The two most electrifying speakers at the #SurvivorsFirst rally of child sexual abuse sufferers at Rochdale were both Scots.
Dave Sharp, one of the organisers, told how he had been raped, drugged, shut in coffins, hanged by the neck and trafficked to Ireland while at a Catholic boys’ residential school in Fife. After years of drug and alcohol abuse to numb the pain, he became a Christian, turned his life around and now seeks out and supports other victims of CSA through the organisation he founded, Seek And Find Everyone (SAFE).
I have heard Dave speak before. I was the more shocked when I heard Shazia Hobbs for the first time.
Shazia is the Glasgow-born daughter of a Pakistani immigrant father and a Scottish mother who was her father’s second wife. Brought up to go to mosque and, at 18, forced into marriage to a much older Muslim man who she met for the first time on her wedding night, she rebelled and left her Pakistani family and community to live amongst white Scottish Glaswegians.
Having seen the Pakistani Muslim community from the inside, she now speaks publicly about the physical and sexual abuse of women and children within it.
As she stood in the shadow of Rochdale’s renowned Victorian Gothic town hall with its massive clock tower, Shazia attacked Muslim female politicians Naz Shah, Labour MP for Bradford West, and former Tory party chairman Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, for complaining loudly about Islamophobia in the white community while being mute about the oppression of women and children in their own where, Shazia says, CSA and FGM are rife.
Truth hurts. Through her exposures she has upset some Muslims and their useful idiots on the Left, so she now has a panic button installed in her home and is under police protection. She lives in fear for her own safety but refuses to be silenced.
I admired her courage; it was a privilege to listen to her. Her speech was also a useful balance to the dominant Rochdale narrative about white English girls being raped by gangs of Pakistani Muslim men, for which the town has become notorious.
It was because of these infamous rape gangs that #SurvivorsFirst chose Rochdale for its first CSA survivors’ rally.
The #SurvivorsFirst movement is an umbrella body that comprises a number of grassroots CSA organisations such as SAFE, Shatterboys UK and Parents Against Grooming UK. It was launched in Hyde Park at the end of July where we heard heart-felt stories from sexually abused people who, with help from the organisations, had bravely moved on from seeing themselves as damaged ‘victims’ to identifying themselves as more hopeful ‘survivors’. The launch was an emotional experience.
On Saturday we marched through Rochdale town centre holding #SurvivorsFirst banners aloft. We stopped at the location of the notorious Smith Street toilets where boys in Council care in the 80s had been sexually exploited by paedophiles directly under the watch of Council child care officers. We threw roses into the River Roch in memory of abused children and those who have subsequently taken their own lives.
And we heard more compelling speeches from survivors and their help organisations.
UKIP was strongly represented. Katie Fanning from the NEC was everywhere chatting to survivors and putting photos up on Facebook. Members of UKIP Rochdale branch helped steward the rally. And I was welcomed onto the speakers’ platform as UKIP’s Families & Children spokesperson.
In my speech I insisted that, to help survivors get closure, rigorous justice should be both done and seen to be done. Those at senior level in large organisations like the BBC, the church and local authorities who have a duty of care towards children in their charge and who had deliberately turned a blind eye to CSA taking place, should be sacked, prosecuted and if appropriate jailed.
I also pledged UKIP would ensure that offending institutions would fund programmes of therapy, mentoring and medical help for their CSA victims, in order to help them recover from their trauma.
The commitments were well received and UKIP will be invited to the next rally. The organisers reckon that 200,000 people watched the event live on social media, which they reckon will help get the public behind their new movement.
The courage of the survivors in speaking up in public and working to get their lives back is impressive. They deserve UKIP’s full support.