With news of 54 arrests in a crackdown on grooming of young girls for sex in Bradford district in the last five months, JUST’s Director, Ratna Lachman speaking at a seminar on the subject warns against racialising the issue.
I’d like to thank One Sheffield Many Cultures for giving me the opportunity to discuss the issue of street grooming – what politicians, the press and media, the Far Right and the person-in the-street are increasingly referring to as the phenomenon of ‘Asian’ grooming.
Although the category Asian in the 2001 Census refers to a wide range of groups- Sikhs, Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese etc. – in the context of street grooming it’s become a short-hand for evoking the image of predatory Muslim Pakistani men prowling the streets of Britain looking out for vulnerable young White children to prey on.
Unfortunately former Labour MP Ann Cryer and the current Tory MP Kris Hopkins – both Bradford politicians – have built their political careers on raising the spectre of the Muslim bogeyperson. The suggestion is that that there is something innate in Pakistani culture and Islam that marks these men out as sexual deviants.
I would like to maintain that their position on street grooming is both opportunistic and racist because it willfully ignores the reality around paedophilia.
The event is timely as the press and media have been saturated with allegations of sex abuse in a range of settings. The most recent example is the resignation of Cardinal Keith O Brien, the Archbishop of St Andrew’s and Edinburgh, on allegations of sexual abuse. We know that the Church has been historically mired in similar allegations yet they have largely been protected from legal prosecutions. Listening to the press and media commentary on the issue – it struck me how many people are still defending the Church and calling for a distinction to be made between the practices of a few aberrant priests and the followers of the faith.
So the question we have to ask is: Why is that same courtesy not extended to the Muslim community? Why do the press and media, politicians and commentators fail to make the same distinction between the few Muslims who are predatory peadophiles and the rest of the community, who are no different to the majority of the Roman Catholic laity?
Interestingly over the last few months, since the Jimmy Saville allegations broke, we have been inundated with a surfeit of press and media coverage of child sex abuse:
Peter Morrison – a gay former Conservative MP – was linked by the Mail on Sunday to the North Wales children’s home scandal in which up 650 youngsters in 40 homes were abused during the 70s and 80s.
Cyril Smith – a Lib Dem politician – now believed to have abused boys at two special schools. He had 24 hours, 7 days a week access to the dormitories. At least a quarter of the boys – some as young as 8 – were thought to be involved in ‘serious, sexual incidents.’
Frances Afrade, sexually exploited at the elite Chetham’s School of Music who recently committed suicide – a victim like many other students studying at other prestigious music schools, where teachers abused their positions of authority.
The common thread running through the cases I have mentioned above is that they involve the sexual abuse of young children and the perpetrators are all White.
I draw attention to these cases not to justify street grooming by Pakistani men but to highlight that if we are going to tackle child abuse then merely pointing the finger of blame at Pakistani ‘culture’ will not protect children – pedophilia is implicated in the political culture, celebrity culture, institutional culture. The perpetrators are just as likely to be Asian, White or Black as child sexual exploitation observes no religion, culture, colour or race.
In this frenzied environment how do we bring some sense of rationality to the debates – I believe we must address facts. The most up to date figures of sex offences by ethnicity from the Ministry of Justice as of May 2012 covering all sex offences sentenced at the Crown and Magistrates’ Courts in 2010 show that around 78 per cent of offenders were White, while 8 per cent were Asian.
Research conducted by the CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection) Centre on localized grooming in 2012 –where the offender met the victim in a public place – 367 of the offenders were White,11 Bangladeshis, 45 Pakistanis and 290 were described as ‘Asian’ Other.
Similarly although street grooming has been cast as a Muslim- on-White crime, the reality is that 36% of the victims were non-White – thereby undermining the thesis that the victims of street grooming are exclusively White.
Critically the CEOP Report warns against drawing any conclusions on ethnicity because police forces and agencies have no baseline definition for grooming – they use different terms such as localized grooming, street grooming and internal trafficking which all have slightly different meanings.
Prof Malcolm Cowburn – a leading expert who has studied issues related to sexual violence over last 15 years – says he has not seen any empirical evidence to say that one group of people has a greater proclivity to sexual violence than the other.
He believes the problem is not with ethnicity but gender – the key issue is the ‘failure of empathy” and “problematic masculinity” in terms of “how certain men view women, children and their sexual rights.”
We know that the majority of the child abuse is perpetrated in the home, where the abuser is known to the victim.
We also know that on-line grooming which happens behind closed doors and in a virtual space, puts children at huge risk because unlike street grooming – it is very difficult to detect such crime.
I therefore concur with the Deputy Child Commissioner, Sue Berkowitz, when she warns that the pre-occupation with Asian men targeting white girls is leading to sexually abused children falling through the net. She is also right in highlighting that Asian men targeting white girls in one of a number of exploitation models as perpetrators come from all ethnic groups.
