THE head of a charity supporting victims of physical and sexual violence has spoken out about how she was raped by her own cousin and “given out” to a gang.
Zlakha Ahmed (55, pictured) said she wanted to tell her story because “child abuse is not talked about” and she was keen to disspell the myth only white girls were groomed and abused.
The executive director and founder of Rotherham charity Apna Haq pointed out more than 100 girls from ethnic minorities were identified among the 1,400 estimated by the 2014 Jay Report to have been subjected to sexual exploitation.
Ms Ahmed related how she had been raped and sexually abused by a male cousin when she was aged between seven and nine at the corner shop where she lived with her parents.
"I was abused by a male member of my own family and I was given out to a gang as well,” she said.
“Due to my own personal experiences, I know that women and girls from my community are not just sexually abused by family members but also exploited by gangs.”
Ms Ahmed said that on one occasion, her mother had walked in as she was being abused — but had still stayed silent on the issue as her parents feared speaking out would bring shame on the family.
“Child abuse is not talked about,” she said.
“There is an element of victim blaming and ostracisation of victims and victims’ families if they speak out.
“The feeling is that if nobody knows, it will disappear, as if it never happened.
“It’s also linked to marriages taking place within extended families, so there’s more pressure to keep quiet.”
Ms Ahmed said there remained a false stereotype that Asian men only abused white girls, so professionals did not seek out victims within BME groups.
She said: “I knew anecdotally that there were Asian girls living in Rotherham who had been groomed but hadn’t come forward.”
Ms Ahmed said of the estimated 1,400 victims of CSE identified by the Jay Report in 2014, more than 100 were Pakistani girls, but only one of them had contacted the authorities and there had been no convictions.
“It became really obvious to me that in Rotherham we had a total lack of understanding of what was happening in terms of black and ethnic minority girls who are being abused,” she said.
“Abusers don’t look at someone’s skin colour.
“If they can abuse someone and get away with it, that’s what they do.”
Ms Ahmed, who moved to Rotherham 32 years ago and lives in Moorgate, said that in her first job, at an Asian women’s organisation, she had come across young domestic violence victims who needed support, which was not available.
She secured funding from South Yorkshire Police to set up Apna Haq in 1994 to support South Asian women — since expanded to help black women and those from ethnic minorities — and her first conference attracted 60 women aged between 16 and 60.
Ms Ahmed spoke out about her own ordeal ahead of an awareness event next month about child sexual exploitation and abuse within BME communities, where she is a speaker.
The Awakening the Conversation event at the Carlton Park Hotel from 10am until 3pm on October 21 will present the results of a report by Prof Liz Kelly of London Metropolitan University about the child sexual abuse and exploitation are kept secret.
Ms Ahmed, who was awarded an MBE in 2016 for her community work, said: “If, in terms of my life’s work, I can make a difference and leave this legacy, I will feel like it was worth it.
“To be able to make a difference is the most important thing.”
Anyone interested in attending Awakening the Conversation should email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01709 519211 or 01709 519212.