By Adam O Connell
Rotherham, just over a few weeks ago it was a little heard of town in South Yorkshire. Now after Prof Alexis Jay’s report detailing how 1,400 children, on a ‘conservative’ estimate, were raped over a 16-year period it will, for years to come, be a by-word for depravity and corruption. Adding further fuel to the fire is the fact that the majority of the children were white and their abusers predominantly Pakistani Muslims.
At times like these the inevitable question is – who is to blame? Naturally the paedophiles involved but the Rotherham Report also documents that, ‘the collective failures of political and officer leadership (at that time) were blatant.’ That victims were, ‘treated with contempt’ by South Yorkshire Police and that the enquiry had heard of senior Pakistani Councillors being ‘barriers to communication’ on the issue of grooming. The then MP for Rotherham, Denis MacShane (1994 – 2012) admitted, “There was a culture of not wanting to rock the multicultural community boat.”
Perhaps not surprisingly far-right groups such as the EDL and the BNP have been quick to place the blame on the Muslim faith itself. Simon Darby, a spokesperson for the BNP, said, “I wouldn’t call it an Asian problem but I would certainly call it a Muslim problem. I believe they on purposely targeted white girls because their faith says we’re infidels, that we’re a lower category of life, and as such it’s ok for them to rape white girls.”
Whilst it might be easy to dismiss these views as those of a white extremist similar sentiments are being shared in the mainstream. Telegraph columnist, Allison Pearson commented recently that the men involved in the Rotherham abuse were, ‘slaking their lust on young girls they regarded as white trash.’ Message boards and online forums are echoing the same thoughts and a recent string poll by the BBC showed that 95% of respondents now thought that multiculturalism had ‘failed.’
Shockingly though it is voices with inside the Pakistan Muslim community itself that are going further. Claims are coming forward that such abusers have, for a long time, been targeting children in their own communities relying on sexual cultural taboos to shame their victims and often their families into silence.
Ruzwana Bashir, CEO of Peek.com, was molested by a neighbour when she was 10-years-old. It wasn’t until many years later as an adult that she found the courage to return to her home town of Skipton to bring charges against her abuser, before doing so she told her mother.
“When I first told my mother about the abuse I’d suffered, she was absolutely devastated. The root of her anger was clear: I was heaping unbound shame on to my family by trying to bring the perpetrator to justice. In trying to stop him from exploiting more children, I was ensuring my parents and my siblings would be ostracised. She begged me not to go to the police station.”
Ms Bashir did go to the police though and another Muslim man came forward to say how the same neighbour had molested him 30-years previously their combined testimony jailed him for eight years. However Ms Bashir claims that the community did not celebrate their efforts but ‘shunned’ them.
A recent study by the Muslim Women’s Network looking into the sexual exploitation of Asian women and girls found that they were most at threat from men, ‘in their own communities who were conscious of cultural norms and used them to manipulate victims into not reporting their abuse.’
Dr Parveen Akhtar, a lecturer at Bradford University, believes that part of the problem is that leadership in Pakistani communities is based around a system of ‘biraderi’ (kinship ties) and that these leaders are nearly always male elders.
“This means that the voices of young Pakistanis and Pakistani women are often excluded from the public sphere. As a consequence issues around sex and abuse are often not discussed within the Pakistani Muslim community.”
Fiyaz Mughal OBE, founder of Faith Matters, comments, “There are taboos in Eastern culture such as Sikhism, Buddhism and Islam where sex and sexualisation are things that aren’t discussed. Whilst community education and zero tolerance policies are things that should be put in place to prevent such taboos being exploited it must be remembered that these actions are still the work of a small number of men and certainly do not reflect the Muslim community as a whole.”
British Muslim Youth founder, Muhbeen Hussain, agrees and has stated that the abusers involved in Rotherham should be considered ‘criminals’ first and Muslims second.
“It is clear what these individuals did but they are not part of our community – the only community they are a part of is the criminal community. There is nowhere in Pakistani Muslim culture that condones such actions, there is nowhere in the Islamic faith that supports these actions.”
Local politicians have also been quick to point out that this is the work of a small minority in an otherwise peaceful community. Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham, comments, “We must strongly guard against allowing people to tarnish the whole Asian community with the evil and criminal actions of a tiny minority – actions just as deplored among Rotherham’s Asian community as by anyone else.”
Jane Collins, MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, says, “My own research into the subject of sexual grooming and abuse show it is not limited to the children of any one community. I have heard many stories of abuse perpetrated against children from the white community and numerous other ethnic communities, including those of Pakistani decent.
At the end of the day, children are children no matter what and each and every one of them deserves a childhood free from sexual grooming, free from the fear caused by predatory adults and free from sexual crime. It does not matter which ethnic group the child belongs to; it matters that we as a nation stamp out these vile predators that commit these horrific crimes.