British lawmakers are calling for an independent investigation into yet another large-scale child exploitation operation in the U.K., following an explosive report in a Sunday paper alleging decades of sexual abuse by gangs of South Asian men.
An investigation by the Sunday Mirror compiled allegations of abuse against girls as young as 11, who were drugged, beaten and raped in Telford, a city of about 170,000 in central England. In one instance, a 16-year-old girl and her mother and sister were killed in 2000, when 26-year-old abuser Azhar Ali Mehmood set fire to their house.
The Mirror found that at least several hundred — and as many as 1,000 — girls have been abused since the 1980s.
Victims say Telford authorities knew of the organized sexual abuse starting in the 1990s, but failed to immediately launch an investigation. Authorities’ reluctance to aggressively investigate the alleged grooming gangs was caused in part by fears of being accused of racism or religious bias, according to the Mirror.
Lucy Allan, a member of parliament that represents Telford, called the most recent allegations of abuse “extremely serious and shocking” and demanded an independent inquiry.
“There must now be an independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Telford so that our community can have absolute confidence in the authorities,” Allan told the Mirror.
Previous allegations against a South Asian grooming gang in Telford resulted in Operation Chalice, a 2013 investigation that identified more than 100 potential victims abused between 2007 and 2009. Investigators believed there could have been as many as 200 men involved in the sex abuse ring, but just nine people were ultimately charged before the case was closed.
Police and social workers in Telford knew that the abuse had reached “epidemic” levels a decade before Operation Chalice, according to victims who spoke with the Mirror. Abused and trafficked children were referred to as “prostitutes” instead of victims, reports the Mirror, citing previously unseen files obtained through open records laws.
The vast majority of those targeted were young white girls, but teenagers from the Asian community were also abused. Liz Kelly, a professor at the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit at London Metropolitan University, says the true number of victims may never be known because young women are reluctant to come forward for fear their abusers will retaliate.
“We are acting as if we didn’t know about child sex abuse rings,” she told the Mirror. “We have an unfortunate capacity to choose to forget.”
The Telford case is reminiscent of a similar scandal that rocked the city of Rotherham in 2014. In that case, a group of Pakistani men were accused of running a child sex ring that sexually abused as many as 1,400 girls in brutal fashion, including gang rape, sex trafficking and forced abortions. As in Telford, the grooming gang in Rotherham used drugs and alcohol to ply young, working-class girls — many from unstable family environments.
Fears of racism likewise factored into the Rotherham investigation. Authorities were slow to confront the gang because of “nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought as racist; others remembered clear direction from their managers not to do so,” according the Jay Report, an independent inquiry into the Rotherham case.
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