Politics, Top Stories, United Kingdom

Grooming Gangs and Indifferent Police: What Have We Learned After Rotherham?

Victoria Agoglia was reported missing 136 times between February and September 2002. Whenever she returned to her residential care home she was thought to be drunk or to have taken drugs. Staff at the home were aware of a “pimp” who appeared to be in his mid-twenties and who was thought to have been supplying her with drugs. “No attempts were made to verify his age,” one reported. Victoria told her social worker that she had been injected with heroin by an older man. This information was not relayed to the police. Astonishingly, Victoria’s “drugs worker” thought an appropriate course of action was to make the girl agree to smoke rather than inject heroin. Within two months, Victoria was dead after a 50-year-old man injected her with the drug.

This tragic and appalling case is detailed in a new review of “the effectiveness of multi-agency responses to child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester.” As in similar cases in Rotherham, Rochdale and elsewhere, there were numerous victims and the perpetrators were Pakistani-Muslim. As on other occasions, the authorities did not respond to the discovery that the offenses were taking place with anything resembling appropriate force.

The death of Victoria Agoglia inspired Greater Manchester Police to launch “Operation Augusta,” an investigation into child sexual exploitation in the city. The investigation identified almost 60 children at risk and almost 100 “persons of interest” who might be involved in abuse. A successful investigation, one might think. But the police appear to have been intimidated less by the scale of the crimes than by the scale of their investigation. They were unprepared for such a large, ambitious and, of course, sensitive mission, and—shamefully—they had no support from above.

The investigation was closed. “Few of the relevant perpetrators were brought to justice,” the review has found, “And neither were their activities disrupted.” As the BBC reports:

eight men identified in the investigation [went on] to commit serious sexual offences, including rapes of girls aged both under and over 16, after the operation was ended.

For retired detective Maggie Oliver, who blew the whistle on the failings of Operation Augusta, the review provides vindication but is too little, too late. “These men…walked away scot free in 2005,” she says. “How many more kids have they raped?”

I wrote about grooming gangs for Quillette almost two years ago. Periodically, since the 2011 revelations about the British-Pakistani gang that had been preying on children in the northern British town of Rotherham, the issue has erupted into the public consciousness, and the Manchester review is just the latest example. Recently, some left-wing academics have pushed back against the “Asian grooming gang” narrative. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to clarify and emphasise some points—but also to correct one.

In my previous article I wrote:

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. [Pakistani-Muslim.]

This claim linked to a report by the anti-extremist organisation Quilliam and I now regret relying on it. A critique by Dr Ella Cockbain argues persuasively that the Quilliam report defines the problem poorly, uses inadequate sampling, and draws unreasonably strong conclusions.

Dr Cockbain argues that so-called “Asian grooming gangs” are an overhyped phenomenon, not because Asian grooming gangs do not exist, but because people of other ethnicities are members of grooming gangs, and because “grooming gangs” is an unhelpful concept when it comes to understanding child sexual exploitation. For example, there is no evidence that people in Britain with Asian heritage are overrepresented among all kinds of sexual offenders who have targeted children. Indeed, the opposite may be true. (In the U.K. we use the term “Asian” to describe people of South Asian ancestry.)

This is worth remembering, and I also agree with Dr Cockbain that, counterintuitively, the argument that authorities were hamstrung by political correctness—afraid to investigate Asian suspects for fear of being branded “racist”—might be too kind to them. The authorities who failed to act were not merely intimidated by the atmosphere of political correctness, but failed to push back against sclerotic bureaucracies and were just straightforwardly snobbish in their attitude towards the victims, all of whom were at the bottom of the social hierarchy in their communities. An underlying sense that the victims were not really victims is evident in the Manchester report. Victoria Agoglia was thought to be involved in “prostitution” rather than simply being an abused child, and after her death the coroner referred to her propensity “to provide sexual favours.” The Jay Report, an investigation into what happened in Rotherham, found that “[the] attitude [of the police] at that time seemed to be that they were all ‘undesirables’ and the young women were not worthy of police protection.”

Institutional management was also at fault. The Augusta team, the report found, were “insufficiently resourced” and “not…fully trained.” We cannot blame the officers themselves for this but we can blame their bosses. In one of the richest nations in the world, do we not have enough money to keep children safe from predators? Or did the police just decide not to protect them?

