Last night's First Dates was a must-watch for anyone who saw the incredible Three Girls – the heartbreaking BBC drama about the Rochdale grooming cases.
Social worker Sara Rowbotham, portrayed by Maxine Peake in the drama, appeared on the dating show last night and was set up with a woman called Nicky. Unsurprisingly, Sara is as excellent in person as her depiction in Three Girls.
For those that missed Three Girls, or are unfamiliar with the story, Sara was instrumental in bringing to trial and getting convictions for the men who were running a child sex ring in Rochdale. From 2004, Sara referred over 100 girls who came to the Rochdale Crisis Intervention Team, who she suspected were being groomed for sex, to the police and social services. Many of the cases were simply dismissed by the police.
After a series of false starts and 10 years of fighting, she eventually persuaded Greater Manchester police to investigate fully and nine men were convicted for their crimes in 2012. In the end, 47 girls were identified as victims of the men – some as young as 13. They had been raped and assaulted, often by multiple men who lured them with alcohol, money and food.
At the end of Three Girls, viewers were enraged to find out that Sara, after everything that had happened, was made redundant in 2012. A petition on Change.org to get Sara's work recognised has received nearly 300,000 signatures.
Anyway – back to Sara appearing on Channel 4's First Dates. She was set up with dog trainer Nicky. Sara said that she'd come to the show because the gay scene was "non-existent" in Rochdale, quipping that "You're allowed to be gay every other Sunday". Sara is, despite everything she's been through, really funny.
Over dinner, Sara and Nicky spoke about Sara's dog (a Yorkie cross who knows 110 words, NBD), Nicky's life in Amsterdam and, most importantly, Sara's job.
"I lifted the lid and told everybody about what had happened," she said. "Children told me they were being sexually abused every day and just trying to get anyone to do anything about it was really really tough no matter how many times I banged on the door."
"I just became a big fireball," she continued. "I was so angry all the time because it was just really really frustrating not being able to have your voice heard."
"I feel as though I'm just coming out of a very difficult dark time. I'm ready to start to live my life again and just have a nice time and not be so stressed or worried or anxious or angry," she said through tears.
Sara did reference the drama – which at the time of filming hadn't been made yet – saying "Somebody famous will play me! Probably Cindy Crawford."
Sadly though, during the date there was a "turning point", as Sara put it, and the two opted not to see each other again romantically. Although Nicky said they could be great friends and go out dancing.
Here's hoping this is just the beginning of the rest of Sara's well-deserved, carefree and wonderful life.