LONDON—An investigation into child sexual abuse by so-called "grooming gangs" in the UK has secured seven more criminal convictions, as police continue to investigate more than 140 suspects in the English town of Rotherham.
With more than 1,500 victims, Rotherham has become a symbol of sexual exploitation of girls by gangs of predominantly Pakistani and South Asian heritage—often referred to as Asian grooming gangs—across northern English towns and cities, since reports began to emerge in 2010.
In 2015, the National Crime Agency (NCA) set up the largest operation of its kind to investigate 16 years of abuses in Rotherham, securing its first convictions last year. On Oct. 29, seven more were convicted at Sheffield Crown Court, for a range of child sexual-abuse offenses between 1998 and 2005 that included rape, sexual assault, and false imprisonment.
"The girls said that the abuse was mainly carried out at night in a variety of secluded or derelict locations, including empty houses where there was no electricity. They were often sexually abused on mattresses on the floor and locked in rooms so that they couldn’t escape."
NCA's Operation Stovewood currently has 22 separate investigations into sexual-abuse cases in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013.
The fact that the abuses were carried out predominantly by "Asian" men has proven controversial. In the UK, “Asian” often refers to people from the Indian subcontinent, typically Pakistan, or sometimes the Middle East.
Local Rotherham lawmaker Sarah Champion resigned from her position as lead on equalities in the opposition Labour Party after being criticized for an article she wrote on the scandal.
Misplaced 'Political Correctness'A 2015 government-commissioned report into the Rotherham abuses said: “Children were sexually exploited by men who came largely from the Pakistani heritage community. Not enough was done to acknowledge this, to stop it happening, to protect children, to support victims and to apprehend perpetrators.
“The council’s culture is unhealthy: Bullying, sexism, suppression, and misplaced ‘political correctness’ have cemented its failures."
According to local census data, those of South Asian heritage make up only around 10,000 of Rotherham's total population of 260,000.
Rotherham is one of a number of British towns and cities in which widespread sexual grooming of young girls has been brought to light in recent years.
Javid, a second-generation Pakistani immigrant, was criticized by some for raising the ethnicity of the criminals.
"I like to be driven by the evidence," he told the Times. "That’s why I ask the experts.”