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Culture pop

August 20, 2017
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Culture Pop: Racism?

Opinion

August 20, 2017

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Last week, a controversial article on sexual grooming was published in a UK tabloid with a headline screaming for attention: ‘British Pakistanis ARE raping white girls... and we need to face up to it’. The writer went on to state that: “Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls. There. I said it. Does that make me a racist? Or am I just prepared to call out this horrifying problem for what it is?”

What makes this article unusual is that this was not a habitual columnist from The Sun doing an Islamophobic rant. The writer was Sarah Champion, the Labour Party’s shadow minister for women and equalities, who has spent much of her public life campaigning for child protection. She is also the MP for Rotherham, where a notorious grooming gang of five British Pakistani men was exposed as the biggest grooming scandal in UK history.

But in this instance, Champion was responding to the recent trial and conviction of 17 men and one woman in Newcastle for a series of horrendous offences – including rape, sexual abuse, supplying drugs and trafficking for sexual exploitation – after a three-year investigation. Those who were prosecuted were from the Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish communities and not exclusively British Pakistanis as Champion’s article seemed to suggest.

The UK’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children defines grooming as when someone builds an emotional connection with a child or young person to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse and exploitation or trafficking. In the Rotherham case, 1,400 young girls were subjected to appalling sexual abuse. Professor Alexis Jay’s report, which was submitted in 2014, detailed how girls as young as 11 were intimidated, trafficked, abducted, beaten and raped predominantly by men of Pakistani heritage. In both cases, vulnerable girls were plied with alcohol and drugs and passed around by the grooming network. Some victims spoke of being “too intoxicated” to defend themselves while others became addicts and were then forced to commit sexual acts in return for drugs.

But let us return to Champion’s question. Was she indeed being “a racist”? Or was she just, as she saw it, “prepared to call out the horrifying problem for what it is”? Certainly the shadow minister’s choice of words were, shall we say, indelicate and could be seen by some as tarring a whole community rather than sticking to convicted criminals belonging to that community. It is, after all, possible to talk about these appalling crimes without seeming to hold 1.17 million people responsible or stigmatising all British Pakistani men.

However, Adil Ray OBE, a writer and actor of Pakistani heritage in the famous Citizen Khan series and previously a presenter for a BBC Three documentary on grooming has tweeted: “I didn’t feel blamed. I accept there are criminals in our community. I also accept that we must openly talk about (it) or else the abusers win”.

I think Ray has a point. It is important for the British Pakistani community to self-reflect and to answer tough questions that we ask ourselves. These are important discussions to have in the community, not as a matter of guilt but as a matter of principle. As a British Pakistani woman, if men in my community are ganging up on vulnerable girls, raping them, abusing them or prostituting them I need to condemn this without feeling accused and without getting defensive.

“British Pakistanis are one of the fastest growing communities in Britain so it’s no surprise that they are faced with these challenges,” says Ray. “...I hope the British Pakistani community together with the wider community can work to prevent further abuse.”

British Pakistani Naz Shah, the Labour MP for Bradford West, writes in The Independent that around 90 percent of wider sexual abuse is committed by white men in the UK. So it’s important to not create stereotypes that specifically depict British Pakistani men as the singular perpetrators of sexual grooming crimes.

“I also have two sons. Blanket racially loaded statements like these set them up to fail before they even reach their teenage years,” she laments. She does admit that gang members convicted thus far in the UK have been disproportionately of Pakistani heritage.

The grooming rings investigated in areas such as Oxford, Telford, Rochdale and Derby have members predominantly from British Pakistani backgrounds and their victims or at least those that have come forward have been young, vulnerable white girls – many of them troubled teenagers in the care system. Asians are roughly only seven percent of the British population. By comparison, this figure on sexual perpetrators is very high.

We also need to figure out why grooming networks are the way that British Pakistani sexual offenders choose to operate. And while we know that British Pakistani girls may be less likely to report sexual grooming crimes, there is little to suggest that there are large numbers of non-white victims. There is some proof that British Pakistani offenders look down on their (mainly white) victims. One perpetrator referred to them as “white trash” and “only good for one thing”. This singular quote has been used in several tabloids as proof of a racist motivation.

Vikram Dodd, crime reporter for The Guardian, contends that it is opportunity rather than race that could be the determining factor in terms of how victims are chosen. Quoting a senior source in the police, he says that young, vulnerable girls moving within the night-economy may encounter Asian or British-Pakistani cab drivers preying on them. While there is clearly much more research that needs to be done, it would seem that Champion’s article has been used to confirm unsubstantiated notions.

The Sun is known for consistently erring on the side of Islamophobic misinformation within its pages. In 2016, the newspaper had to correct a “significantly misleading” front-page headline which claimed that one in five Muslim Britons sympathised with jihadis.

Despite the fact that Champion distanced herself from the piece quite quickly, claiming it was edited (The Sun says her team approved it), the article became the mainstay of an offensive column by The Sun’s former political editor Trevor Kavanagh, where he claims that Europe is confronted by “a Muslim problem”.

He writes: “The common denominator, almost unsayable until last week’s furore over Pakistani sex gangs, is Islam. Thanks to...Labour MPs such as Rotherham’s Sarah Champion, it is acceptable to say Muslims are a specific rather than a cultural problem”.

More than 100 inter-party MP’s signed Naz Shah’s petition demanding action against The Sun for Kavanagh’s piece. One of these was Sarah Champion. Unfortunately, it is too late. Her piece had already been used to give credence to an argument against Muslims in Britain.

The writer is a journalist based in London and works with the BBC World Service as a broadcaster. Twitter: @fifiharoon

 

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