The exposé of child sexual abuse in Rotherham over 16 years reads more like a horror story than an academic report. It was more than a dossier on how girls (and a few boys) were abused by gangs of men; it was also a damning indictment of multiple cover-ups at a senior institutional level. The details simply beggar belief.
This isn’t the first time either. Nearly ten years ago there were similar reports of institutional failure in Keighley involving the abuse of young girls, and I had to argue against sections of the Asian media so a Channel 4 film could be aired to shed more light on the problem. The importance of helping victims and dealing with their injustices should always take precedence over worries of racism.
But it’s immensely frustrating that when these incidents come to light, people use them to score political points and push their prejudices than understand what happened. Pakistanis should be as angry with what happened as everyone else.
- It was a Pakistani – Nazir Afzal – who made the convictions happen. As chief crown prosecutor for the North West, he was not only responsible for bringing the perpetrators to trial, but re-opened the case after watching police testimony. Without him this could have been buried for much longer.
- Across Yorkshire and elsewhere, Pakistani girls have been targeted by gangs too. A report last year also found that gangs had raped Asian (many Muslim) girls along with white girls, but the abuse of Asian girls was being missed because of a focus on white victims. Turning this into a narrative of ‘Pakistani men preying on young white girls’ completely ignores all the victims outside that narrative.
- Yesterday’s report found that councillors did not bother engaging with Pakistanis directly to address the issue (pg 2), that there was too much reliance on “traditional community leaders” and the voices of Pakistani women were generally ignored. There was also an unwillingness among Pakistanis to accept that Pakistani girls were also being abused (disproved by recent reports).
- In the report, one local Pakistani women’s group described how Pakistani-heritage girls were targeted by taxi drivers and on occasion by older men lying in wait outside school gates at dinner times and after school. They also cited cases in Rotherham where Pakistani landlords had befriended Pakistani women and girls on their own for purposes of sex, then passed on their name to other men who had then contacted them for sex. The women and girls feared reporting such incidents to the Police because it would affect their future marriage prospects (11.14).
- It also found that some local councillors had demanded social workers reveal the whereabouts of Pakistani victims of domestic violence, or recommend reconciliation rather than supporting the women to make up their own minds (11.8). This is astonishing and has been entirely ignored in the media coverage.
- Of course, most of the perpetrators were men of Pakistani heritage. That in itself demands debate and discussion. But the report quoted one senior officer as suggesting that some influential Pakistani-heritage councillors in Rotherham had acted as barriers to open dialogue of the issue.
- The accusation that authorities didn’t tackle child sex abuse because of political correctness is entirely misleading and give them a free pass. It ignores the fact that council leaders barely made themselves aware of the problem (13.3), the police weren’t focused on it (13.13) and that social care managers “seemed reluctant to accept the extent of the problem” (13.14).
- Neither is there specific evidence that political correctness stopped police work. The report specifically states (11.6): “[Dr Heal] also reported in 2006 that young people in Rotherham believed at that time that the Police dared not act against Asian youths for fear of allegations of racism. This perception was echoed at the present time by some young people we met during the Inquiry, but was not supported by specific examples.” – this point is echoed in several other areas. Authorities were unsure on how to speak about the issue, but political correctness didn’t stop them from taking action (after they finally woke from their slumber). That is a crucial difference.
It is ridiculous to imply that British Pakistanis should police their own community and take responsibility as a group. No one blamed the entire BBC when the Jimmy Savile cover-up was exposed; no one asked middle-aged white men to take responsibility for the cover-up of Savile, Rolf Harris and others. Pakistanis were also sometimes afraid of saying anything to the police in case of reprisals from gangs, as the report states.
There is certainly a problem here but its not about race or religion – it is about misogyny and a desire to subjugate women. Such attitudes – prevalent among Pakistani men, Asian men more broadly, and among men of other races – need to be challenged. As the report states quite starkly,
“across the UK the greatest numbers of perpetrators of CSE are white men.”
And this problem includes men who only get exercised about sexual abuse when they can push their prejudices about race or religion about others. The men preyed on these girls because they were weak or because they were physically or mentally intimidated, not because of the colour of their skin.
The irrevocable damage done to children is too important an issue to be turned into point-scoring about political correctness, because everyone - including those of Pakistani heritage – were patronised, ignored and badly let down by elected councillors and the police.
Sunny Hundal is editor of the political blog Liberal Conspiracy, which runs news, opinion and campaigns on leftwing issues. As a journalist and commentator, he has written for the Guardian, the Times, the Independent, Metro, Financial Times and New Statesman on national politics, the media, the environment and race relations. He is the author of India Dishonoured. Twitter:@sunny_hundal