‘ How dare the Gov­ern­ment tell me I con­sented to my abuse’

Sammy Wood­house, 32, one of the sur­vivors of the Rother­ham sex abuse scan­dal, last week re­vealed she was de­nied com­pen­sa­tion. Despite the fact she was 14, the au­thor­i­ties deemed her abuse con­sen­sual. Here, she re­counts her ag­o­nis­ing jour­ney to jus­tice

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of the Rother­ham sex groom­ing scan­dal. I can say that quite eas­ily now. I’m not ashamed of what hap­pened to me and I now use my voice to speak up for all of us who were so badly let down, and who suf­fered ter­ri­bly be­cause South York­shire po­lice and Rother­ham Coun­cil turned a blind eye to the wide­spread groom­ing of un­der­age chil­dren from 1997 to 2013.

It’s been a long, dif­fi­cult jour­ney. I’ve been sui­ci­dal and I’ve suf­fered long pe­ri­ods of se­vere de­pres­sion. I now have a lot more good days than bad. But, ear­lier this year, I re­ceived a let­ter that threat­ened to undo all of that. It was from the Crim­i­nal In­juries Com­pen­sa­tion Au­thor­ity (CICA) – a re­sponse to my claim for com­pen­sa­tion for the years of abuse I’d suf­fered at the hands of Ar­shid Hus­sain. He had re­cently been jailed for 35 years af­ter be­ing found guilty of 23 counts in­clud­ing rape, indecent as­sault, ab­duc­tion, false im­pris­on­ment and aid­ing and abet­ting rape. He and his broth­ers targeted 15 girls, in­clud­ing me, and one as young as 11.

I can still re­mem­ber how I felt when I read the let­ter – it was like be­ing kicked in the stom­ach. It said, ‘I am not sat­is­fied that you were a

vic­tim of a sex­ual as­sault to which you did not in fact con­sent… I am not sat­is­fied that your con­sent was falsely given as a re­sult of be­ing groomed by the of­fender… in fact, it ap­pears that you ex­er­cised your au­ton­o­mous choice to en­gage in sex­ual ac­tiv­ity with the of­fender.’

I was com­pletely floored by it. CICA had al­ready flatly re­fused me com­pen­sa­tion once. This time, they were of­fer­ing a small set­tle­ment for only one con­vic­tion of anal rape. Ev­ery­thing I’d been through and had proven in court in 2016 was cast aside – ac­cord­ing to them, I did not de­serve com­pen­sa­tion; I was not the vic­tim I claimed to be.

I was 14 when I met Ar­shid, who was then 24. Back then, I was a happy, nor­mal girl liv­ing at home with my mum, dad and two sis­ters. I had good grades and a re­ally bright fu­ture. Ar­shid took all of that away. He lav­ished me with presents and at­ten­tion, and be­came my first proper boyfriend. But then he turned – he iso­lated me from my fam­ily and be­came con­trol­ling and vi­o­lent. I dropped out of school and was soon com­pletely in his grip. He gave me STIS, raped me and got me preg­nant when I was just 14. We had a son to­gether, but it was only when he was briefly im­pris­oned (over a vi­o­lent at­tack on some­one else) that I was able to get away from him, re­turn to my par­ents and start re­build­ing my life. All that time, I was on the po­lice and coun­cil’s radar and yet no one stepped in.

Read­ing that com­pen­sa­tion let­ter, I felt failed all over again. As chil­dren, we were treated so badly – by our abusers, but also by all the pro­fes­sion­als who should have in­ter­vened and saved us but didn’t. Ar­shid was reg­u­larly in trou­ble with the po­lice and I re­mem­ber be­ing in his house one time when it was raided. I was 15 and naked in his bed and yet I was the one who was arrested – for hav­ing a ba­ton-style weapon in my bag that he had given me to hide. No­body saw that I was a vic­tim.

De­press­ingly, what CICA’S let­ter high­lighted is that some peo­ple still don’t un­der­stand what sex­ual groom­ing is or how to treat vic­tims. More shock­ingly, it shows a dis­re­gard for the law that clearly states that chil­dren un­der 16 can­not con­sent to sex.

Although I chal­lenged CICA again, and they even­tu­ally paid me what I was en­ti­tled to for all the crimes that were com­mit­ted against me, they have never apol­o­gised. Seven hun­dred other child vic­tims of sex­ual abuse have also been re­fused pay­ments by CICA – I’m speak­ing out now be­cause that’s wrong. Had I re­ceived that let­ter when I was still in a dark place, I prob­a­bly would have killed my­self. CICA needs to re­alise that a lot of abuse sur­vivors are sui­ci­dal and deal­ing with men­tal health is­sues as a re­sult of what they’ve been through.

Even now, as adults, we sur­vivors wake up ev­ery day and have to fight just to be treated like hu­man be­ings. We shouldn’t have to prove over and over again what hap­pened to us. That’s why I want CICA to scrap and re­build its cur­rent sys­tem. I want its staff to be re­trained. I’ve writ­ten to Jus­tice Sec­re­tary David Lid­ing­ton and asked for a meet­ing to ex­plain how this treat­ment has made me and oth­ers feel.

There have been lots of pos­i­tive changes over the past few years – the pub­lic’s sup­port has been over­whelm­ing – but we still have a long way to go. We need to keep pil­ing on the pres­sure so that vic­tims feel re­as­sured about com­ing for­ward and sur­vivors get the com­pen­sa­tion they de­serve. Fol­low Sammy’s cam­paign on Twit­ter @sam­my­wood­house1 A CICA spokesper­son said, ‘Child sex­ual abuse is ab­hor­rent. Our guide­lines are de­signed to make sure con­trol­ling and abu­sive behaviour is taken into ac­count when han­dling com­pen­sa­tion ap­pli­ca­tions. We want to be sure that we never get these de­ci­sions wrong. That’s why we are re­view­ing our staff guid­ance to make sure we iden­tify ev­ery in­stance where groom­ing could be a fac­tor. We’re ac­tively en­gag­ing vic­tim sup­port groups and rel­e­vant char­i­ties to make sure the re­vised guid­ance is as ro­bust as it can be.’

The dev­as­tat­ing let­ter from CICA deny­ing Sammy com­pen­sa­tion

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