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When Sarah Wilson was 11 years old, a 30-year-old man raped her in the school playground at night.The paedophilic attack was so traumatic that Sarah, who had no understanding of sex, was left numb to tears.
Sarah’s rape was the grotesque beginning of her systematic grooming and sexual assault.
She was plied with alcohol and drugs, driven across the country to be raped by multiple men in one night, and ignored by both the police and social services. Sarah is one of at least 1,400 children who were sexually exploited by gangs of predominantly Pakistani-origin men in Rotherham from 1997 to 2013.
But when a report last summer finally revealed the scale of abuse in Rotherham, Sarah’s only surprise was that someone finally cared.
Last week, a National Crime Agency investigation announced that around 300 suspects had been identified, including two serving or former Rotherham councillors.
Taxi drivers, who were involved in trafficking victims, have also come under scrutiny.
Around 25 taxi drivers no longer have licenses due to child abuse concerns, and hundreds of taxi drivers are planning to strike in response to rules requiring them to install CCTV inside their cabs.
As Rotherham finally begins to address almost two decades of paedophilic grooming, Sarah Wilson, who’s now 23 years old, has written an autobiography, Sarah first became vulnerable to grooming because she was isolated and bullied at school.
She had no friends her own age and so, when older girls invited her to hang out, she was grateful for the chance to belong and she accepted the alcohol and cannabis they offered.
One girl, 15-year-old Nadine, brought Sarah along to meet her 30-year-old “boyfriend” and other grown men.
Years later, Sarah learnt that once paedophiles’ victims became young adults, they would be pressured to find new, younger girls.
Nadine wasn’t simply Sarah’s friend, but her pathway to abuse.
“The teachers saw me get bullied but they weren’t bothered really, they just left it,” says Sarah.