Sarah Champion Article

Racialisation of the CSE scandal impacts on the Pakistani community of Rotherham

Ms Sarah Champion wrote an opinion piece in the Sun Newspaper on the 10th of August, published with the heading, ‘British Pakistani men are raping and exploiting white girls… and it’s time we faced up to it’Ms Champion has since attempted to distance herself from that headline[1]. Ms Champion followed this opinion piece with a series of further interviews – on the Today Programme she remarked ‘I have to say that within my own constituency, I really, I didn’t sleep last night, coming on talking about this, I know that every time I talk about it, the level of Islamophobia increases…’

Rotherham is a unique town, it is synonymous with the CSE scandal, the local authority has been disgraced for poor governance and criticised for ignoring the voices and abuse of mainly vulnerable children in their control. Rotherham is a town that has been subject to 16 far right marches, that has included (banned) far-right extremist groups such as National Action amongst others. The town has experienced the brutal racist “groomer inspired” murder of an 81-year-old man, Muhsin Ahmed attacked on the 10th of August 2015 by two Rotherham residents. Two years to the day, following that attack Sarah Champion had her opinion piece published in the Sun newspaper on the 10th of August 2017. Other incidents have included a local Rotherham resident having a limb removed with a machete at the hands of two men, he too was called groomer during the attack – the perpetrators were bailed and are still at large.

In the backdrop of the above, clearly frustrated and isolated, a group of local people, made up of ordinary community members, organisation’s and associations mainly from Rotherham asked JUST Yorkshire for support, to understand and assess the impact of Ms Sarah Champion’s opinion piece on the Pakistani community of Rotherham.

JUST Yorkshire was the first Human Rights charity in the country that openly criticised Ms Champion MP, for her incendiary comments[2] giving potential rise to racial tensions.

JUST agreed to undertake this research and write a report on the proviso that all stakeholders including the community understand that they are asking JUST to focus on one section of the community only – Pakistani. Therefore, this report published today cannot and should not be described as an assessment of race relations, for that a more meaningful assessment would be required. JUST also made clear that the atmosphere that exists in Rotherham cannot be directly or solely attributed to Ms Sarah Champion’s comments, and in that context, it is difficult to assess impact without reviewing or having access to community tension monitoring data from the Local Authority or South Yorkshire Police. However, Ms Champion should be commended for her work in raising the profile of CSE victims failed by the state.

Report Key Findings: 

  • Highlights and evidences the racialisation of the CSE scandal in Rotherham.
  • Highlights significant issues of racial tension and the impact this is having on the civil liberties of people that are identified as either Muslim or Pakistani.
  • Highlights the actual impact on the Pakistani community because of the populist and sensationalist reporting of the CSE scandal by the media.
  • Feedback from the respondents that contributed to the survey, and our research has proven beyond doubt that the community that SC refers to, feel they have been demonized, stigmatised and potentially criminalised in the court of public opinion.
  • The respondents evidence the normalising of racism – and the othering of this community from mainstream society – a community and place that they call home.
  • This report highlights significant levels of anger, hurt and disappointment the Pakistani community has in their MP and by extension local state agencies too.
  • As evidenced in this report, either Sarah Champion has been deliberately reckless in her comments published in the Sun newspaper on the 10th of August, or at worse she has through her actions compromised the very voices of victims that she claims to champion – by making grooming an issue of race rather than the systemic abuse of vulnerable children and young people that the state failed.
  • This report highlights the importance for SC to take responsibility for the evident feeling and impact her comments have had on the Pakistani community in Rotherham.
  • This report highlights the deep-rooted frustration of the Pakistani and Muslim community of Rotherham. Given that the Pakistani community sought out JUST to write this report on their behalf emphasises amongst other things deep rooted and significant local trust issues.
  • This report highlights issue of feelings of abandonment – in the eyes of the state and their MP, that they (Pakistani community) can’t be trusted.
  • All of this taken together, alongside the 16 far right marches that involved extremist groups, has created a breeding ground for hate, division, brutal assaults and even murder – not just in Rotherham but elsewhere in the country too, resulting in the singling out and targeting of Muslims and Pakistani’s.

Nadeem Murtuja, Director of JUST Yorkshire stated:

“We were asked to undertake this report because of deep-rooted trust issues and perceptions of abandonment between the Pakistani community of Rotherham and agencies of the state. Without question, every agency of the state knew that soon as the CSE scandal is racialized, minorities, particularly Pakistani’s in this case and Muslim’s would be potential targets for neo-fascist activity and by those people that have been radicalised because of 16 far-right marches – as has been proven in this report. It is imperative, that this toxic racially and Islamophobic loaded sensationalism of blaming innocent people for the acts of evil criminals is immediately halted – particularly given the fact Muslim’s across the country have been brutally murdered, subject to gruesome physical assaults and vile anti-Muslim abuse, affecting their very freedoms and civil liberties that we all take for granted and often describe as ‘shared values’. 

This report in Rotherham should be some form of final stop, we cannot continue the way we are, there can be no more bloodshed, physical harm or abuse of innocent people. We owe it to both the CSE victims, that have been subject to some of the most heinous crimes, and all the communities of Rotherham to be more conscious and responsible in the profiling of perpetrators so not to divide communities on faith and ethnic lines. More fundamentally, we must try to understand why and what has happened in Rotherham – how has a narrative that exposed systemic state failings become one of race – and in that context we must understand the impact the last 7 years has had on race relations so that communities can heal”.

Zaiban Alam, Co-author of the report stated:

“It is still not too late, leaders of Council’s, Police forces and MP’s such as Sarah Champion must take some responsibility for what has happened here in Rotherham and elsewhere, there has to be some form of open public inquiry. Elected officials from all sides of the political spectrum must work out a clear strategy to stop the continuing racialisation and Islamophobic narrative that is gripping the conscience of people across this country and wider Europe too. That means they need to show some understanding and get engaging first, preferably not in a superficial way through so called ‘community leader’s. They must address this issue, perception of abandonment – it would be a good starting point. 

This report provides all agencies, academics and stakeholders, with a tragic and unfortunate, though real live case study to understand what happens to innocent people’s lives when an agenda is politicised and racialized. We hope this report will be an opportunity for statutory actors like the Local Authority and South Yorkshire Police to lay down some foundations to re-build bridges with the community on equal terms, so everyone can move forward together. I urge these people in power to not consign this Pakistani community in Rotherham to democratic wilderness – Rotherham, economically, socially, democratically and culturally will be worse for it”. 

JUST also urges South Yorkshire Police to actively find and arrest the perpetrators that carried out the gruesome physical assault on a local hate crime survivor by the name of Ismayl Hussain who had a limb removed with a machete whilst being called a groomer and other racist profanities.

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