‘ 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
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.’