Saturday, 25 March 2017
Betrayed by the authorities who were meant to protect me: Middle-class teenager who grew up with two loving parents had a baby with a Rotherham grooming sex monster after police and social services failed to act
Sammy Woodhouse, 31, was raised in a close-knit and loving family and, until this week, the anonymous voice of the Rotherham sexual grooming scandal.
Sammy Woodhouse is a pretty, fine-boned woman whose tiny frame belies the robust resilience of her character. It is hard to imagine the depravity of the man who, when she was no more than a child herself, abused her and twice made her pregnant.
The litany of sexual exploitation, violence and emotional cruelty she endured as an adolescent is chilling.
Equally disturbing is the fact that the authorities — the police and the council-appointed carers who should have protected her — seemed to her, by failing to deal with the abuse, almost to condone it.
Sammy, 31, who was raised in a close-knit and loving family, is the fiercely eloquent — but until this week anonymous — voice of the victims of the Rotherham sexual grooming scandal.
She has now chosen to let the public know her identity and speaks in full for the first time about the harrowing two years she spent in thrall to the manipulative Arshid Hussain, a drug dealer ten years her senior from a notorious family of criminals.
Hussain, 42 — who uses a wheelchair since a gangland shooting in 2005 — is now serving 35 years in prison for 23 offences, including rape and indecent assault, involving nine victims, and it is thanks in large part to Sammy’s compelling evidence that he was brought to justice.
But failures in the system were endemic. In 2015, Rotherham Council was declared ‘not fit for purpose’ because it had failed so parlously in its handling of child sexual exploitation. A damning report estimated 1,400 girls had been abused in the town by men of predominantly Pakistani heritage during a 16-year period until 2013.
She spent two years in thrall to the manipulative Arshid Hussain, a drug dealer ten years her senior from a notorious family of criminals. Hussein is serving 35 years in prison. Pictured, aged three (left) and four (right)
‘Arshid destroyed me emotionally,’ says Sammy today. ‘He took everything from me: my loving family, my future, my friends.
‘I’d just turned 14 when he started grooming me, and at the time I was smitten. Besotted.
‘The grooming process is fun for the victim. He took me to nice restaurants; he told me I was pretty, intelligent, amazing.
‘I was too young, too naïve, to recognise that I was actually being manipulated by a paedophile, because he was nothing like my image of a man who abused under-age girls. I thought they were strangers who hung around school gates offering sweets.
‘It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s that the realisation hit me like a ton of bricks. He hadn’t been my boyfriend. I was just one of dozens of girls he’d exploited and viewed as white trash. It was like an explosion going off in my head.
She started being groomed by Hussein when she was 14. She said: 'I felt disgusting, dirty. He destroyed my self esteem.' Pictured winning a pageant on holiday aged six.
‘I felt disgusting, dirty — as if I belonged to a part of society beneath everyone else. I had no hope, no life and I felt as if my whole life had been a lie.
‘He became controlling, possessive and he’d batter me. But the scars of the mental abuse took longer to fade than the bruises. He used to tell me that without him I was nothing and nobody.
‘He destroyed my self-esteem, and that’s as much a form of abuse as the beatings he gave me.
‘For four or five years, there were times I was so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed. At my lowest point, I wanted to take my own life.
‘Justice has been done now. It won’t make up for the lost years, but at least other girls are safe from him, and he has 35 years to think about what he’s done.
‘I’ve gone through the worst. I was a victim, then a survivor, and now I’m thriving. My focus now is on my children, and campaigning.’
Sammy, who endured an abortion at 14 and gave birth to a son by Hussain at 15, is now a single mum. She has a second son, aged 11, from a subsequent relationship.
She is also a powerful advocate for the victims of sexual abuse, and her education campaign has won a £3.1 million grant for the children’s charity Barnardo’s.
That Sammy is both intelligent and articulate is clear. The fact that she was raised in a stable nuclear family by hard-working, loving parents explodes the myth that it is children in care — or those in dysfunctional families — who are the most vulnerable to abuse. ‘Everyone thinks abused children come from damaged homes,’ she says. ‘It’s just not true.
Sammy, who endured an abortion at 14 and gave birth to a son by Hussain at 15, is now a single mum. She has a second son, aged 11, from a subsequent relationship. Pictured, Sammy aged six (left) and four (right)
‘All the girls in Rotherham who were sexually exploited, as I was, had very good, secure homes. I always say anyone can be a victim, and anyone can be a perpetrator.’
Sammy, the youngest of Mel and Julie Woodhouse’s three daughters, remembers the happy community in which she grew up: the cheerful camaraderie of neighbours, trips in the family’s caravan to the coast at Cleethorpes, and the enveloping love of an extended family of aunts and cousins who lived near her family’s three-bedroom home.
Her father, a painter and decorator, also owned a pool hall.
‘He’s always been a grafter,’ says Sammy. ‘He doesn’t smoke or drink. He’s a keen cyclist. Dad was the disciplinarian.’
