ALL victims of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham have access to a support service which is independent of the National Crime Agency and South Yorkshire Police.
Tanya Wills and her team at the Independent Sexual Violence Advisory have supported victims involved in Operation Stovewood — but the service supports all victims regardless of whether they are involved in criminal proceedings against their abusers.
Ms Wills said services had let victims down in the past and her service was somewhere they could be listened to.
“We accept that in the past there have been failings with many services but my team looks at the present,” she said.
“I do think that trust is being rebuilt — it can be a very slow process from individual to individual but but that’s something we need to do.”
Ms Wills said the Operation Stovewood investigation was taking a long time because they had to build up trust with the victims.
“It takes time to build that trust,” she said.
“Everyone’s individual, they are all individuals and you can’t just deal with them as ‘this big group in Rotherham’.”
Ms Wills said Operation Stovewood provided a new challenge for the service because the National Crime Agency contacted victims instead of waiting for victims to contact them.
“There is an added layer of complexity to this investigation,” she said.
“Some of the victims don’t see themselves as victims.
“They worry about being believed and whether or not someone will believe what they are saying.
“The criminal justice process in itself is a very difficult process for victims.”
Ms Wills said it took a great deal of courage and strength for a victim to come forward.
“A lot of the victims are still living in Rotherham and a lot of the perpetrators are living in Rotherham so that in itself might stop people from coming forward because they might fear retribution,” she said.
“There is support all the way through that process if they decide to come forward.”
Ms Wills said it was important people knew that support was available even if they didn’t engage with the NCA investigation.
“Sometimes people think, ‘I can only get support if I progress with a criminal investigation’, but actually that is not the case,” she said.
“They can have support regardless.
“It’s all about choice and people being aware of what their choices are — so I say to people whatever choice you make, I will support that.”
Ms Wills and her team, who are based in Rotherham, are employed by the Barnsley Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Services (BSARCS), part of Rape Crisis England and Wales.