Three Girls: Petition calls for award for Rochdale whistleblower Sara Rowbotham

More than 130,000 demand social worker, played by Maxine Peake in BBC1's Three Girls, be acknowledged

Sara Rowbotham
Social worker Sara Rowbotham, who revealed the Rochdale abuse
(Image credit: Rochdale borough council)

More than 130,000 people have signed a petition calling for official recognition of Rochdale sex abuse whistleblower Sara Rowbotham in the wake of a BBC drama about the case.

It asks that the social worker, played by Maxine Peake in the BBC1 drama Three Girls, be formerly acknowledged for her work to get justice for the underage victims.

Rowbotham, who managed the local council's sexual health crisis intervention team between 2003 and 2014, campaigned for years after teenagers in the town confided to her they had been sexually exploited by a ring of older men.

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Despite this, however, police and social services were reluctant to take the reports seriously. Many of the victims were from vulnerable backgrounds, which Rowbotham believes contributed to the reluctance to pursue the claims.

"The girls didn't trust police or social services to help them and I quickly found out why they felt this way, as no one wanted to listen to them," she wrote in The Guardian.

"My calls to police were ignored and social workers told me the girls were making lifestyle choices."

Her team's work proved instrumental in building the case against the nine men who were convicted of participating in the abuse and given prison sentences in 2012.

Two years later, in 2014, Rowbotham was made redundant from her post.

"The very lady who believed these children, supported these children, never once dismissing these children or gave up on these children was tossed aside," says the petition.

In 2013, a serious case review found that "widespread sexual abuse of vulnerable young girls in Rochdale could have been avoided if the authorities had acted sooner," the Manchester Evening News reports.

Greater Manchester Police issued an apology in 2015 for failing to follow up on the reports of abuse more thoroughly, but no officer has ever faced disciplinary action.

The petition on calls for Rowbotham's work to be commended by the police and Crown Prosecution Service as well as by the government. Rowbotham now works as a councillor on Rochdale borough council.

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