Why I Believe UKIP's Poster Campaign is Shocking

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The primary motivators that have driven my working career have always been to create a fairer society and give a voice to the most vulnerable. These are lifelong principles that I have been guided by, and have continued to uphold since my election as MP for Rotherham on 29th November 2012. Last week gave a shocking reminder that these principles are not always shared by everyone standing for public office. I'm talking about the vile UKIP poster campaign that de-sensitises the experiences of each victim and then kicks them around like some kind of political football. I am still reeling with disgust and disbelief that UKIP have consciously chosen to use the horror of the Rotherham victims of child abuse for their own political gain. I genuinely did not believe that anyone could want power so badly that they would exploit the very people who need our support the most.

I want readers to understand the impact that this campaign by UKIP is having on the victims living in our town, and just why it is so unacceptable to politicise the issue.

  1. The young abuse victims were treated as a commodity by their abusers. They were seen as inconsequential - something to be traded without consideration of their emotions. UKIP are using them in exactly the same way and perpetuating the victims' feeling of worthlessness.
  2. It has taken a huge amount of hard work and encouragement to support the victims to come forward and give evidence so that we can convict their abusers. Because of the sordid way that UKIP are using exploitation as a political tool, victims are now finding themselves too nervous to testify as they don't want to be caught up in political posturing.
  3. I have been working extremely hard, as have other local agencies, to ensure that the media focuses on getting support and justice for the victims. Once again, our obligations to the victims have now been taken off the agenda by UKIP's revolting campaign, which has become the story. This will really hamper attempts to get them justice.
  4. By using child sexual exploitation as a billboard campaign to gain political power, it belittles the unimaginable, prolonged horror which the victims endured.
  5. For many victims still living in Rotherham, their horrific abuse is now unescapable: they will not be able to walk to the post office or drive to the supermarket without having permanent triggers forced down their throats with no warning. I cannot imagine how they will cope with this level of intrusion and emotional stress. UKIP's campaign doesn't attempt to offer solidarity with the victims. I have seen no evidence of practical measures they have put in place to offer support or secure justice for them. Their campaign is not even offering sympathy or respect to the victims. Instead, UKIP are using their plights solely for the opportunity of a cheap shot at Labour.

This abuse did happen under a Labour-run council, and Labour reacted swiftly by removing Party membership to the Councillors it believed failed in their duty to scrutinise. But for UKIP to put the blame squarely at Labour's feet is nonsense: were the police, the social workers, and the council managers all Labour Party supporters? Of course not. This was a failing on an industrial scale across many organisations. If we do not address that this was a wider issue than simply politics, then we risk similar institutional failings occurring in the future.

Personally, I have gathered evidence and reported members of the police and council for investigation. I have employed a full-time abuse worker to support the victims, and to make sure South Yorkshire Police and Rotherham Council secure the convictions of abusers. I have also changed the law to allow faster convictions of abusers, and chaired a national inquiry into child sexual exploitation. One of the first pieces of legislation a Labour Government will bring in is a Victims' Law to ensure that the concerns and interests of victims are always at the heart of legislation.

If my reading of UKIP is wrong and they are genuinely concerned about victims, what are they planning to do to support them? I have heard nothing. From my perspective, their use of victims for their own political gain is the lowest of the low. Worse still, it is abusing the victims all over again and preventing them securing justice. I am appalled that anyone wanting to take public office could do that.

NewsVanessa Johns