The usual casual racist language of collective blame is always used when reporting on “grooming gangs”, while with “paedophile rings” the blame is only focused on the individual criminals – just like how they discriminately report on terrorism and gangs.
We Knew “Grooming Gangs” Was A Racist Troup. The Government’s Report Proves It
“Grooming gangs” was dynamite material for Islamophobes. After over a decade of the so-called “War on Terror” and the increasing cold war on Muslims in the West, Muslims were already easy targets for demonisation and scapegoating by 2012.
Just like with terrorism and the niqab ban debate beforehand, “grooming gangs” would receive the same level of wall-to-wall coverage with Muslim communities and their faith under trial in the court of public opinion.
What was exceptional about the “grooming gangs” moral panic in 2012 wasn’t the just the combination of being related to the Rotherham and Rochdale trails, it was also because of the rise of the notoriety of figures such as Tommy Robinson and Kate Hopkins, and also more importantly, the faulty and very vague data sets used to bulldoze those into submission by those skilled at peddling lies, which illustrated a much bigger problem that no one wanted to touch on.
A number of years later, we see politicians in the Conservative party, specifically Priti Patel and Sajid Javid, pushing the angle that Pakistani and Muslim men are the main perpetrators, only before being forced to publish a report via a government petition that surpassed 130,000 signatures stating that very claim is unproven or bogus.
MPACUK called out the use of “grooming gangs” as a clear racist trope when so many Muslim organisations and figureheads were apologising for it. This recent report published by the government shows we were right to do so.
More Than Just Bad Data
Firstly, the government reports merely states in numerous places that there is a lack of data to really come to a full conclusion of the ethnicity perpetrators make up in group CSE cases on two counts:
1) Incomplete data with massive holes that cannot show us any overall pictures.
2) Acknowledgement that some proportion reports wrongfully log perpetrators as Asian, when sometimes they are White British or other ethnicities.
The report yet bizarrely affirms that within the same data sets that there is an “over-representation” of Asian perpetrators and in no way explains why we have such bad data over something so profoundly serious. This ploy of scapegoating acts as a cover over this whole issue.
Institutional incompetence on CSE is rife across the UK. It is not just the police, but with multiple agencies and departments. Barnardo’s in 2011 perhaps said it best when they stated there is a “shocking lack of awareness [of CSE] that stretches from the frontline of practice to the corridors of government.”
In a Nov 2014 OFSTED report, it mentions that local authorities and partners were not meeting the full responsibilities to prevent CSE, to protect its victims, and to prosecute the perpetrators.
And this severe lack of priority has a direct impact on the data.
In 2012, Berelowitz et al reported that out of 115 submissions to an Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s (OCS) report on victims, only 30 agencies (26%) submitted data on perpetrators. Out of those, only 3% had full information on perpetrators, and 68% had no data on perpetrators at all. In short, just like everyone else, they simply did not care about sexually exploited children and simply were not doing their job properly.
This is the real story of the bad data, but one that never gets the attention it deserves. Perhaps because it points the finger of accountability where it should be, or perhaps it starts to dispel the power of using CSE as a means of scapegoating that has proven to be so useful and so effective to Islamophobes on the street and in ministerial seats alike.
Even Berelowitz has to react against the anti-Muslim bias whilst reporting to the Home Affairs Select Committee in 2013. She affirmed that “there is not a town, village or hamlet in which children are not being sexually exploited”, illustrating just how horrifically widespread the problem is.
Blaming the Victim
Such widespread abuse met with such an uncaring and cold attitude from those responsible, created a culture of victim-blaming across the board.
The 2013 Home Office Committee Report to the House Commons stated that despite making repeat complaints, young girls were consistently and systematically let down by a whole range of agencies, including children’s social care and health services, police and education services, Connexians service, youth offending and probation services, and alcohol misuse and leave care services.
A report as far back as 2005 by Kelly et al states that police showed misogynistic and dismissive attitudes to young female victims. They over-estimated the scale of false allegations, and this created a culture of skepticism of those who came forward. Victims consequently stopped co-operating and were left alone in the cycle of abuse.
