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Rotherham Abuse Survivor Sammy Woodhouse Has Told Ministers She Wants Action, Not Sympathy

Woodhouse told BuzzFeed News that she feared the government was just engaged in a "box-ticking exercise" when meeting her.

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Dave Higgens / PA Wire/PA Images

Rotherham abuse survivor Sammy Woodhouse met a justice minister on Wednesday to demand a change in the law to prevent rapists getting parental rights to children conceived through rape, but she told BuzzFeed News that she believes the meeting was just a "box-ticking" exercise by the government.

Woodhouse has told how Rotherham council contacted the man who raped her, who is currently serving a prison sentence for his part in the grooming gang, to offer him a chance to seek visits from her son. The case was first revealed by the Times, which did not name Woodhouse, but she then waived her right to anonymity so she could campaign publicly for new laws to protect abuse survivors.

At a meeting on Wednesday with justice minister Lucy Frazer, Woodhouse, who was accompanied by Labour MP Louise Haigh, called for the government to "change the law to ensure rapists can't gain access to children conceived through rape".

She also says she was asked to contact the convicted rapist when applying for a passport for her son, and has asked ministers to redesign the passport form with the option of a tick box to indicate that a child was conceived through abuse or rape.

Woodhouse has also asked for an independent inquiry into the workings of the family court system, which would include allowing women to come forward and give evidence without fearing that they will be held in contempt of court.

However, she told BuzzFeed News that she was not confident that any of her recommendations would be taken on board. She told BuzzFeed News that she thinks ministers need to listen to those with direct experience of the family court system, which she says is not working.

"They said, 'This is what the law states.' That's great, but that's not happening," she told BuzzFeed News.

"They've said they want a working relationship — we'll see if it happens," she added. "I think it's a box-ticking process, having me in for a meeting. I don't want people's sympathy, or even their praise, I want them to act and put a stop to it, and stop living in a dream world where everything is OK, because it's not."

Following the meeting, she was a guest at Prime Minister's Questions, where Commons speaker John Bercow welcomed her as “a quite extraordinary, brave, and courageous rape victim who waived her anonymity in order to campaign not merely for her rights but with the rights of all women similarly violated”.

She was also commended by prime minister Theresa May and leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn.

At PMQs, Haigh asked May: “Does the prime minister agree that no man who has fathered a child through rape should have parental rights, and will she seek to amend the legislation through the courts and tribunals bill when it comes back to this House, so that men who have fathered children through rape cannot weaponise the court to access children and retraumatise their victims all over again?”

In response, the prime minister said: “This is obviously a very distressing case, and I'm sure, as has just been heard, the concerns of the whole House rest with Sammy Woodhouse and rest with what has happened in this case and as the facts have been reported I'm sure that we all consider it absolutely extraordinary that this should have happened in the first place.

“What is important is that the Ministry of Justice and other departments are urgently looking and working with local authorities on issues that are raised in this case to ensure that there is a process in place in future that does protect the child and mothers from harm.”

She urged Haigh to continue to engage with Frazer at the MoJ on the issue, but did not indicate that the government would be looking to make any changes to the law.

Haigh told BuzzFeed News: “Sammy and I will not stop fighting until the injustice that she and many other women [faced] has been corrected. Victims of CSE [child sexual exploitation] have been let down by the state over and over again and it cannot be right that the legal system is now being used by their abusers against them.

“The government has so far been pretty slow off the mark to act and I hope they sit up and realise the serious nature of this case and the need to make urgent change.”

A government spokesperson said: “Minister Lucy Frazer was very pleased to sit down with Sammy and Louise Haigh MP on Wednesday to discuss Sammy’s case and petition and commended Sammy for her bravery in discussing these issues.

“The Ministry of Justice will continue to work with other relevant departments and stakeholders to consider how we can better protect vulnerable mothers and children in our family courts.”

Hannah Al-Othman is a political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Hannah Al-Othman at hannah.al-othman@buzzfeed.com.

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