Wednesday 15 May 2013

Oxford sex abuse victim: 'At first they treat you like a princess'

One of the victims who gave evidence in court against the Oxford child sexual exploitation ring has told the Guardian how she was groomed, raped and trafficked while in the care of Oxfordshire county council.

Girl C's abuse began just after her 13th birthday. By the age of 14, the gang had got her addicted to hard drugs and was regularly trafficking the teenager across the country to be raped by strangers.

By 16, Girl C was pregnant by one of her abusers. She finally managed to escape only after her son was born, when the gang threatened to murder the baby if she did not start recruiting younger girls into the same cycle of abuse.

Speaking exclusively to the Guardian, Girl C revealed that her adoptive mother spent two years begging the council for help with her daughter, first contacting the council when Girl C was 12 years old and starting to stay out all night, returning home drunk and dishevelled.

"Mum wrote to all the key people in social services, called her own case conferences, invited agencies and got them sitting around the table, but they just passed the parcel between them – and all the while, I was getting increasingly under the power and influence of the gang," said Girl C.

"My adoptive mum started asking Oxfordshire social services for help with me in 2004 and they refused and resisted giving even the most basic support for two years."

By the time the council agreed to put the girl in a temporary care home, she said: "It was too late: the grooming process had run its course. I was completely under their [the gang's] control."

Shortly after she was trafficked from Oxford to London for the first time, she said, she tried to talk to staff at the care home but was told the conversation was "inappropriate".

"A week after I moved into the care home, I tried to tell two members of staff all the things that had been happening to me but they told me it was inappropriate to have the conversation at that time," she said. "They promised we would discuss it later but that never happened.

"If they had listened to me, they would have known exactly what was going on and it would not have happened again. But they turned me away. I wouldn't trust them after that."

Five men – Bassam and Mohammed Karrar, Akhtar and Anjum Dogar, and Assad Hussain – were convicted on Tuesday on charges including rape, conspiracy to rape, trafficking for sexual exploitation and facilitating child prostitution against Girl C.

Two other defendants were found guilty of charges involving other victims. Two other men were cleared.

Girl C is reluctant to draw wider conclusions from the fact that all her abusers were Muslim and their victims white.

"Not all the men are Asian: at least two are Egyptian," she said. "They are, though, all Muslim – but not all Muslim men behave like that."

There did, however, appear to be a subset of Muslim men in Oxford who targeted white girls.

Girl C said that when the men asked her to recruit younger girls, they specified that they wanted only white girls. "But not all the punters were Asian or North African," she added. "Although they were all foreign."

Girl C eventually moved "halfway across the country" in a final, desperate attempt to escape her abusers. Now living with her adoptive mother and young child, she has described how the gang went to considerable effort to slowly draw her in over many months.

"The grooming was so clever. It takes about one year and then it's too late: you're completely under their control," she remembered.

"It was such a smooth, planned, deliberate process.

"At first, they treat you like a princess. They make you feel wanted, cared for and ask you about your life and your family. They buy you gifts and make you the centre of their attention.

"That goes on for about six months, by which time you've told them so much that they know exactly what to say to get under your skin. Slowly they turn you against your family.

"I was so wrapped up in them that I believed what they told me without questioning it. I thought they were so wise; that they knew everything. I thought they were the only people I could trust.

"When you're dependent on them emotionally, they tie you even closer with drugs and alcohol. They got me addicted to crack cocaine first, then started giving me heroin. They once gave me a massive overdose and I nearly died.

"I was resuscitated by an ambulance man who realised what had happened to me even though I had no idea: I didn't even know what drug it was that I'd been given. I was like a zombie.

"The next stage of the grooming process happens once you're completely dependent on them," she said. "At this point, they begin flicking between attentive and being suddenly rude and aggressive. But even before they begin explicitly threatening you, you instinctively know something really bad will happen to you if you don't do what they want."

The sexual abuse was the second stage of the grooming process, she said. "It took six months for sex with one person to start. The man who targeted me said he loved me.

"But soon the switch flicked and he started saying things like: 'You have to [sleep with other men] for me because of all the things I have bought for you and done for you.' By that point the threats and the violence become explicit.

"You know that refusing would be really dangerous but by that point it doesn't occur to you to refuse: you're too much of a zombie. You're completely at their mercy."

When Girl C became pregnant at 16, she tried to escape but the threats became worse. "They said that I had to work for them in another way, by recruiting younger girls to do the jobs I was saying I wouldn't do any more. I couldn't do that but because I refused, I had to carry on working for them, doing what I'd been doing before."

After she had given birth to her baby, Girl C tried once again to escape. "I was desperate to get away but I was too terrified: they threatened to chop my son's head off and put it in a suitcase, and then kill me and my mum.

"I knew they would do it, too. They're not human," she said. "I have no doubt they would have killed me and done it painfully and slowly.

"Eventually, I got to the point where I didn't dare to leave the house," she said. "Then one day, I just snapped and realised the only ways to get out of this were to commit suicide, be murdered or move with my family halfway across the country. Within a few months, we were gone."

Girl C agreed to give evidence against the gang in court. In January, she travelled to London and spent eight days in the witness box at the Old Bailey.

It was, she said, such a traumatic experience that, despite Tuesday's sentences, she would not go through it again and would advise other victims of sexual abuse not to do so either.

"The defence lawyer set out to destroy and humiliate me in court," she said. "The judge had to adjourn the hearing five times to make him stop various lines of questioning because they were so aggressive and awful.

"I understand they have to question me but that defence lawyer tried to destroy me. I almost gave up a number of times and walked away.

"In the end, I stuck it out but I was traumatised by the experience. I'm on antidepressants now as a result," she said.

Girl C said she knew other girls in Oxfordshire who were being "groomed and abused by other gangs in exactly the same way that I was".

"I know some of these girls personally," she said. "I know for a fact that they've been let down and failed by social services in the early stages of their grooming process, just as I was failed, and as a result, they won't tell anyone what's happening – and the abuse just continues." Source

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