More than 280,000 people have signed a petition calling for the sexual health worker who played a key role in uncovering the exploitation of girls in Rochdale to be recognised for her work.
Sara Rowbotham, who co-ordinated Rochdale’s crisis intervention team from 2003 to 2014, repeatedly raised concerns about the welfare of vulnerable girls in the area.
“Without Sara and her team this prosecution would never of happened”
Her role in exposing the child abuse scandal was immortalised in the BBC drama Three Girls in which she was portrayed by actress Maxine Peake.
However, viewers who saw the television show, which aired last week, were angered to find out Ms Rowbotham had subsequently been made redundant from her post.
Now an online petition on the site Change.org, which describes her as a “hero” is calling for her to get some kind of formal recognition.
“Sara and her team should be applauded, not only Greater Manchester Police and the Crown Prosecution Service, but the Government and Crown for her services for young people,” stated the notes urging people to sign the petition, which was set up by a mother who watched the programme.
“Along with recognition for their work, Sara and her team should be the highest advocates for future national guidance surrounding the grooming of children,” she said.
The introduction to the petition added that the evidence Ms Rowbotham collected was dismissed “time and time again”.
“Years later some of the men were jailed because of this evidence. Without a doubt without Sara and her team this prosecution would never of happened,” it stated.
“Sara was not only removed from her role as a sexual health worker with young children, she was later made redundant from her post,” it said. “The very lady who believed these children, supported these children, never once dismissed or gave up on them was then tossed aside.”
“I had a perfect view of how this criminal activity was beginning to emerge”
Writing in a national newspaper recently, Ms Rowbotham said watching Three Girls had made her cry.
“As Rochdale’s crisis intervention team co-ordinator from 2003 to 2014, I had a perfect view of how this criminal activity was beginning to emerge from the shadows,” she wrote in The Guardian.
“Working for a specialist sexual health support service advising young people vulnerable to child sexual exploitation, I was based in the town centre and my role was to reach out to young girls,” she said.
“Because of our non-judgmental approach, we were able to win their trust in a way that police and social services could not,” she said. ”The girls knew we weren’t there to try to get evidence from them – we were there to help and support them.”
If the service hadn’t existed “then half the evidence that led to mass convictions would never have come to light”, she added.