Children's charities and religious groups have condemned the "horrifying abuse" suffered by the Oxford paedophile ring's victims after seven men were convicted at the Old Bailey on Tuesday. The NSPCC said the case had highlighted the "medieval attitudes" held by the men towards the young girls who were raped and sold for sex. The charity added that it believed the victims were "let down by those who were meant to care for them" as police and social workers apologised for not protecting the schoolgirls.
Jon Brown, the NSPCC's head of sexual abuse programmes, said: "The Oxford grooming trial has been a grim reminder that even though we are living in the 21st century some people have retained medieval attitudes towards young girls. The barbaric treatment of the victims in this case was depraved, almost beyond imagination and must never be allowed to happen again. Horrifying abuse was inflicted by this gang on vulnerable children who were looking for love but instead became trapped in a nightmare of sexual slavery, torture and forced abortion."
Brown said the victims, including one girl as young as 11, were treated as "commodities" to be sold and traded for profit "in the most callous way imaginable". He added: "The girls were let down by those who were meant to care for them and obvious signs of abuse were missed. Their treatment was unacceptable."
The trial involved mainly Asian men targeting white girls, raising comparisons with recent sex abuse cases in Rochdale and Rotherham. A group of faith leaders in Oxford criticised the "abhorrent and wicked" abuse suffered by the girls but said they were determined not to allow the case to encourage "individuals or groups whose motivation is to stir-up hatred". In a statement, the Oxford Council of Faiths and Civic and Community Leaders said: "We want to make it crystal clear that child sexual exploitation is an abhorrent and wicked crime.
"Our thoughts are with those young people who have suffered, through no fault of their own, and with their families and carers as they provide vital support at such a difficult time. As community leaders in Oxford we are determined not to allow any individuals or groups whose motivation is to stir-up hatred, to use this case for their own distorted ends," the group added. "It is not credible to blame a whole community for the acts of a tiny minority of bad individuals and we will not allow those with an agenda of hate and division to hijack this case."
OXCAT (Oxford Community Against Trafficking) praised the victims for their bravery during the trial including one woman who gave evidence in court in view of her abuser. OXCAT spokesman Andy Dipper said: "The decade-long catalogue of torment and abuse suffered by these young women has been horrifying. But it has been going on right under our noses; in our streets, outside our schools and behind closed doors in Oxford homes and hotels. This is not an isolated case, more and more incidents are being uncovered across the country. We cannot stand for this kind of abuse in modern day Britain."
Barnardo's chief executive Anne Marie Carrie said the convictions were a "positive step" in tackling child sex exploitation but remained an "unfortunate rarity". She said: "It takes immense bravery for sexually exploited children to seek to prosecute their abusers and convictions play a vital role in enshrining confidence in the legal system. If we are to see more decisions like the one today it is paramount victims believe they will be supported to pursue justice for themselves."
Christian Guy, managing director of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) think tank, said: "Sexual exploitation destroys lives and creates a living hell for its often voiceless victims. From top to bottom we must galvanise our anti-slavery and human trafficking efforts. There is far too much complacency and apathy from those who are supposed to lead the fight. Our research has shown horrific cases like these are all too common. It is time the fight against modern slavery and standing up for its victims became a political priority."
Javed Khan, chief executive of the charity Victim Support, said: "These guilty verdicts are testament to the extraordinary courage of the women in this case and remind us how crucial it is that the criminal justice system supports victims and witnesses. It was the evidence these women gave in court, however difficult and distressing that process was, which secured these convictions in the face of denials from the men who subjected them to such awful sexual abuse. There has been much mention of the ethnicity of the offenders in this case, but this must not distract us from the most important issue here - the vulnerability of their victims and the failings of agencies to keep them safe from harm over many years."
Julie Siddiqi, executive director of the Islamic Society of Britain, who co-founded an initiative called the Community Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE), said: "The damage these men have done and evil they have wrought will last a lifetime for their victims - survivors of abuse - which can never be fully healed. "The men and those who sheltered them must now examine their consciences as they reflect on the terrible nature of their crimes. It is imperative that there is no hiding place for abuse or abusers within any of our communities."
Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC told Channel 4 News: "I think what this case demonstrates is that these sorts of issues can be properly investigated and properly prosecuted and we have to pay tribute to teams that brought the cases to court and to the victims that did come forward. We have to qualify that by saying there's good work now, but there hasn't been historically and things have to change and for me there has to be a sea change in the way in which we approach credibility in these cases. These victims were very vulnerable. They were picked on because they were vulnerable. When they came forward those vulnerabilities were identified by police and prosecutors, the very reasons there cases couldn't be brought forward. We need to change that. We've done a lot of good work in recent months and years to change that. But we've got to complete on that part of our work. It's very important that we assess vulnerability properly and assess that many of these victims are not going to come forward and give a coherent and full account first time round.
He added: "They may well go back to the perpetrators. They may well use drink and drugs. But that's not a reason not to prosecute. That's a reason to prosecute. I don't think from a prosecutorial point of view it's about apologies. We've just succeeded in bringing this case. The best thing I can do is try to ensure the police and prosecutors going forward approach this in the right way. We've been hard at that for the last six months working on guidance that will bring forward a new approach, making sure that other government departments are involved in this, the court environment is involved in this. My role really is to ensure that we learn the lessons, build on the successes of cases like this and we make sure that going forward this just doesn't happen again."