A survivor of child sexual exploitation (CSE) has told an independent review how social workers condoned her Islamic marriage to one of her abusers at the age of 15 and left her with his family in a state of ‘domestic slavery’.
The review was commissioned in the wake of the sentencing of nine men in 2019 following the sexual exploitation of a child in the care of Bradford Council.
The report featured the stories of five children including a girl referred to as Anna who was placed in residential care as a teenager but went missing more than 70 times.
Anna disclosed sexual abuse and coercion, including rapes, to a specialist project working with her but none of this was passed on to police or social workers due to client confidentiality, the review said.
When Anna was 15, she told the project worker she converted to Islam and married her older Asian ‘boyfriend’ in a Sharia law ceremony.
The report said: ‘It appears that there was collusion with this by her Children’s Social Care (CSC) social worker who allegedly attended the ceremony and assessed that her marriage was likely to reduce the risks incurred when Anna was missing.’ Read that again. A social worker colluded in an under-age girl entering into a ritual to facilitate under-age sexual activity.
Anna then became pregnant and was placed with the family of her ‘husband’ as a foster child.
The review said: ‘This placement did not protect Anna from harm but did in fact place her at greater risk and made her entirely dependent on them. Whilst in the ‘care’ of these adults she was subjected to further sexual abuse and exploitation, domestic abuse including assaults and coercion and what we would now recognise as domestic slavery during the time she lived there.’
The review said that ‘during the time Anna was in care, she was being sexually abused and exploited by dozens of adult males, some of whom were known to her ‘boyfriend/husband’.’
Anna told report author Clare Hyde numerous social services assessments were carried out ‘but nothing ever acted on, and I was failed for more than two decades’. ‘I was 15 . . . I continued be subject to domestic violence and was subject to a coercive controlling sexual relationship with a known perpetrator. I was frightened to leave, in fear of an honour-based killing. . . The local authorities allowed and witnessed a Sharia Law Nikah wedding to take place allowing a man to carry out sexual activity on a child to occur on a daily basis which is illegal.’
…Another child in the care of Bradford Council, referred to as Fiona in the report. Fiona told Ms Hyde that the impact of how she was treated by professionals was as ‘bad as the abuse’ and exploitation.
Fiona Goddard, who was groomed and sexually abused in Bradford by men from 2008, told the BBC she was failed ‘multiple times’ by authorities. ‘I reported it multiple times – physical abuse, sexual abuse or rapes – and they were never followed up on.’
Ms Goddard, now 27, who has waived her legal right to anonymity, said most of the girls at the care home where she lived were victims of child sexual exploitation. ‘They had the opportunity to nip it in the bud and save me from years of abuse but they never did.’
Anna said agencies had “just ignored the abuse” and it had “destroyed her childhood”.
Both victims said the latest review did not go far enough and called for an independent inquiry, like the one carried out by Professor Alexis Jay into abuse in Rotherham.
Ms Goddard said: “This review talks about five people, but what about the hundreds of others who deserve the same apology and to see the failings written down in black and white?”
Nazir Afzal, the former chief crown prosecutor in the Rochdale grooming gang cases, said the new report’s findings were “deeply depressing but unsurprising”. He said while a full inquiry would reveal the true scale of the problem in Bradford he would rather “we get on with fixing the problem”.
In 2019, nine men were found guilty of offences including rape and inciting child prostitution after a trial lasting more than six weeks. During the trial, the court heard the grooming and abuse began in 2008 when the girls were aged 14, living in a children’s home in Bradford. The jury heard staff could not physically prevent the girls leaving the home but they were aware one of the girls was “being picked up by multiple Asian males in smart cars”.