So I agree with Dr Cockbain up to a point. But there are problems with her arguments. While some mistakenly reduce grooming to ethnicity, and attribute the failure of officials to respond to it to political correctness and that alone, Cockbain maintains these are not relevant factors at all.

While Dr Cockbain criticised Quilliam for using “exaggerated claims of the type rarely heard from credible researchers,” her research article with Dr Waqas Tufail—‘Failing victims, fuelling hate: challenging the harms of the “Muslim grooming gangs” narrative’uses heated polemical language in its introduction when it claims that mainstream commentators “lent a veneer of legitimacy to…the demonization of whole communities.” Did they? True, Brenton Tarrant, the Christchurch shooter, painted “for Rotherham” on the barrel of his gun. But who “lent a veneer of legitimacy” to that? Cockbain and Tufail seem to accuse anyone who mentions ethnicity in the context of grooming of being an apologist for far-right terrorism.

Cockbain and Tufail are very concerned about “discourses” surrounding crime—and seem less interested in crime itself. Criticising Hillary Clinton for her reference to “super predators” in 1993, for example, they leave the reader potentially unaware that rape and murder were far more prevalent in the early ’90s than they are today. One can offer different explanations for that, and one can criticise the Clintons for their response, but one cannot pretend that it came out of nowhere.

Similarly, Cockbain and Tufail write as if Andrew Norfolk and the Times—the journalist and newspaper that did the most to expose the various scandals—invented the “Asian grooming gang” phenomenon out of whole cloth. In fact, all the evidence suggests they were reporting on a real trend. In 2013, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) suggested that 75 percent of the offenders connected with “Group Offending Targeting Victim Vulnerability” were “Asian.” A 2018 study by Dr Kish Bhatti-Sinclair of the University of Chichester and Professor Charles Sutcliffe of the University of Reading argued that 83 percent of defendants in cases of “Group Localised Child Sexual Exploitation” were of Muslim origin.

Granted, this evidence has limitations. CEOP admitted that its evidence was patchy as “not all police forces responded to CEOP’s information request,” and so its conclusions were tentative. The Bhatti-Sinclair and Sutcliffe study, meanwhile, relied on data collected from media reports and I suspect it was not comprehensive. It is fair to say, then, that we have imperfect evidence, and we need to do more thorough research. On the other hand, it is not fair to ignore evidence of what appears to be a meaningful, disturbing trend by talking about “pseudoscientific ‘research’” for paragraph after paragraph without mentioning more credible studies.

Cockbain and Tufail accuse people like me of racializing these offenses:

sexual abuses carried out by Asian offenders are explained in terms of race and culture, whereas their white counterparts’ crimes are framed as individual deviance.

This is not entirely without foundation. However, the mistake may be failing to take the background of some white criminals into account when trying to explain their crimes, rather than doing it in the case of Asian offenders. It seems plausible, for example, that European “child sex tourists” are exhibiting an extreme example of the tendency of Europeans to exoticize foreign cultures and peoples. (Here is a paper by a left-wing academic that argues exactly that.) I don’t think most European people would find that idea offensive, still less that in saying it I am demonizing all Europeans.

Cockbain and Tufail argue that group localized child sexual exploitation constitutes only a small proportion of child abuse cases as a whole, and that excessive emphasis has been placed on the grooming gang phenomenon due to racial prejudice. The first claim is true, but the second relies on a kind of blinkeredness. First, they emphasize the number of cases rather than the number of victims. The victims of group localized child sexual exploitation may constitute a small percentage of the total number of victims of child abuse as a whole, but the high number of victims in the grooming gang cases made them especially scandalous. It is estimated that 1,400 children were sexually exploited over 16 years in Rotherham alone, while more than 100 are alleged to have been exploited in Telford over two years. Second, organized crimes are always more sensational than individual crimes. Rightly or wrongly, the presence of multiple criminals acting in concert strikes us as especially threatening. Thirdly, the crimes were allowed to take place over many years without effective official intervention or media investigation. And that makes them more scandalous. I agree with Cockbain and Tufail that political correctness was not the dominant factor behind the failings of the authorities, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a factor. As I wrote in my original Quillette article, the Jay Report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham found that 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.”

