When revelations of large-scale child abuse in Rotherham were reported in 2014, the perception of the town changed for many. What has it been like for those living locally?
“We’ve had lots of violence, lots of racially motivated attacks. I am very concerned about my children,” Nasrat Haider explains outside her home in Rotherham. She has five children and stepchildren, aged between seven months and 13 years old.
In 2014, a report found at least 1,400 children had been subjected to appalling sexual exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013 – mainly by men of Pakistani heritage.
Ms Haider believes the town’s Asian community has been damaged by the revelations.
“We’re all seen as groomers, we’re all seen as paedophiles,” she says.
“I want [my children] to walk in the streets feeling secure, feeling proud of their heritage and being part of the Rotherham community.
“I want them to be integrated in society – but at this time it’s very hit and miss.”
Ms Haider has lived in the South Yorkshire town since the age of five.
She was once proud to live there, but not anymore.
Recently, she has felt it necessary to broach the subject of child abuse with her older children, so they are aware of the issue and less likely to become victims themselves. But it was a difficult decision.
“It’s a conversation you would have with a 15- or 16-year-old, not a 10- or 11-year-old,” she says.
“It’s almost as if you’re taking away their innocence.”
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Jessie Long, a 20-year-old dance teacher in Rotherham, has also felt the need to adapt her behaviour as a precaution.
“With kids coming here [to dance], I stand at the door and watch them and make sure they are with their parents when they leave.
“I would never let them go off alone and just assume that they’d got home all right.
“When I was at school, we’d go to the park and hang about until 21:00 or 22:00, whereas now I say to the children ‘don’t go anywhere when it’s dark – don’t do this, don’t do that’.”
She has found it difficult to trust people since the abuse came to light.
“You don’t know who [the attackers] are, you don’t know what they’re like,” she says.
“They’re quite obviously still out there living a normal life.
“There are things that I do massively different.
“When I go out on a night out with friends, there’s no way we’d get a taxi home – especially not on our own.”
The 2014 report that first highlighted the scale of the abuse also found taxi drivers had played a prominent role in moving around children who were abused in the town.
It has left cab drivers such as Khadim Hussain losing trade and feeling answerable to the actions of others.
“You don’t know what customers think of you in the back of your mind,” he says.
“They’ll always question you, want to know your opinion. It has affected me a lot.”
Mr Hussain worries that people are nervous – or even scared – of getting in his car, despite him having been in the profession for 25 years.
“We’re just trying to make a living at the end of the day, like any person,” he says.
More than a year-and-a-half after the report first came to light, he is still receiving abuse.
“A customer at the weekend began swearing and shouting racial abuse,” he says.
“I should have actually called the police.”
Others, however, believe the town is slowly progressing from its original period of grief and anger.
Gift-shop owner Charlotte Scothern thinks the community has reached the stage of acceptance, focusing now on “making sure everyone has justice, making sure it never happens again”.
“It is a journey, and I think the town’s been through it together,” she says.
“Now, especially, with there being more support in place, we are now in a place where people understand the issue more.”
Ms Scothern’s business has been affected by protests, organised by groups such as Britain First.
She says street closures caused by the demonstrations are leading some small businesses into financial difficulty.
The lost Saturday trade, she says, “can be the difference between staying afloat and going under”.
But she maintains she would not want to live anywhere else.
“You will not go somewhere else and find a friendlier town,” she says.
“And I think that’s the thing we’ve got to hold on to.
“You don’t let them few people who have damaged us, define us.”
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