A second child-sex grooming ring has been uncovered in East Lancashire and on BBC’s The Big Questions this morning, a debate raged around whether or not this is a “Muslim British-Pakistani” problem. The Daily Mail-esque question was “After the Asian grooming case, does the Pakistani community need to get its house in order?” Unsurprisingly, a lot of people are of the opinion that they do. A fair few have also been careful to be as politically correct as possible. No one wants to be accused of racism now do they? But I am disappointed in the reactions to this in the public domain to this.
My first disappointment is that popular media and debates have firmly placed this issue in the “identity politics” category. It is a crying shame that the abhorrent crime at the core of this – the grooming and sexual abuse of young girls (overwhelmingly white, but some were also Bangladeshi) – has been somewhat lost. Instead the fashionable, paper-selling criticism of Muslims/Islam (note, they aren’t saying just British-Pakistani) takes primacy over and above the remorse we should be showing these unfortunate young victims.
As I write this, I am watching a programme on Star Plus discussing child sexual abuse in India – harrowing stories are being shared by men and women who were sexually abused as children in a country where there is no law to address child sexual abuse issues and where 53% of people say they have been subjected to sexual abuse as a child. And it wasn’t just Indians who were at it. In 2001, the Anchorage Case saw Alan Waters and Duncan Grant (two very Muslim and British-Pakistani names), two British ex-naval officers, charged with running their own sex ring. They are known in India as “The British Paedophiles”. Under the pretext of running a shelter, these two men scoured the streets of Mumbai offering food to children living on the streets. These children were then passed around to adults – native and foreign – to be sexually abused. The nature of India’s legal system meant that it wasn’t until 2011 that the Supreme Court were able to serve justice thanks to the perseverance of the world’s largest children’s phone emergency outreach service, CHILDLINE India Foundation and the Maharashtra Government. Waters and Grant are no different from the Khans and Alis charged in Rochdale – they are all cut from the same disgusting cloth.
Our first reaction should always be to support the victims – they’ve done nothing wrong and there is no better response to any abuse than to see those abused rising above it and, hopefully, preventing a repeat of this anywhere else. In fact, experts, commentators, policy and sociologists/psychologists aren’t going to prevent girls from falling into this trap again. Those who have been abused are the only ones who can possibly understand the circumstances, feelings and nuances that led them to become victims. These young girls should be supported and empowered to overcome their trauma. They are the only ones that other victims can possibly trust to understand and empathise with their predicament.
Instead, most people are fixated on who to blame and how to frame that blame. I hope and pray that justice is served swiftly and firmly. But, moreover, I hope and pray that we uncover existing abuses (if there are more) and prevent, as best we can, any in the future. The critical point is that throughout all societies there are, and will always be, some that will exploit and prey on the vulnerable. That trait is not limited to Muslim British-Pakistanis.
And it is here that my second disappointment lies. I am all for calling a spade a spade. But the spade most of us seem to have chosen here is the wrong one. There are fundamental issues that meant these girls were vulnerable and “prey-able” in the first place – that should be our first concern. Why were they in that situation in the first place? Why are girls as young as 11 in situations where they can be preyed on, venturing into unwelcoming environments. Before you throw your toys out of the pram, yes everyone should be free to go wherever they like without fearing perverts. But if that were the case, we wouldn’t need any policing of our streets. There would be no need for discipline from parents to children. The vast majority of victims were from difficult backgrounds – why don’t we address these issues first?
As for the ethnic make-up of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes. We should not be surprised that Muslim British-Pakistanis in Lancashire hang out together. That’s how communities are formed. People gravitate to those who are most similar to them – white working classes, British Asians, Bullingdon club government ministers… Even within these communities, there are sub-communities – Millwall/West Ham football fans, doctors/engineers, News International chummies. In the case of Rochdale, it was their collective paedophilia that brought them closer together – not their faith or their ethnicity – to carry out these atrocious acts.
Even the cultural “explanations” based on the perpetrators’ ethnicity is, to my mind, a little lazy. Muslim British Pakistanis aren’t the only ones that can’t talk about sex openly in their communities. They’re not the only ones who have arranged marriages. They aren’t the only ones that act as though it’s ok to bully women. In fact, the thing that should alarm us most is the seeming increase in child sexual abuse cases since 2004/05. NSPCC can point to an increasing number of calls to Childline about sexual abuse since 2004/05. Would it be safe for me to then say that the UK, culturally, has an increased tendency to sexually abuse their children based on the evidence? Probably not.
In such a close-knit community where everyone knows everyone’s business, that nobody thought to report this before it had gone too far (one is too far) says more about those that knew it was happening than those that did it. Perhaps the overwhelming majority of that community were Pakistani but this isn’t a solely Pakistani problem. Crimewatch didn’t come into existence because British Pakistanis weren’t reporting crimes. Catholic priests didn’t get away with their crimes because British Pakistanis weren’t reporting them.
According to Rochdale’s most recent Community Plan, 11.43% of its population is BME. Newsflash: that’s still a minority. It has been widely reported that white people are overwhelmingly represented on the sex offenders register.
We should be dreaming of a society where there is no need for a sex offenders register. We should be dreaming of a society where young girls are not preyed upon by unscrupulous men – alone or in groups. Until then, let’s try not to create a schism from which there may be no turning back.