It is against this background that I believe that the position of politicians like Ann Cryer and Kris Hopkins does young victims a gross disservice because they create a hierarchy of child exploitation in which street grooming is foregrounded over other acts of pedophilia.
Presenting the issue through an ethnic prism also serves to racialise the issue thereby creating an environment of moral panic that legitimises the demonization of Muslims.
Over the last decade this tendency to present Muslims as the ‘Other’ has stark echoes of the demonization of Caribbean communities in the 70s and 80s and the Jewish community before that.
When street disturbances broke out in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford in 2001 – the community cohesion policy did not blame the Far Right – instead Muslims were accused of creating the conditions that led to the riots because they were deemed to be living “parallel and segregated lives.”
In just a decade – the term Muslim has become a by-word for the myriad threats facing the British way of life – epithets like rioters, segregationists, extremists, terrorists – have become almost interchangeable with the word Muslim.
In such an environment, canny politicians like Kris Hopkins know only too well, that it does not take a great leap to extend the demonology and cast Muslims as men “going round and raping white kids.”
This insistence on presenting the issue through an ethnic lens and this attempt to create a hierarchy of child sexual exploitation which foregrounds street grooming over other crimes against children is, I would like to suggest, Racist.
What the Rochdale grooming case has highlighted is that the simple dialectic of White victim–Muslim abuser is too simplistic. Almost inevitably behind every child who is abused is a litany of institutional failures.
In her testimony of the Inquiry on child sex exploitation, the Deputy Child Commissioner revealed that the first terrified victim in the Rochdale case confided to the police in August 2008 that she was being plied with drink and being repeatedly raped by a string of men. She provided them with underwear which had the attacker’s DNA.” It took 11 months for the police to compile a file of evidence for the CPS. An experienced CPS lawyer ruled the victim was not credible. Charges were dropped against the two members of the grooming gang who continued abusing the victims for a further 2 years.
The Parliamentary Inquiry into Child sex exploitation heard that the children in Rochdale were failed by professionals because they believed that these children are “troublesome” “promiscuous” “criminals” “slags” who knew what they were getting themselves into – similar to the view some of the perpetrators had of the young girls they were abusing. This in my view amounts to being ‘institutional accessories’ to the horrors of child rape, as public bodies have a duty of care to these young people.
So have lessons been learnt since the Rochdale case?
I would argue that young people continue to be vulnerable for a number of reasons:
There is no common framework or set of definition for all agencies to record information of the different forms of sexual abuse.
Public bodies continue to work in silos and this is likely to get worse as public sector cuts bite
As more and more public services are contracted out to private care providers large numbers of vulnerable children in care from all over the country are dumped in care homes in places like Rochdale.
The North West, with its modest salary costs and property prices, has proved an ideal location for private care homes. There are 47 in Rochdale, while Haringey, which is a similar sized borough has only 2 private care homes. In Rochdale, vulnerable children from all over the country are funneled into homes, supposedly monitored by social workers who may be as far away as Cornwall or Plymouth.
The leader of Rochdale Council, Colin Lambert was right when he called the arrangements for children in care a “disgrace on the country’s record of caring for vulnerable children.”
In the Rochdale case the young victims who were not in care were not only failed by their families but critically by social services who should have stepped in and protected these girls as soon as the crime first came to light in 2008.
Interestingly I have never heard politicians like Jack Straw, Ann Cryer or Kris Hopkins express their outrage at these institutional failures. In fact Hopkins was the Leader of Bradford Council before he was appointed MP. If as he claims street grooming is such a prevalent crime in Bradford then he has to accept responsibility for failing to keep vulnerable children safe.
The truth unfortunately is rather more prosaic – Kris Hopkins is an ambitious politician who will be defending a slim 2940 majority in the next general elections. A 6.1% swing would deliver his constituency Keighley back to Labour in the next General Election. He has probably calculated, that the issue is likely to win him considerable electoral support, hence his visible public profile on the issue.
The recent prosecution of two Bradford men for grooming young girls will generate considerable press and media publicity. Politicians and commentators will decry the sexual predilection of Pakistani Asian men as did the presiding Judge Jonathan Rose, who attributed the two men’s conduct to a phenomenon that he said was becoming “increasingly and depressingly familiar in this country.”
Heinous as these crimes are as they prey on the vulnerability and powerlessness of young children. If Hopkins really had the interest of the young victims and the city of Bradford at heart, he would look at practical solutions and work with the police and the local authority instead of giving succor to the Far Right.
He could also look at his own party’s policies that has led to the stripping away of critical front-line services that are desperately needed to keep young people safe in this so-called era of austerity.
Hopkins knows only too well that wherever street grooming has occurred, the Far Right has inevitably followed peddling their message of hate and community division.
If politicians, policy makers, and the person in the street are serious about tackling the abuse of young children then we must start by putting the needs of ALL vulnerable young children who are abused by pedophiles wherever the crime occurs – unfortunately we are a long way from this.