Abdul Rauf arriving at Liverpool Crown Court where he is accused, along with 10 other men, of exploiting five underage girls for sex, February 12th, 2012, Liverpool UK. Peter Byrne / PA Images

The perpetrators’ backgrounds weighed on the minds of the investigators in Manchester as well. They had seen the stink that had been stirred up by the documentary Edge of the City, shown by a British broadcaster, which had investigated similar crimes and criminals in Yorkshire, and wanted to avoid the same controversies. One police officer said he was ordered to try to find offenders of non-Asian backgrounds:

What had a massive input was the offending target group were predominantly Asian males and we were told to try and get other ethnicities.

In addition, recent reports have alleged that a Rotherham chief constable told the father of a grooming victim:

With it being Asians, we can’t afford for this to be coming out as Rotherham would erupt.

This quote has been extracted from an unpublished report by the police watchdog the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) and should be treated with caution until it can be seen in its proper context. But it suggests that political correctness played a role in the unwillingness of officials to pursue effective investigations.

One of the most enraging things about these reports is that, in many cases, they say the officials responsible for botching the investigations are no longer identifiable. South Yorkshire Police claim not to have been able to identify the police officers who dragged their heels as evil men exploited children. The Manchester report, meanwhile, limply states that its authors:

[have] been unable to clarify who was the gold commander for Operation Augusta; however, it would have been likely to have been an officer of at least chief superintendent or assistant chief constable rank.

Sajid Javid, during his time as the U.K.’s Home Secretary, promised an investigation into the grooming phenomenon but nothing materialized. It is clear that we need investigations, but we also need accountability. What has changed? What will change? How can we have confidence that our institutions are not still failing children as they failed Victoria Agoglia?

Where do all the research and all the reports published so far leave us? With a more nuanced understanding of the phenomenon, I hope, but not with less anger or determination to address these crimes in future. We need to find justice for the victims and protect other children.


Ben Sixsmith is an English writer living in Poland. Follow him on Twitter @BDSixsmith


  1. What have we learnt?

    We’ve learnt that the perps are euphemistically called Asians and serial gang rapists are euphemistically called grooming gangs.

    Beware the Hindu hair dressers.

  2. The headline wrongly uses the word “After”. It’s still going on and growing from one city to another. More and more people from different countries in Asia and the MIdeast are moving to Britain to join in. This has been going on since the early 1980s, possible even back to the late 1970s. More than one girl for every street in the town has been abducted. It might be two or three or four for every street by now.

  3. The author concedes too much ground to Cockbain and Tufail who have no concern whatsoever for the rape victims and are solely concerned with identity politics and false allegations of bigotry. The scandal went undetected for so long because of people like Cockbain and Tufail.

  4. This is the sort of thing that future historians ( I’m being optimistic here ) will write about in order to highlight the utterly warped values and sheer absurdity of western culture in the present age. The chapter might be titled “ how those in positions of power sold out their own people in order to pursue ideological purity”.

    Compare the coverage that this is getting with the coverage that the Church abuse scandals rightly got. By “ this” I mean the repeated examples of a failure to act by public authorities on grounds of political correctness with the result that those who are most vulnerable in society suffer the consequences.

  5. What concerns me most is the institutional failures these dreadful cases highlight. Virtually every institution possible, from police officers to teachers, social workers to local councillors failed at almost every level to protect these young girls, with a few notable whistleblowing exceptions. It’s symptomatic of a pervasive white fear of the mere accusation of racism, institutional or otherwise, which leads to a creeping paralysis of core functions. Like the corporate sector, the public sphere has become so terrified by those wishing to peddle activist oppression narratives, they allow themselves to wilfully see prostitution where child-grooming is at issue, in instances where the narrative frameworks that permeate our Western cultures threaten to end careers and derail promotions.

    African Americans commit homicide in the US, at a rate that is 7.9 times higher than their white counterparts, and in the UK this incidence is similarly high, but summed over the course of a lifetime these crimes are indicative of only a tiny fraction of the population as a whole, with serial offenders very much the rule, as with almost every other type of crime. The appropriate response to these uneasy realities is moral courage, not the moral cowardice that has clearly been in evidence since day one. Armoured by truth, it might even be possible to make progress on tackling the root causes of these crime phenomena, whilst still apprehending offenders.

    In the case of statistically weighted homicides there are many factors at play: everything from socio-economic despair to fatherlessness, from an unregulated market to disproportionate populations in those areas at risk of the urban crime phenomena, have all been cited. But one thing is certain, if you want to shut off a flooding house you need to go to the source, and any rational analysis has to place the blame for higher rates of homicide at the doorstep of grooming by gang elders every bit as pernicious as those experienced in Rotherham and elsewhere. One possible way to confront this problem head on, would be to make the gang-grooming of minors a more serious offence than dealing itself…

    In the case of the gang-grooming of underage girls, it’s important to understand the language of the Khafir and the Guri, and the cultural emphasis on good Muslim girls as pure, by contrast to outsiders. It is worth noting that Norway now runs state-sponsored courses for refugees and immigrants, in the proper treatment of women in Norwegian culture. But beyond this, the segregation in schools that arises from self-segregation in housing, might lead to stereotypical ideas about white girls caused by general unfamiliarity, which a media culture of promiscuity and sexually provocative women might only reinforce. Better education in schools, as well as strong stance of shaming towards offenders articulated by Mosques, might be ways to remedy this open cross-cultural sore.

    But overall, we need to get back to the concept of treating people as individuals, rather than as members of arbitrary or cultural groups when they intersect with institutions or the apparatus of the Criminal Justice System. Statistical patterns in offending need to be treated as opportunities (rather than career-ending hazards) to delve down into the root causes of crime, as well as in devising coherent strategies to stem the tide. COBR-style meetings applied a local-level, meant to bring together communities and public institutions to solve there problems, would do much to reassure the public and ease down the cultural and racial fears that arise from these scandals. Because like any problem in life, tackling a problem head-on, with bravery and moral fortitude, is always preferable to ignoring the issue and hoping it will go away.

  6. Pimping, as a low level organized crime, is generally carried out by recent immigrants or the poorer communities in any given area. In the U.S. it’s usually blacks and Hispanics. What’s different here is that these latter groups will target any girls, within or without their own ethnicity, whereas the muslims seem to deliberately target only non-muslim girls, and to view these girls as particularly worthy of exploitation (in other words worthless). If true, if any racism is going on, it’s them, not us.

    For these girls to then be dismissed as non-valid victims by the cops (due to the girls’ socioeconomic class) is just salt in the wound. They’re doubly worthless.

    To all the feminists fighting for the rights of “sex workers” – where are you? Probably trying on a towel for national hijab day.

  7. Truth is a defense to defamation. Is truth a defense to violations of political correctness or racial insensitivity?

    Generally the response questions the motivation for citing the alleged inconvenient fact. If the fact is germane to the discussion and is true, the motivation of supporting evidence is self evident. “Yes but we shouldn’t talk about it, because talking about it only makes it worse” goes the refrain. Declaring an established fact racist, sexist, homophobic, ect… is nothing more than a tactic to avoid dealing with said evidence.

    The statement “Short people generally do not excel at basketball but make better jockeys” denigrates no one. It is simply a statistical fact. The statements Blacks commit more, Asians commit more and whites commit more say nothing about any individual but rather merely references a statistic.

    For instance if statistically more catholic priests are white does this mean whites on average or more devout or more likely to be pedophiles? Would this statement survive scrutiny, “On average whites have higher IQs than blacks so Neil deGrasse Tyson is a moron”?

    How can justice be accomplished if no one will stand up for truth?

  8. What have we learned? Nothing. We have been reminded that we cannot trust the government to protect of from anything and that the government will usually PREVENT US from protecting ourselves, our family, our friends and our neighbours. Just ask you know who whose initials are TR.

    It is comforting to know that the police are just minutes away when seconds count.

  9. The distinction between organized crime and isolated incidents is important for another reason. Isolated incidents typically involve abuse by a family member or someone else who has access to children alone. They are “isolated” because they know if they were to broach the subject of raping a child with someone else, they’d probably have the police called on them on the spot. Isolated predators know they are behaving unethically and that their society doesn’t support them.

