The scale of the street grooming crisis in the UK almost defies belief. Hundreds of girls and young women were raped in the city of Rotherham, and hundreds by similar exploitation rings in Rochdale, Peterborough, Newcastle, Oxford, and Bristol. Now, up to a thousand girls are thought to have been drugged, raped, and beaten in Telford between the 1980s and the 2010s.
This is, of course, a highly emotive subject. How could it not be? Yet if the phenomenon is to be understood it is important to evaluate the data objectively. Otherwise we have a lot of heat and little light.
Responses to the crisis are contentious because most of the perpetrators are British Asians; specifically British Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. Child abuse is not uniquely or largely a problem of particular demographics but grooming gangs – that is, multiple offenders exploiting women they have met, manipulated, and abused outside their homes – are 84 percent Asian, and this does not mean Chinese, Korean, Japanese, or Indonesian (other perpetrators have been Somali, Romani, Kosovan, Kurdish, and white British.)
To some extent, this fact has been influenced by the disproportionate amount of British Pakistanis and Bangladeshis who make their living in the night-time economy, driving taxi cabs and working in restaurants, which gave the perpetrators access to girls, and hours away from home. This is not the sole factor, though, as other nations with significant night-time economies do not have comparable street grooming crises.
Some have pointed the finger at Islam. I support the criticism of Islamic texts where appropriate but think this factor can be over-egged. Quite apart from being abusively adulterous, these criminals drank, did drugs, and made their victims have abortions. These were not, in other words, devout Muslim men. Yet Taj Hargey of the Oxford Islamic Congregation has observed that “the view of some Islamic preachers towards white women” and “an attitude where women are seen as nothing more than personal property” might have been contributing factors in the stew of thought processes that characterised these men, along with provincial machismo, clannish contempt, and degenerate sexual appetites.
WATCH & RT: the grooming gang cases recently uncovered in Telford are the worst discovered to date https://t.co/4dHPjTu1b0
— Maajid (@MaajidNawaz) March 11, 2018
Most of the victims have been white girls, but not all. The Independent Inquiry Into Child Sex Exploitation in Rotherham – popularly known as the Jay Report and published in August 2014 – discovered that:
Asian girls were being sexually exploited where authorities were failing to identify or support them. They were most vulnerable to men from their own communities who manipulated cultural norms to prevent them from reporting their abuse.
Traditional views of honour and purity, the report goes on to say, at least enabled these crimes:
The Home Affairs Select Committee quoted witnesses saying that cases of Asian men grooming Asian girls did not come to light because victims “are often alienated and ostracised by their own families and by the whole community, if they go public with allegations of abuse.”
This illuminates a deep and toxic seam of cultural misogyny, but it also proves that race is not a fundamental criterion behind the selection of victims. It is, on the other hand, a significant factor. “White women,” one rapist was reported to have said, “are good only for people like me to use as trash.” “All white girls are good for is sex,” another told his victim, “and they are just slags.” Lord Macdonald, a Liberal Democrat peer and former Director of Public Prosecutions, has called the perpetrators “profoundly racist” against white women.
Also controversial is the gross negligence of the authorities regarding these crimes. The negligence itself is not at issue, but the motive is. It is alleged that social workers, police officers, and politicians ignored these crimes for fear of being accused of racism. Allison Pearson, for example, wrote for the Telegraph:
Gang members…exploit the fact that police, newly trained in “cultural sensitivity” are terrified of being accused of racism. So the pimps operate with impunity…
It is reductive to suggest that the fear of seeming racist was the sole cause of official negligence. There was also a class element. The Jay Report documented the troubled backgrounds of most of the victims of the grooming as follows:
The majority of children whose files we read had multiple reported missing episodes. Addiction and mental health emerged as common themes in the files. Almost 50 percent of children who were sexually exploited or at risk had misused alcohol or other substances (this was typically part of the grooming process), a third had mental health problems (again, often as a result of abuse) and two thirds had emotional health difficulties. There were issues of parental addiction in 20 percent of cases and parental mental health issues in over a third of cases.
