Sara Rowbotham is now deputy leader of Rochdale Council, but between 2004 and 2014 worked for the NHS Rochdale Crisis Intervention Team.
As a sexual health worker she was tasked with identifying young people who were vulnerable to child sex exploitation and alerted the authorities to children who were being abused.
It was this work which inspired Maxine Peake’s character in BBC drama Three Girls.
As a front line sexual health worker, Sara made 181 referrals detailing the abuse and sexual grooming of young people between 2005 and 2011.
Keep up to date with the top stories about life in and around Rochdale with the new free email newsletter from MyRochdale.
The MyRochdale newsletter will go out weekly on Thursdays with a selection of our most popular articles, including the latest on the pandemic and how Rochdale is emerging from lockdown.
To sign up to the MyRochdale newsletter simply click on this link, enter your email address and put a tick against the box for ‘MyRochdale News’.
Her frustration led to her gathering damning evidence in the Rochdale abuse case, which helped convict the men involved.
She told the Home Affairs Select Committee her bosses had ignored scores of warnings that girls were being groomed and sexually exploited.
The job gave her ‘a perfect view of how this criminal activity was beginning to emerge from the shadows’, she told the Guardian.
She described how taking a ‘non-judgmental approach’ allowed her to win trust of the girls involved in a way that the police and social services could not.
Her role was not to gather evidence from the girls but to reach out to them with help and support.
In 2012, she told the MP-led inquiry into the case:
“We were making referrals from 2004, very explicit referrals, referrals which absolutely highlighted for protective services that young people were incredibly vulnerable.
“It was unfortunate that it was about attitudes towards teenagers. It was absolute disrespect that vulnerable young people did not have a voice.
“They were overlooked, they were discriminated against. They were treated appallingly by protective services.
“I told everybody these children were being abused. As far as I’m concerned, I told everybody.”
She was made redundant in 2014.
Following the screening of Three Girls in mid-May 2017, a petition was started at Change.org calling for her to be formally recognised for her services to Rochdale.
By late May, it had gathered more than 275,000 signatures.
Sara received a Special Recognition at the 2018 NHS Heroes Awards, and was made an honorary member of the Council of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) in October 2018.
After being awarded her MBE, she told the Manchester Evening News: “I’m really pleased to receive this award. I think it would have made my mum really proud.
“I didn’t ever work alone I was part if an incredible team.
“I’m glad we were able to raise awareness and hopefully contribute to the future safeguarding of children and young people.”
Full list of Rochdale honours
- Anthony Joseph Lloyd (Tony Lloyd) MP. Member of Parliament for Rochdale. For public service. (Manchester, Greater Manchester)
Companions of the Order of the Bath (CB)
- Wendy Anne Hardaker. Director, Commercial Law Group, Government Legal Department. For services to the Law. (Rochdale, Greater Manchester)
- Claire Diana Chadwick. Nurse Consultant in Infection Prevention and Control, Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. For services to the NHS during Covid-19. (Rochdale, Greater Manchester)
- Sara Louise Rowbotham. For services to Young People. (Manchester, Greater Manchester)
- Eric Crompton Barber. Governor, Elm Wood Primary School, Middleton, Greater Manchester. For services to Education. (Oldham, Greater Manchester)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .