A BRAVE Skipton-born woman has told how she was sexually abused in the town from the age of 10 - and has demanded that "leaders in the British-Pakistani community stand up and speak out about the sexual and physical abuse in their midst".
And Skipton's MP has just started a campaign to look into "whether the correct questions are being asked" about child sexual exploitation in the area.
Ruzwana Bashir, 31, a graduate of Oxford University and now a highly successful online travel entrepreneur in the US, said she decided to speak out in the wake of the Rotherham sex abuse scandal, where around 1,400 girls are thought to have been abused by men of mainly Asian descent since 1997.
The former pupil of Skipton Girls' High School has told how she was "paralysed by shame" when a neighbour started abusing her and how it took her more than a decade to find the courage to testify against her abuser because of "a culture where notions of shame result in the blaming of victims rather than perpetrators."
In an article in the Guardian newspaper and speaking on Channel 4 News, Ruzwana - a former president of the Oxford Union - said she had come forward to help tear down the "wall of silence" that perpetuates further abuse.
She said: "It was only after a decade away from Skipton that I was finally able to garner the courage to return and testify against my abuser. When I first told my mother about the abuse I'd suffered, she was absolutely devastated. The root of her anger was clear: I was heaping unbound shame on to my family by trying to bring the perpetrator to justice. In trying to stop him from exploiting more children, I was ensuring my parents and siblings would be ostracised. She begged me not to go to the police station.
"If I'd still been living in Skipton, surrounded by a community who would either blame me for the abuse or label me a liar, I'm not sure I could have rejected her demands."
Her abuser was eventually jailed for eight years for the abuse of Ruzwana and others.
Her article also says: “Although painful to read, the Rotherham report presents an opportunity ... for leaders in the British-Pakistani-community to stand up and speak about the sexual and physical abuse in their midst. The Asian community isn’t unique in having evil-doers and the overwhelming majority of its men and women are good people who care about protecting others.”
Ruzwana calls for immediate action to tackle the problems highlighted by the Rotherham case, including better training of social workers and police to effectively identify victims; mandatory reporting by people in authority when they see signs of potential abuse; improved support for victims when they come forward; and a single person in each community accountable for ensuring these policies are implemented.
Skipton MP Julian Smith has praised Ruzwana's bravery and said he had circulated her piece to Facebook users in Skipton and had paid for it to be promoted on social media "as it is such a worrying and depressing but important story ". He is also sending a copy of the article to every North Yorkshire and Craven councillor, plus organisations in the area.
Mr Smith said: "I will be asking to meet the North Yorkshire Safeguarding Children Board Chair and following this I will convene a meeting of key people in October. I will also be asking to meet the Chief Constable as I had asked questions on this topic on a visit to Skipton Police Station several years ago. The answers implied the issue was contained.
"The campaign will look at all aspects of whether we have got the right structures in place, support in place and whether the correct questions are being asked about child sexual exploitation in our area, wherever it is taking place."
Mr Smith has also called for Rotherham Children's Services to be taken away from Rotherham Council and given to an independent trust. The independent inquiry into abuse in Rotherham recommended continued oversight of children's services by Rotherham Council.
In a letter to Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education, Mr Smith said: "Following the evidence of failure by the council over many years, we cannot leave vulnerable young people under the continued responsibility of structures and individuals who have failed them so badly and for so long."