A report claims at least 1,400 children as young as 11 were sexually abused from 1997- 2013 in Rotherham. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

What justice for grooming gang survivors?

A new judgment represents some progress

Artillery Row

The trauma of being the victim of a grooming gang is unimaginable — leaving deep and vivid psychological scars. This is the reality for thousands of women and girls up and down the nation. What justice is there for such victims?

One grooming gang perpetrator, Ashgar Bostan was jailed for 9 years in February 2018 at Sheffield Crown Court for raping “Liz” (not her real name) when she was under sixteen years old. Liz was groomed by a woman who plied her with alcohol and drugs before she was assaulted multiple times. Liz said her childhood had been “destroyed” by Bostan.

Just two years later, Bostan was moved to an open prison without Liz being informed. Liz was interviewed by BBC Newsnight about this, and she told the programme that she had been “failed as a child” and was being “failed again” years later. “The only difference is now I’m actually an adult and I understand what’s going off,” she said. A Prison Service spokesperson said, “We sincerely apologise for the distress caused and have taken immediate action to prevent it happening again.”

Bostan was released from prison last year after having served just half of his sentence, and much of that in an open prison. 

Liz has written about her experience as a grooming gang victim in a book: Snatched: Trapped by a Woman to Be Sold to Men. In an interview last year, she said: “I have complex post-traumatic stress disorder with anxiety and depression. I manage it well, but I do have blips with my mental health and I have been left with a lot of psychological damage.” This is entirely understandable, and to be expected.

She says that police and social services turned a blind eye to her abuse, and even arrested her desperate dad when he tried to rescue her. No police officers have been held accountable in spite of reportedly knowing about her groomer’s involvement in child sex exploitation. Liz was failed multiple times, but finally secured a conviction against one of her abusers, only to hear that he is out of prison again just a few years later while she continues to suffer.

Now, in what is described as a “ground-breaking” case, Liz sued her rapist in a civil action against him. With the support of Hearts of Oak, whistle-blower Jayne Senior, and with funding from Lord Pearson and Lord Vinson, she was able to obtain some level of financial justice. The High Court awarded Liz £425,924.09 in damages to be paid by Bostan. The court also granted an anonymity order for her to be known as “Liz”.

Civil action cases against rapists appear to be rare and not well known. I hope that Liz’s case will pave the way for many other victims to obtain compensation. Liz said, “I also did it to show that, having been badly let down by South Yorkshire Police and Rotherham Council, we survivors can take things into our own hands and fight back for real justice.”

I wrote last month about how grooming gangs continue to operate to this day on a shocking scale. It has been going on for over 40 years, in multiple towns up and down the country. In Rotherham alone, where Liz lived, more than 1,500 girls are thought to have been abused. In Telford it is another 1,000. There are certainly tens of thousands of victims across the country.

A disproportionate amount of the abusers have a Pakistani background. As then Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, said in 2018: “It is a statement of fact — a fact which both saddens and angers me — that most of the men in recent high profile gang convictions have had Pakistani heritage.” 

In this particular case, the groomer was a white convert to Islam, who facilitated the abuse of Liz by multiple men, including Bostan. Many thousands of women have been victims, and many of them raped multiple times. 

This case should set a standard for levels of compensation for grooming gang victims

This case should set a standard for levels of compensation for grooming gang victims. There are many other victims whose abusers have been convicted. I hope that they will be emboldened by what Liz has done, and encouraged by the fact that Liz has been able to retain her anonymity throughout. This win should pave the way for many others to bring civil actions against their perpetrators to obtain compensation and some level of financial justice.

It is rather extraordinary that our legal system doesn’t provide financial compensation as a matter of course in cases like this. Instead victims are left to fend for themselves and bring a private civil case if they have the wherewithal to know that this can be done and to find a suitable lawyer to help them. If you have been a grooming gang victim in childhood, then you are used to being failed by the system and won’t know that this kind of legal redress is available.

I would advocate for harsher prison sentences for grooming gang offenders. A few years in prison seems to lack any proportion to the harm of the crime. At least courts ordering financial compensation goes some way to rectifying a massive injustice.

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