The Jay Report details credible accusations that police officers failed to intervene because “[the] attitude … at that time seemed to be that they were all ‘undesirables’ and the young women were not worthy of police protection.” Victims were repeatedly thought to have been prostitutes; as, it is alleged, were the young women in Telford. Moreover, inefficient, poorly prepared, and underfunded social care institutions were ill-equipped to identify and prevent abuse. The Jay Report, among other inquiries, has led to significant reforms of their procedures that one hopes will be effective, and Conservatives should take this as long overdue encouragement to be attentive to the struggles of the underclass.
Nonetheless, “cultural sensitivity” was a factor. There was “a general nervousness in the earlier years about discussing [the backgrounds of the perpetrators], for fear of being thought racist.” The Deputy Council Leader, in avoiding the subject, “was at best naïve, and at worst ignoring a politically inconvenient truth.”
Society at large failed to give the crisis the attention it amply deserved and this had much to do with political convenience. Fifteen years ago, in 2003, Ann Cryer, then Labour MP for Bradford, reported that Asian men were abusing girls. A profile in the Yorkshire Post reveals that she was “ridiculed, branded a racist, a liar and a fantasist [and] forced to install a panic button in her own home.” More than a decade on, in 2017, Labour MP Sarah Champion wrote an article for a British tabloid which included the line, “These people are predators and the common denominator is their ethnic heritage.” Ms Champion soon resigned from the Labour front bench as her colleagues called her “incendiary and irresponsible.” Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, said:
We are not going to blame any particular group or demonise any particular group. The issue is one of safety of individuals.
If someone were to observe that most of the perpetrators of sexual abuse are men it is difficult to imagine Mr Corbyn charging them with blaming or demonising a particular group. Yet somehow the fear of being offensive or provocative, or of discouraging enthusiasm for the multicultural project, has led leftists and liberals away from the subject.
Libby Brooks, a Guardian columnist, wrote in 2011 that the Times, which was reporting on the grooming gangs, should ask itself “how responsible it is to provide ammunition to the violent racist extremists.” Three years later, Andrew Norfolk of the Times was named Journalist of the Year at the British Press Awards for his integral role in exposing years of abuse. Ms Brooks still writes on matters such as “sexist behaviour online” but, as far as I can tell, she has never returned to the subject of grooming gangs.
Brooks’s Guardian colleague Laurie Penny, meanwhile, took umbrage at “the language of feminism [being] co-opted by Islamophobes,” and she announced her refusal to make “aggressive distinctions between nice, safe Western sexism and scary, heathen Muslim sexism.” One assumes her fear that “horror stories about Muslim misogyny [are] used by Western patriarchs to justify imperialism abroad and sexism at home” prevents her from appreciating that she could have written the same columns about sexism in tech, sexism on social media, sexism in Parliament, and sexism in weightlifting while also giving appropriate attention to the hundreds of girls being raped by people who think they are “slags” and “trash,” enabled by people who think that being raped is just cause for ostracisation.
It is important to be clear that many people did speak out and are speaking out. These include MPs like Ms Cryer, journalists like Mr Norfolk, and prominent British Muslims like Yasmin Alibhai Brown, Mohammed Shafiq, and Nazir Afzal. Nevertheless, it would be ludicrous to claim that Britain’s media and political classes have been attentive enough, given the enormous gravity of what has transpired.
We cannot cure an illness before we have understood it. It is therefore important to be careful and nuanced. But I empathise with the frustration of those whose blood will boil on seeing those words. Like terrorism, this is a phenomenon that would not have existed on a comparable scale if not for the unprecedented top-down cosmopolitanism encouraged by the same political and media classes who now tactfully look the other way. Nuance was not a priority while that process was taking place, which is why its architects were tragically and appallingly unprepared to deal with its complications.
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