Her father, a painter and decorator, also owned a pool hall. Her mother died 11 years ago of a brain haemorrhage and did not live to see her daughter's abuser brought to justice. Pictured aged 12.
She describes her mother, who died 11 years ago of a brain haemorrhage and did not live to see her daughter’s abuser brought to justice, as ‘my best friend’.
‘I was very loved, mischievous and full of energy. School reports described me as “promising” and “a pleasure to teach”. I was set for five good GCSE grades.
‘And Mum and Dad took me all over the country with the dance/aerobics squad I belonged to. My ambition was to be a dancer.’
However, shortly before she turned 13, her parents decided that Sammy should give up the competitive dancing to concentrate on her school work. It seemed to mark the start of a decline.
By now at secondary school, she started meeting school friends on the local green — which had already become a hunting ground for the predatory Arshid Hussain and his younger brother, Basharat.
‘Just after my 14th birthday, I was on the green with a friend when Ash (Arshid) pulled up in his silver Astra,’ she recalls. ‘I already knew his brother, Basharat. Everyone knew each other. So Ash didn’t feel like a complete stranger. He was very well-dressed, good-looking and muscular.
‘He asked a friend and me to go for a ride in his car. Then he asked how old I was. I lied that I was 16. He stroked my face and said: “You’re not really, are you?” So I admitted I was 14.’
Each day after school, Hussain, then 24, began taking Sammy out. They went to several of the many properties his family owned. She even met his mother and sisters.
His cynical grooming campaign — the smooth talking and false affection — could not have failed to reel in an impressionable adolescent girl.
At secondary school, she started meeting school friends on the local green — which had already become a hunting ground for the predatory Arshid Hussain and his younger brother, Basharat. Pictured right aged 13 with sister Rachel.
‘He seemed respectful of me,’ recalls Sammy. ‘He paid me compliments; he was amusing. I was just mesmerised by him.
‘People viewed him with a mix of fear and awe, and I was flattered he was interested in me. He made me feel grown-up and special.
‘Not for one second did I think: “I’m at risk, in danger.” I was intrigued, too, and there was the attraction of the forbidden. But I knew, instinctively, that Mum and Dad would disapprove.’
Within days, Mel and Julie, conscientious parents that they were, realised what was happening.
‘Dad was like an FBI agent,’ Sammy recalls. ‘He found out everything. He said he wanted Ash charged. The police were involved, but I refused to make a statement and they said there was nothing they could do.’
Parents Mel and Julie realised within days what was happening and wanted Hussain to be charged. But Sammy refused to make a statement. Pictured aged 15
In fact, Hussain had not yet had sex with Sammy. It was a month before he did — and by then she was ‘smitten’. Her parents had grounded her, but Hussain had begun collecting her from school at lunchtime.
‘The first time we had sex was one lunchtime at his family home,’ she says. ‘I thought: “He’s my boyfriend — this is what you do.” I had such strong feelings for him. I loved him. And he was clever and manipulative. He said: “Your dad just doesn’t like me because he’s a racist.”’
It wasn’t long before Sammy began skipping lessons.
Sammy had sex with Hussein for the first time at his family home. Soon after, Sammy started skipping lessons. Six months on, Sammy discovered she was pregnant.
‘Ash was taking me to the cinema and to nice restaurants. He was like a walking cash card. He paid for everything.
‘He bought me a mobile phone — which my parents had refused me because I was too young — and an “engagement” ring, which I later discovered was stolen.
‘He didn’t seem like an evil monster. To me then, he was Prince Charming.’
The relationship escalated with Sammy disappearing for days or weeks at a time, moving between flats and B&Bs, many apparently owned by the Hussain family. Her parents were at their wits’ end.
‘Dad scoured the streets looking for me. He took my photo to every B&B and hotel in the area, asking if anyone had seen me. Mum would cry herself to sleep. It ripped our family apart.’
Six months on, Sammy discovered she was pregnant. While her parents’ distress was unimaginable, she was ‘ecstatic’.
Her father confronted Hussain at his family home. There was an altercation and Mel was hit in the face.
Sammy persisted in her naïve belief that once her baby was born, she and Hussain would get married ‘and live happily ever after in a nice little house’.
But she had no idea of the monstrous scale of his deceit. He already had a wife, and she was just one of a string of girls he was abusing.
When Sammy's family found out she was pregnant, her father confronted Hussain and Mel was hit in the face. She still believed she would marry Hussain when the baby was born. Pictured aged 19
Sammy’s parents were determined to secure his conviction for having sex with an under-age girl.
They believed the baby’s DNA would provide the proof.
As a result, Hussain insisted Sammy have an abortion. ‘He said he’d go to prison if I didn’t,’ she recalls.
‘Afterwards, I lay sobbing. I felt as if I’d murdered my baby. I was going through puberty, I was pregnant and being abused. It was my lowest point.’
