Raped, beaten and intimidated – Grooming gang victim tells all in new book | UK | News
Christina O’Connor with her father
A victim of Britain’s biggest sex grooming gang has spoken out about the lingering stigma that continues to plague her and many other victims, long after the abuse has ended.
Christina O’Connor was raped, beaten and intimidated almost every day for more than four years.
Somehow, she survived those bishops and the horror of giving birth to her son behind bars, after being imprisoned for stealing the orders of the violent men she controlled.
When she was released, she bravely faced her ordeal in court and saw them jailed for a catalog of degrading and “inhumane” crimes against her and other underage girls.
But while she sees the prison term she received when she was 19 as her salvation, she feels her criminal record prevents her from getting “full relief”.
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She says the lack of proper aftercare for girls who survive grooming gangs is an “ongoing issue”.
“I want to get support from the agencies that failed me the first time. I want them to recognize that I am the victim,” she said.
“Like a lot of other girls the criminal convictions I got were part of grooming, but a lot of places won’t even look at you when they see you have a theft record.
“They’ve held me back and there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s wrong.”
The 31-year-old waived her right to anonymity to tell her story, in the hope of helping others who fall prey to sexual exploitation.
Christina described how she went from being a happy child from a loving family to a helpless victim caught up in a hair grooming scandal who was jailed for almost 400 years for their heinous crimes.
She came from a working class background in Huddersfield. She loved her Irish father and admits to being a “daddy’s girl”.
But at secondary school, a 13-year-old daughter was in front of her parents playing pranks to escape from bullies.
“They called me ‘fattie’. I hate being there, so I would come in the morning, register, then they leave with my friend,” she said.
Her life changed one morning while she was hanging around a bus station in her hometown. She and her friend met three older men.
“I was relieved by their attention – soon they were taking us out in cars, offering us drinks and drugs,” she explained.
“When you drink and take drugs you feel good about yourself and hang around with people who are supposed to be your friends.
“My mother thought I was a teenager pushing boundaries, although my father had no clue – he was too busy working.” In reality she was being lured into a dark world where she was forced to perform sexual acts with strangers in exchange for pizza, vodka and cannabis.
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Christina in unhappy school days
The abuse went hand in hand with violence and threats, that her family would be targeted if she did not comply with their demands.
She was treated like a commodity, put around groups of men, taken to hotels and raped.
When her parents finally realized the scale of what was going on they took action. Christina moved the school and her mother went to the police and social services for help. Neither did well.
“I thought there was no way out,” she said. “There was always a fear of consequences, so I did what they wanted and took the drink and the drugs.
“It was a vicious circle – it was every day. I just had to black out what I was doing.”
After nearly five years of abuse, Christina was caught in a downward spiral. She only had one GCSE in French, and her “lifestyle” made it impossible to hold down a job.
Things changed after she committed knifepoint robberies under duress from the boss of the grooming gang. She was almost 19 and he found out she was pregnant.
She found herself in court facing charges of burglary and robbery for assault. Her mother knew one victim.
By 2011 Christina was starting a three and a half year prison term.
Gang leader Amere Singh Dhaliwal was jailed for life
It was her lowest moment, but it was pivotal in turning her life around. She was allowed to keep her child while in prison and studied hard for qualifications.
Eventually, she was released early for good behavior.
“Prison got me away from drink, drugs, crime and abuse,” she said. “As soon as they knew I was out the intimidation started again. However, I was determined to risk my life for my little one, and make my family proud.” Two years after her release, her original police statement was found in the back of a filing cabinet and Operation Tendersea was launched.
She would become the prosecution’s main witness, and during three gruesome trials the world would be told how she had been abused.
In 2018, 11 men were convicted of 43 offenses against her, including 22 counts of rape.
A total of 20 men were convicted of more than 120 offenses of rape and abuse against 15 girls.
It is the UK’s largest gang convicted of sexual abuse.
Most of the gang were Pakistani and from West Yorkshire and Sheffield. The ringleader, father-of-two Amere Singh Dhaliwal, was jailed for life and told he would have to serve at least 18 years.
The judge said his treatment of the girls was “inhuman”.
Further prosecutions followed and by 2021 the number of men convicted had risen to 41.
A report released in 2019 said 15 of the women involved were known to children’s services.
Five years on from the trials, Christina has published her memoirs to try to overcome her trauma and give a voice to victims, who she says are still being let down.
Christina was only offered 10 hours of counseling to help heal the deep psychological scars.
“At first, they put me on a waiting list, then I had a few sessions before they changed my consultant. I know I’m not the only one with similar problems. Something has to change.
“There is no real aftercare for victims of grooming. How can you unpick five years of trauma
abuse in 10 hour sessions?”
Currently, Christina is working in the hospitality industry, but it hasn’t been easy. “My criminal record makes it very difficult for me to find work,” she said. “Even now I still don’t feel like I’m really absolved of responsibility.
“I cannot change the path I had to take when I was 14 years old. But I can speak out to ensure that children grow up aware of the evils of grooming.
“We need to educate girls to speak out, and we need to support them when they do. If I could go back and talk to that little girl playing truant, I would tell her to scream out about the men she met at the bus station, who gave her vodka and made her feel special.
“There are people out there who will help. You just have to look in the right place.”
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