    Now imagine a gang situation. More like a club, really, where girls are passed around, often between family members. Imagine all the conversations where someone felt comfortable saying to their uncle “hey, should we kidnap, drug, and rape a 13 year old white girl this weekend?”

    The only way you can get such a multitude of men involved without someone ratting to the police is if the culture supports or at least tolerates these actions. Are we to believe all these men’s wives and mothers had no idea what was going on?

    This has nothing to do with race, which should be obvious because Pakistanis are Caucasians, and on average no darker than Spaniards. This is about religion. Islam is the cult of Mohammad, he is the perfect man, his life provides the framework for righteous living. It’s why Muslims so frequently name their boys Mohammad, to the point it is the most popular baby name in the UK now.

    Mohammad was a conqueror, a slaver, and a polygamist who raped a 9 year old: what model does this set for the Muslim migrant? Pretty much exactly what we see with the rape gangs.

  10. Has it been true all this time that in England, people from Pakistan have been called Asians? Or is this some sort of new thing to try and avoid saying “Voldemort”, er, I mean “Pakistani” or Muslim?

    I spent most of my life living in California, where “Asian” means Chinese, and maybe people from surrounding countries that had similar facial appearances (Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese). “Asian” replaced of “Oriental” which was considered bad (I forget why). Indians (from the country) were and still are called Indians, not Asians, even though India is part of Asia from a continent point of view. Vietnamese - Cambodians - Thais - Laotions - usually referenced by country of origin, but maybe lumped together as Southeast Asians.

    No one - NO ONE - referred to people from Pakistan, or any other Stan, as Asian. Maybe Middle Easterners? Maybe “Arabs” (even if incorrect). Iranians were sometimes Persians, but never “Asians”.

    I recall visiting England and Scotland back in the 1980’s, and hearing the term “Paki” as a name for a local small convenience store, because they were often operated by Pakistanis. I don’t remember Pakistani or Indian Brits being referred to as “Asian.” Was I not listening or did I forget something?

  11. It’s a grotesque mangling of the language that, as far as I recall, originated with the BBC in an effort to avoid “offending”, exactly mirroring the motivations explained in this and the previous article. If they are “Asians” they could have originated from anywhere in the world’s most populous continent, and the BBC seem to want to do anything to avoid specifying that the gang members are overwhelmingly Pakistani in origin and Muslim of faith (and the few instances where they weren’t both, the faith was the linking factor).
    The term is however, not widely used outside of the BBC or those that take their cues from that September body, certainly not widely used in public. We generally frown upon that kind of gross oversimplification, and when we hear Americans (of any sort) use it there is a internal rolling of the eyes at the sheer stupidity of such a term. Being British we’d never say anything, just keep our contempt of you to ourselves.

  12. There’s probably no shortage of opportunities to internally (or externally) roll your eyes at things Americans do or say, but the good news for you is that we don’t call Pakistani’s “Asians” - at least not normally.

    If someone in the US says or writes about “Asians” running child rape rings in England, the listener/reader will assume “Chinese.”

    You have no shortage of Chinese in England. Doesn’t this anger when the BBC or whomever refers to the child-rape perpetrators as “Asians”? And what’s with this “grooming” bullshit. Grooming is something you do to a pet.

  13. Of course not. It is terminology invented by white, liberal journalists. Pakistanis themselves do not self-identify this way.

  14. “Dr Cockbain argues that so-called “Asian grooming gangs” are an overhyped phenomenon, not because Asian grooming gangs do not exist, but because people of other ethnicities are members of grooming gangs”

    The thing that differentiates the subject gangs from others of their type is their activities had family and community acceptance and involvement. Victims were/are shared between brothers, cousins, uncles and friends. This aspect of this particular crime is not replicated in other communities.

  15. Great point. Before you do the experiment, let me place a bet.

    During partitioning, Pakistanis almost completely ethnically cleansed their country, while India remains 14% Muslim. Same story in almost every MENA country: they chased out all their Jews to Israel, while Israel remains 20% Muslim. I think this speaks to the ability of modern Muslims to coexist with others.

    On a related note, I was recently involved in a Facebook discussion where a Pakistani claimed that the rape gangs exist because Pakistan was scarred by its colonial history. An Indian came in and told him India has exactly the same colonial history, but they don’t do any of that garbage. It was amazing.

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