By then, she was also scared of Hussain’s violent temper.
‘He’d become possessive and controlling. He didn’t want me even to talk to boys at my school. He started to hit me, drag me round by my hair. Once, he gave me a bloody nose.
‘Afterwards, he’d say: “It’s only because I love you. You make me do it.” He was like a drug. I knew I hurt all the time and that he was bad for me, but I felt I couldn’t live without him.’
Hussain forced Sammy to have an abortion as it he would be charged for having sex with an under-age girl. Sammy didn't realise he already had a wife, and she was just one of a string of girls he was abusing. Pictured aged 19 with her son
Unable to control their daughter, Mel and Julie put her into the care of social services, believing she would be safe.
In fact, her foster placement proved catastrophically destructive: she was allowed to go out and she would meet Hussain.
‘It was insane,’ she says. ‘He was known as a serial abuser and Rotherham Council were sanctioning my abuse by letting me see him. They failed me massively. I was betrayed by them.
‘I’m taking legal action against them, but the social worker who was charged with my care has retired, so I’ve no redress.
‘Mum and Dad were distraught but powerless. The police were scared to be perceived as racist. Nothing was done.
When Sammy was put into care by social services, she was allowed out to see Hussain. She said:
'Rotherham Council were sanctioning my abuse by letting me see him. They failed me massively'
‘Meanwhile, I was being sexually abused on a daily basis. Sometimes it was as if I was a dead body lying on a slab. I’d become emotionless. I weighed 7st — I was like a rag doll.
‘I started to hear rumours that he was sleeping with my friends, and whenever I confronted him he’d kick off and hit me.
‘I felt guilty about how devastated my family was, but it was as if he had me under a spell. I can’t remember when I discovered that he was a heroin dealer, but it just became part of my life. He was always against me taking it, but once he spiked my drink with ecstasy. When I started hallucinating, he thought it was funny.’
Then, at the end of 2000, Sammy fell pregnant again, and resolved to keep the baby.
During her pregnancy, Hussain’s violence escalated. During one row, he sped off with her in his car, crashing it into a wall. Although police charged him with having no tax or insurance, they failed to do anything about the battered, pregnant 15-year-old with him in the car.
Then, several months into her pregnancy, Hussain was jailed for six months for assault on a fellow drug dealer. It gave Sammy her chance to escape.
‘I started spending time at home with my parents again,’ she recalls. ‘They’d never stopped loving me.
‘We didn’t talk about him — they didn’t want to do anything to rock the boat — but you could see the concern and sadness in their eyes. Finally, I moved back in with them and my whole focus was on my baby. I was in constant emotional pain and it was like a stabbing in my heart, but I didn’t want my parents to know the depths of it.’
Sammy’s son was born in the summer of 2001. Her mum was at her side.
‘I didn’t recognise him as the product of abuse and rape,’ says Sammy. ‘He was just my baby. It didn’t matter where he came from. I loved him.’
Hussain’s destructive power over her had ended. But it was not until February last year that he was jailed for his crimes against her.
She became pregnant again in the summer of 2000 and decided to keep the baby. She has had one serious relationship since Hussain, and her second son is the product of it.
Sammy has had one serious relationship since Hussain, and her second son is the product of it. Now single, she lives in a pin-neat home on a pleasant modern estate in Rotherham, with her sons and her campaigning the focus of her life.
Thanks in part to that campaigning, Rotherham’s record on the care of victims of sexual exploitation is now unparalleled nationally.
Today, Sammy is seeking support from the Prime Minister and the Duchess of Cornwall for her ‘Sammy’s Law’ campaign.
She believes the victims of sexual exploitation are often coerced into committing crimes by their abusers — she herself was — and she is hoping a new law will wipe clean their records, enabling such victims to secure jobs more easily.
‘The questions have to be asked,’ she says: ‘How and why were they convicted? Are they likely to re-offend, and are they a risk to society?’
She describes how, as a 14-year-old, police found her half-naked at one of Hussain’s properties, hiding under the bed. Unconcerned that she was an under-age girl, they cautioned her for possession of an offensive weapon after discovering a truncheon — which belonged to Hussain — in her handbag.
‘Today, I realise the police failed me. It’s disgraceful that they did not even question Ash, who was 25, about why he was with a girl as young as me.
‘He had given me the truncheon so I’d get into trouble, not him,’ she remembers. ‘Such circumstances should be taken into account, so victims like me can move on with their lives.’
She was also cautioned for an assault, and put on a probation order for another.
Both offences, she says, happened when other girls taunted her because they were also having sex with Hussain.
I ask what she feels about him today. ‘There are times when I hate him — but I try not to feel hatred because I don’t want to be destroyed by it.
‘My real regret is that my Mum died thinking he’d got away with destroying our family. I know she’d be proud of me for helping to get justice.
‘There are a lot of children still out there who need me to keep fighting for them.’
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