NATIONAL Crime Agency investigators have been been using video conferencing to keep in touch with and support survivors of Rotherham child sexual exploitation as they continue with Operation Stovewood, which it has been revealed could take another seven years
Phillip Marshall, senior investigating officer with the NCA, said around 600 alleged victims and survivors were still to be spoken to as part of the probe into grooming and abuse between 1997 and 2013 with 872 so far "engaged with".
Professor Alexis Jay's 2014 report estimated 1,400 vulnerable children had been abused by men of predominantly Pakistani heritage over a 16-year period while those in authority failed to act, but the NCA puts the figure for 1997 to 2013 at over 1,500.
Mr Marshall said the coronavirus pandemic had had an impact on the inquiry but technology was combating this.
that the agency's resolve to help victims had not been diminished.
He said: "We have been impacted by the virus and have been working in line with government restrictions.
"We do not want to place any further pressure on the NHS or put anyone at risk.
"This has not diminished our resolve to protect victims.
"We have continued to work tirelessly to support victims, through phone and video conferencing.
"We have since been able to recommence direct interviews.
"We are very keen to ensure an appropriate level of support for individual victims.
"Before we engage with victims we research around their individual needs and tailor our support.
"The support is not time-bonded. We support victims for a significant period of time to help them come to terms with the abuse. We are very keen to ensure an appropriate level of support for individual victims."
There are currently 32 ongoing separate investigations under way as part of Operation Stovewood, 872 victims have been spoken to and 213 suspects have been identified.
To date, 20 people have been convicted, five await trial and 135 have been arrested, or attended a police station voluntarily, and bailed or released under investigation.
The 19 people who have been sentenced have been jailed for a total of 248 years and nine months.
Mr Marshall added that the support of Rotherham Council had been integral to the investigation as they have ensured access to records and rectified any issues in the past.
He said: "They have helped with interactions around every victim, suspect and offender. The investigation has ripples of impact across the community.
"There is ongoing work at various levels to rebuild confidence in agencies.
"At a local level, community representatives and victim representatives have explained the work we are doing, so that victims have confidence in the service to make disclosures of abuse.
"The investigation is absolutely fundamental and critical in restoring public confidence - 1,500 is a significant number of victims we need to provide justice to.
"This investigation is critical, and has provided the appropriate funding, time and space."
Mr Marshall appealed for any victims to come forward and assured them that they would be treated with respect and sensitivity, and that support is in place for them long-term.
"This investigation has been in place since 2015, and given the scale and complexity will take a number of years because of the number of individuals involved, and their unique needs," he added.
"Based on the information we have today, it is likely to continue for the next five to seven years."