Sara Rowbotham - Special Recognition

NHS sexual health worker who cared for victims of the Rochdale grooming scandal, and whose evidence later led to the conviction of nine child abusers.

Sara worked as Rochdale’s Crisis Intervention Team coordinator from 2003 to 2014, tasked with identifying young people who were vulnerable to child sex exploitation.

During her tenure, she began to suspect that girls in the area were facing systematic sexual abuse from a group of older Asian men. From 2004 onwards, she made more than 180 attempts to alert police and social services but the witnesses were dismissed as unreliable.

While the young victims found it difficult to speak to the police or social services, Sara’s non-judgemental approach meant that girls in Rochdale trusted her, and they began to open up to her.

She said: "The girls knew we weren’t there to try to get evidence from them – we were there to help and support them. As a result, our centre became something of a refuge where teenagers would pop by for a brew and a chat."

Disturbed by what she heard, Sara continued to pursue the men responsible, asking the girls for their help in identifying them. “I went out of my way to tell everyone about it,” she said, and eventually persuaded Greater Manchester Police to investigate the issue seriously.

Her work helped to bring about the conviction of nine men in 2012, and ten more were convicted in another investigation in 2015. A total of 47 girls were identified as victims of child sexual exploitation.

“If this service wasn’t available, half the evidence that led to mass convictions would never have come to light. The girls didn’t trust police and social services to help them,” Sara said.

Sara’s tireless efforts to expose the abuse was portrayed by Maxine Peake in hard-hitting BBC drama Three Girls last year.

Her determination to give a voice to the vulnerable young girls society forgot shows the true dedication, commitment and courage of the NHS staff who are going above and beyond to provide the best possible care in the most challenging circumstances.