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24 August 2003
GANGS of men who lure young girls to rape and groom for prostitution are operating in towns and cities across the country, it was claimed last night.
The shocking revelation came as one Rotherham mother told the Yorkshire Post that her 13-year-old daughter was repeatedly raped by a gang of Asian men who befriended her.
It follows reports that police in Keighley are reopening investigations
into alleged attacks on 33 teenage girls, whose mothers claim have been targeted by Asian men cruising the streets of the West Yorkshire town.
Many of the girls – who are all white – are reluctant to give evidence against their attackers, whom they see as their "boyfriends", and are seduced by presents and flattery before being assaulted.
Police and community leaders have discounted race as an issue but there are claims that the cultural background of arranged marriages is the key to understanding the problem.
The Rotherham woman branded her daughter's attackers "untouchable" amid a climate of fear and violence created by the gangs.
The girl fell victim to the men after they befriended her in Dinnington town centre, showered her with gifts and treated her to trips to a pub in their high-performance cars.
The teenager eventually reported the attacks to police but was too terrified to take her case to court for fear of abduction, her mother said.
Her family was warned by police it might have to move out of the area where it lived and assume a new identity to protect family members and the daughter.
The woman, who cannot be named, said she had heard of similar problems in Leicester, London and Birmingham.
"What happened was horrific and it has turned our lives upside down," she said.
"My daughter had been going into town at five o'clock with a couple of her friends and she was always home by eight. She was happy and doing well at school and we thought everything was fine.
"She was raped four times in front of seven other men and she was terrified. They told her that if she told anyone what had happened they would kill us. The police told us it was rife but it is like hitting your head against a brick wall because of the fear factor.
"My daughter's attacker was arrested and told if he ever went near her he would be charged with harassment but that was as far as we could take it.
"We are seven months down the line now and my daughter is still having counselling.
"She has had to move schools because the girls she was going into town with are still seeing these men.
"I felt like we were the only people it was happening to but no girl is safe. These men isolate girls from their family and friends, gain their trust and then abuse them.
"It is a big problem but it is being brushed under the carpet. They are untouchable – nobody is prepared to go to court because they are too intimidated."
In cases where the girls are 13 or over, police are prevented from initiating criminal proceedings without a formal complaint.
Mothers in Keighley have united to press for a change in the law which would allow them to give evidence when they believe their daughters are at risk from sexual exploitation.
In a joint statement, West Yorkshire Police and Bradford Council said concerns had been raised by parents but stressed that police needed evidence before action could be taken.
"The police and social services are investigating...and will take appropriate action if they find any evidence of abuse or other criminal behaviour," the statement said.
"This is a child protection issue and the well-being and safety of the young women in question have been treated with the utmost priority."
South Yorkshire Police confirmed that an allegation of rape had been made by a 13-year-old and said investigations were continuing.
Youth workers in Rotherham said similar groups of men were operating regionally and nationally, targeting vulnerable young girls and luring them into prostitution.
Christine Brodhurst-Brown, a youth officer for Rotherham Council's young people's services, said: "Unfortunately, this kind of thing is not unusual but there is a lack of awareness and we are working with young people to address the issue of sexual exploitation.
"Unscrupulous men are preying on vulnerable young women and it is precisely that lack of awareness that puts them at risk.
"All young women should be armed with the knowledge of what to look out for so they can spot when they are being groomed, and we would like to see more information available around recognising this exploitation.
"It is a complex issue and a sensitive one for lots of reasons but it is a national problem and the lid needs lifting on it.
"We all need to work together to address the issue as best we can, and that includes every young woman, every parent and every professional."
Ayub Laher, general secretary of the Bradford Council for Mosques, denied it was an issue unique to the Asian community. "The issue of sexual exploitation is one which affects all nationalities and backgrounds," he said.
"It stems from socio-economic problems, which lead young girls who are lacking in self-esteem and are easily impressed by money, cars, clothes and presents to get involved in these kind of relationships."
But Keighley MP Ann Cryer said the problem arose from arranged marriages, which left Asian men unable to have the same relationships with women as they witnessed among their peers.
"A man – wishing to satisfy his own relationship with a woman – is largely only able
to have a relationship with the most vulnerable of girls," she said.