Watching Three Girls (BBC One, Tuesdays, 9pm), I kept thinking: “This is how people are.” Not all people, thank God. But in a part of Rochdale – half forgotten, half ignored – there were three girls, three of many, who were raped repeatedly by older men.

The girls were mostly in care; the authorities didn’t believe them. They drank, they were obnoxious, they might even have convinced themselves and those around them that this was just who they were and what they did. It’s left to an outspoken social worker to articulate moral clarity. “There’s no such thing as a child prostitute,” she says. “What there is, is a child who’s being abused.”

The script is raw and honest; the devil is in the detail. In one scene, a policeman yawns as a girl gives testimony, just as you could imagine they would. The girl finds herself disbelieved, labelled a whore, misunderstood by her parents and alone. What does she do? She goes for a drink with her mates and walks straight back into the arms of her abusers. When her parents – at a loss to understand – confront the girl, she asks her father if he wants to see her naked. All of this is painfully believable. People make terrible choices; sometimes they appear to have free will when, really, they don’t. The girl’s reckless behaviour is a cry for help. She looked like a streetwise woman but she was a vulnerable child.

What about the culprits? Three Girls is on tricky ground here: it has less to say about the role of culture than many would like to hear. There were older white women involved in some grooming cases, but the perpetrators were overwhelmingly Asian males – and one reason why it took so long to stop them is that political correctness trumped public safety. This was unforgivable. Three Girls focuses upon the victims and so avoids talking about criminal motivations, and given how complex and painful the issues are that is probably appropriate. But any informed viewer will draw their own conclusions about both the perpetrators and the society that tolerated them.

Liberalism pitches itself as humane and tolerant. Like any ideology, however, it is perfectly capable of sacrificing the needs of the individual in defence of its doctrine.

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