Article: Unsubstantiated allegations of cultural links to sexual abuse whip up Islamophobia

by Sabby Dhalu, Secretary, One Society Many Cultures

In the wake of recent convictions for sexual grooming and rape in Derby three myths have been fostered by sections of the media and some politicians.
Firstly, that young Muslim men have a tendency to be paedophiles, sexual groomers and rapists due to their cultural background; secondly, that citing ethnicity as a causal factor for sex crimes stops racism, and finally, that there has been a ‘conspiracy of silence ‘on the issue of grooming by Pakistani heritage men, which some politicians and newspapers are now bravely trying to break.
These myths must be exposed and challenged. They do nothing to protect the victims of sexual violence; they only serve to give legitimacy to racist views and organisations.
Sexual predators and paedophiles exist in all communities, as do their victims. And sexual abuse and violence is a crime irrespective of who is the perpetrator. Everyone has a responsibility and a duty to challenge such crimes and support the victims.

Convictions of individuals do not show any link between background or religion and these crimes. Moreover, those responsible for research – that has been widely cited as demonstrating such a link – have themselves refuted this claim, saying there is nothing in their research to prove this.
Despite this, Jack Straw chose to make a damaging and unsubstantiated intervention, whipping up the Islamophobic responses to these cases. In a television interview he claimed both that these crimes are rife in the Muslim community as their cultural background means they do not have a sexual outlet, and – most shockingly – that they target white girls in particular as they are seen as ‘easy meat’.

Speaking to the BBC’s Newsnight programme, Mr Straw said: “These young men are in a western society, in any event, they act like any other young men, they’re fizzing and popping with testosterone, they want some outlet for that, but Pakistani heritage girls are off-limits and they are expected to marry a Pakistani girl from Pakistan, typically,” he said. “So they then seek other avenues and they see these young women, white girls who are vulnerable, some of them in care … who they think are easy meat.”
“And because they’re vulnerable they ply them with gifts, they give them drugs, and then of course they’re trapped.”

Other commentators have contested Straw’s approach. For example, Keith Vaz’s comments were a much needed corrective to the approach of Straw: “What I don’t think we can do is say that this is a cultural problem. One can accept the evidence which is put before us about patterns and networks but to go that step further I think is pretty dangerous.

“We can’t ignore the facts of individual cases, but against what Jack says is what the judge said in the Derby case. [I] don’t think you can stereotype an entire community.”

Keith Vaz is referring to the explicit comment by Judge Head, who said at the conclusion of the trial: ‘It was never the Crown’s case that these offences were racially motivated or aggravated.’

A number of other well informed observers have also raised serious concerns about how the debate on the nature and causes of grooming has unfolded.
Authors of the first independent academic analysis looking at “on-street grooming” – defined for the research as where young girls are identified on the street, including at the school gates, as potential targets of paedophiles and abusers – have themselves said they were concerned that data from a small, geographically concentrated, sample of cases had been “generalised to an entire crime type”.

The authors, Helen Brayley and Ella Cockbain, from UCL’s Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science, said they were surprised their research, confined to just two police operations in the North and Midlands – which found perpetrators in these two cases were predominantly but not exclusively from the British Pakistani community – had been cited in support of the claims that such offences were widespread.

They added that the real finding of their research is that: “This challenges the view that white girls are sought out by offenders, suggesting instead that convenience and accessibility may be the prime drivers for those looking for new victims.”

This has been by echoed by Martin Narey, from Barnado’s, said, “I don’t think this is so much about targeting white girls – because black girls are also victims – it’s about targeting vulnerable, isolated girls.”

Sheila Taylor, from Safe and Sound Derby has also explained that: “This model of street-grooming is going on in many places. It is just that the recent spate of prosecutions against Asian men in the north of England and Midlands makes it look like it is concentrated in these communities.”

Those who choose to make an issue of the identity of the perpetrators of sex crimes as Muslims or Asian are not de-racialising the debate, nor are they being brave. On the contrary, they are only feeding the myth that race is an important factor. After all, no one uses terms such as ‘white grooming’ or ‘white paedophilia.’

The attempt to explain sex crimes by ethnic origin is not only inaccurate, but irresponsible. It provides credibility to the racist views of groups like the BNP and the EDL who attempt to suggest that Islam is founded on and spread through sexually aggressive behaviour, including rape and paedophilia.
On EDL marches a common chant is “Allah is a paedo”, and the BNP is now campaigning with the slogan “Our children are not halal meat”
It should also not be forgotten that the BNP won four council seats seven years ago in Bradford on the back of the legitimacy given to the myth of so called ‘Asian grooming’  that it was claimed resulted from marriage customs.
Just before the 2010 election Jack Straw, publicly apologised for the consequences of comments he made in October 2006 following his widely publicised statement that he would prefer Muslim women not to wear a face veil when visiting his MP’s surgery.

He was quoted as saying, “To be blunt, if I had realised the scale of publicity that they [his comments] received in October 2006, I wouldn’t have made them and I am sorry that it has caused problems and I offer that apology.”

It is unfortunate that Jack Straw does not appear to have learned from that incident to think carefully – and check the facts – before making inflammatory comments of the type he has made in relation to this case.

It is likely that once again, Pakistani and Muslim communities that are already subjected to increasing racism and Islamophobia, will bear the brunt of the consequences of the legitimacy given to racist ideas and groups by irresponsible ‘insights’ offered by high profile politicians and sections of the media. That is why we must always use the facts to challenge myths that associate any one community with a particular crime.

Other useful articles on this subject include:

Grooming and our ignoble tradition of racialising crime – dubious claims about Muslim men grooming white girls hide legitimate worries about a system that fails victims of abuse, Libby Brooks, Guardian

Too many of us treat young white women as trash, Barbara Ellen, Observer/Guardian

What makes Arizona’s killer just a loner not a terrorist?  Mehdi Hasan, Comment is Free
Why are all Pakistani men are being smeared in the sex-grooming cases?
By Iman Quereshi guest writing for Liberal Conspiracy