In the 2012 Parliamentary Joint Inquiry Report “Children Who Go Missing From Care”, it stated that groomed and abused teenage girls were viewed by staff as having “lifestyle choices” to engage in consensual activity. The report put it down to lack of training and dedicated specialists and indicates that it isn’t just a lack of priority of staff on the ground, but that same lack of priority is held at the top of government via lack of funding and cuts to public services among other things.
In the same year, an academic paper by Norfolk illustrated cases where girls who complained about their cases were denounced for “lacking credibility”. Some victims reported that they weren’t believed because authorities could not comprehend the seriousness of the abuse they were detailing .
The government report subtly highlights this institutional incompetence, but hardly shows to what extent the breadth and depth of the real problem. It’s only when we see what is actually happening can we understand the racist scapegoating for what it is.
On one hand, you have state and government apparatus that does not care, believe, and underfunds the effort which results in criminal levels of widespread neglect and abuse. On the other, you have a media establishment that reinforces that abuse with its silence, only to ever make a priority when a racist agenda is at play.
Systematically on a wide scale, UK media uses the label “grooming gang” almost exclusively for cases that involve South Asian and Muslim perpetrators. When it comes to “white grooming gangs”, the media almost exclusively uses the label “paedophile ring”.
In addition, national media outlets prioritise the republishing of news of “grooming gangs” but hardly ever when it comes to “paedophile rings”, which are usually left to a singular report in the local newspaper.
And on top of that, the usual casual racist language of collective blame is always used when reporting on “grooming gangs”, while with “paedophile rings” the blame is only focused on the individual criminals – just like how they discriminately report on terrorism and gangs.
Yet the “gang” trope used on Asian men predates just before 9/11. According to Ousley and Cantle, the first signs of the trope occurred during media reporting of the 2001 northern England riots where media framed its caused from South Asian “hyper-masculinity”, instead of the spread of neo-Nazism.
Even way back in 1985, Gilman documents that Scapegoating CSE onto specific communities occurred. Before Muslims and South Asian men, it was Black and Jewish men that were scapegoated for the exact same thing.
The racialising of CSE not only allows responsible people to evade accountability, but it also sustains a broken system, and the abuse it allows, to continue. It also enables racist demagogues such as Tommy Robinson to be legitimised with their hateful agenda, instead of criticised for playing their part by giving room for CSE to continue to happen under the RADAR.
In 2013, the Institute of Race Relations stated that by portraying specific communities as a source of CSE, it creates ammunition for hate groups but also cover for negligent authorities. They also said it leads to justifying further demands of surveillance and even containment of a community. All the while children continue to be abused whilst giving more oxygen to hate crimes.
How Should Muslims Respond?
Firstly, we have to reject any exclusive or disproportionate blame for this criminal behaviour. By doing so, we only feed into the racialisation and the problems of it. This means refusing to apologise or condemn it just because we happen to be Muslims. Apologising or condemning will not protect us nor will it protect victims of CSE. We must call it out for what it is.
In 2014, Women Again Rape stated that “race and ethnicity were used as an excuse to justify the lack of action against the perpetrators…a blatant piece of racism on the part of the police, the council, the MPs and social services.”
Police and authorities clearly have no fear of targeting race and religion when it comes to Stop and Search, Schedule 7, or PREVENT. We also should call it out as racist and point the blame where it should be.
Secondly, we should equally assert as the government report admits, “offenders are most commonly White” and the bad data collected has massive holes and is influenced by racial biases of police officers. And with that, we should question the government, which had the ability to release this information and clarify, choose to sit on it and allow the hate to spread.
Thirdly, it is clear that there will not be any top-down solutions to this problem. It is too much of a useful evil for the powers that be. Change will only happen if people come together and create bottom-up solutions.
As people of justice that our religion commands us to be, we should do what we can to solve this problem as an equal citizen with others, not as someone who shares a heavier burden as other British citizens. And with this, form community alliances and collaboration to change the culture of incompetence to a culture of accountability around CSE.
 Cultures of Abuse: ‘Sex Grooming’, Organised Abuse and Race in Rochdale, UK Michael Salter, Selda Dagistanli University of Western Sydney, Australia.