ROTHERHAM England - Swapping cigarettes and chewing gum, the teenage girls outside Rotherham's Centenary Indoor Market are not engrossed in the conversations students should be having on the first day of term.
Instead of timetables and summer gossip, theirs is a new school year dominated by revelations that as many as 1,400 children in this northern English town were sexually abused by gangs of predominantly Asian men over a 16-year period.
An independent report last week exposed the scale and graphic nature of the crimes and raised difficult questions about whether timidity about confronting the racial aspects of the abuse had prompted authorities to turn a blind eye.
Some of the victims, mainly white girls in social care homes, were as young as 11 and were plied with drugs and alcohol before being trafficked to cities across northern England and gang-raped by groups of men, predominately of Pakistani heritage, the report said.
Those who tried to speak out were threatened with guns and made to watch brutal gang rapes. Their abusers said they would be next if they told anyone. One girl was doused with petrol, her rapist threatening to set her alight.
The report added that senior managers in social care "underplayed" the problem while police regarded many victims with contempt.
"The council motto is 'Where everybody matters,'" one girl outside the market, a 16-year-old sports and public services student who didn't want to be named, told Reuters.
"But them there girls didn't matter. People like us, we don't matter."
On a newsstand across the street, the front page of the Rother Advertiser newspaper calls for the resignation of council members and police officials.
"Rotherham is in disgrace," the editor writes in his paper's leading article. "It is this week the most shameful town in Britain."
Rotherham council leader, Roger Stone, resigned following the report's publication and South Yorkshire Police have commissioned an independent investigation into their handling of the scandal.