion, the Labour MP for Rotherham, added that Wright "needs to stand up and be counted for what happened under his watch."
Wright has apologized to victims, but said that he had no knowledge of the "industrial scale" of child abuse that was going on in the South Yorkshire town.
"Had I known then what I know now I could have done more," Wright said in his defense.
"As an elected member I came into this role to make a difference. At every stage I've done my utmost to protect those people," he added.
A spokesman for the Conservative Party has said that the government was "establishing an independent inquiry panel of experts in the law and child protection to consider whether public bodies, and other non-state institutions, have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse."
An editorial by The Guardian published on Wednesday argued that nothing should stand in the way of protecting the vulnerable.
"The chorus of voices raised against him, which includes the leadership of his own party, is, rightly, swelling. He should have gone at once. His lack of leadership, his reluctance to ask difficult questions or to intervene proactively, allowed the exploitation itemised in Professor Alexis Jay's grim report on Tuesday to grow from what an earlier investigator called gang abuse for personal gratification into 'financial and career opportunities' for young, mainly Asian, men," the editorial said about Wright.
"His failure to take responsibility now, in the face of the evidence, suggests a dangerous reluctance to address what went so damagingly wrong for so many vulnerable young women."
The independent report presented several recommendations to the Rotherham council, urging it to "make every effort" to reach out to victims of child sex abuse who have not yet been in touch with services.