The report into child abuse in Rotherham has affected many people, far more than the victims, the criminals and the agencies who were involved in a longstanding culture of cruelty. The people of Rotherham more widely will feel shame as well as horror that so many children in their community suffered and were not heard, and they will know that the reputation of their town has been tarnished and that, however innocent, they have been touched by it.
Rotherham is not the first and will not be the last place to gain an unwanted notoriety, though in time the details of what occurred will be forgotten by the public. Macchynlleth, Deptford, Hyde, Woolwich, Gloucester, Lockerbie, Dunblane and Soham, for example, are reminders of recent tragedies that at the time dominated the news, but the memories have softened and before long a new generation will not associate the names with negativity. It is the same everywhere in the world.
The newest and the smallest places experience joys and sadnesses, brutality and kindness because their community includes all manner of personality. It is not the place that creates an event, but the men, women and children who live there: its energy and reputation are the product of its history, which often is a mixture of highs and lows. Rotherham was known as a fashionable, elegant college town in the Middle Ages, and then, when the College was dissolved in 1547 by order of the King, it became infamous as a centre for gambling and vice. The Industrial Revolution enabled a highly respected iron industry to be able to develop, and later other forms of manufacturing and industry.
It is ironic that, just as a major urban regeneration programme is under way in Rotherham, the “Rotherham Renaissance”, a major child abuse scandal is eclipsing all the good that is ongoing there. It does not have to be this way.
It is important not to forget the many citizens who do all they can for their town and their town’s children, and who are hurt by the revelations about child molestation in their midst, and the damage to the reputation of the place they love and call home. People have let them down. Despite this, they can be proud to be part of Rotherham still, – and its reputation will recover, with time.