Blowing the Manchester Whistle | Sarah Stook

Imagine being fifteen and dying a death that could have quite easily been prevented.

Victoria Agoglia was fifteen in 2003, having lived in care for seven years after the death of her mother. By the time she was thirteen years old, she met a ‘boyfriend’ who care workers called her ‘pimp.’ Over the six months in 2002, Agoglia was reported missing well over 100 times. When she returned to her residence- which changed a lot- she was often extremely drunk and high. Care workers did not condemn the relationship with the older man. He passed her around for sex and drugs, with Agoglia often being plied with alcohol and illegal substances.

Care staff took Agoglia to visit the pimp and collected her when she was finished. On one occasion, she told them that she had been raped. A medical examiner looked at her, but was about the drugs or sex. After a stint in a medical centre, she returned and told workers she was using heroin and was being injected in exchange for sex with older men. The drug worker sent her to another unit and between them, it was decided she would smoke heroin as opposed to injecting.

Two months later and Agoglia was injected by a man more than three times her age with heroin. Five days later, she died in hospital. The unnamed man admitted to injecting Agoglia with a noxious substance, receiving three and a half years imprisonment for two offences. In 2004, he was cleared of manslaughter.

The coroner who examined Agoglia said she was ‘known to provide sexual favours.’

This was buried for years. It all came to light through a whistleblower, former Detective Constable Margaret Oliver. Oliver had led the investigation into child exploitation and resigned after 15 years, having also served a similar operation in Rochdale. Operation Augusta was shut down prematurely in 2005, apparently due to lack of resources- the police wanted to focus on car crime and burglary. Oliver stated that this wasn’t the case- it was due to the girls being seen as underclass and not the ‘respectable’ daughters of the police.

Following the publication of a report that indicated that up to 57 girls could have been victims and that nearly 100 men may have been perpetrators. The Greater Manchester Police have made a referral to the Independent Office for Police Conduct, though we are not sure how this will go.

 

So why was nothing done?

Put simply, the first reason was, of course, classism. Many of girls involved, including Agoglia, were in state care. Many were from broken homes, with single parents at the head and with an income dependent on state welfare. They weren’t the girls who would go to university or even get past their GCSEs. These girls were part of Britain’s white working class, the type who live in council estates and are not represented in higher professions such as medicine or law.

Had it been a middle class girl in Surrey, things might have been different. As Oliver stated, it also would have been different if the daughters of police officers.

Classism is prevalent in Britain, whether it’s obvious or not. It says a lot about you, even today. These girls were not seen as respectable. The image of them would be a girl knocked up as a teenager, queuing up for Universal Credit and going on Jeremy Kyle. To those officers who didn’t care, these girls were probably up for whatever was happening, both drugs and sex. It’s a view not only taken by police, but by those responsible for the crimes. White girls, especially those in the working class, were seen as trash and easy. They were expendable, easy to use. When one went, another did. These men were married and would insist on upholding good standards in their community, but went onto abuse underage girls who were already vulnerable.

This is where the race and class comes into it. Those perpetrators in Manchester tended to be of Asian origin, usually Pakistani. They see white girls as the lowest of the low. To them, women are already inferior. Add being white and not being Muslim/Asian etc. These were girls who weren’t always modest in dress and who went out with boys, a cardinal sin to some. They probably don’t think much of upper class white girls, but the girls being part of the ‘underclass’ added suspicion.

One ringleader even had the gall to blame the white community.

Another issue was the lack of interest by Great Manchester Child Services. Care workers watched underage girls stumble home drunk, dropped off by much older men, and did nothing except a quick reprimand.  They ‘approved’ the older boyfriends and as stated earlier, mockingly called them pimps. When girls bravely came forward and told them of rape and drugging, they just hand waved the issue and sent them off to some clinic.

For those in care, many will spend their life into the system until they age out. They are vulnerable. Being taken from family care is not an easy decision to make, and even those who can’t remember it happening are aware of their situation. Being in care comes at significant handicaps, such as being more likely to go to prison than university.

It is unbelievable that someone in a position of care would let a vulnerable underage girl go out with much older men and come back intoxicated. They did not listen when told about what really happened. Even without the rape and drugging, the care workers should not have allowed young girls to go off with older men to random houses.

The final factor comes back to this- race. It doesn’t go unnoticed than in cases of mass grooming rings, many of the perpetrators are of Pakistani and Asian origin. It may not be very PC to say, but it is fair to guess that this was a factor. Investigating a certain community, especially a minority, is something that the police may want to avoid in case of bad headlines. It could have caused headaches, especially from those who supported the rapists. We would hope that it would change today, but it is a point of interest from the early 2000s.

Would police response be the same if it was a white or black grooming gang? Perhaps it would also be dependent on the victims, who were ignored because they were working class white girls. The idea of the race of the groomers being a factor is less concrete, due to there not being the evidence stated in the earlier reasons.  Still, we cannot ignore this elephant in the room. It is important not to demonise a whole community, but we cannot pretend that race was not a factor on both ends of this tragic case. A 2012 report showed that British Asians are overrepresented when it comes to grooming gangs- they make up 33% of perpetrators as 7% of the population (whites are at 44% but are underrepresented at 87% of the population)

 

Similar Cases

Months ago, I wrote an article about Telford after the scandal broke. Many will remember the original scandal in Rotherham, a story that was broken years ago. It grew beyond Rotherham to Rochdale, Bradford and Huddersfield among others.

This is not a onetime phenomenon, it is endemic.

 

What Can be Done

Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham, does a lot for women’s rights and protection. When she rightly called out the response to the grooming scandals, specifically around race, she was vilified by her own party for it. Still, she was right.

The #MeToo movement was born out of sexual abuse and harassment in Hollywood. It has spread to other areas, but remains part of the entertainment industry foremost. We need to make sure that it not only applies to victims of rape in Beverly Hills, but in Rotherham too. The feminist movement needs to hug these victims tight and amplify the situation.

Whenever grooming makes the news, it is our duty to ensure that everybody knows what has happened. It doesn’t matter if it’s an Asian group or a single white man, it’s important that all victims are protected. We must ensure that every victim of grooming, no matter gender or ethnicity, is protected. We should call on Priti Patel to ensure that groomers are given long prison sentences. Victims must receive every type of help we can offer to them, from counselling to physical rehabilitation.

A girl who is pregnant at 16 and lives in a council house matters as much as a doctor’s daughter does. Every girl who is a victim of sexual harassment and abuse is worthy of our protection and justice. Sexual abuse does not discriminate by who the girl is, and many across the globe suffer from it. Men do too, a story that does not often get reported.

As a feminist, I believe strongly in gender equality. Instead of marching in pussy hats, we should be marching for the girls who have had their lives ruined by so many.

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