Rochdale sex trafficking gang
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The Rochdale sex trafficking gang was a group of men responsible for the sexual grooming of underage girls in Rochdale, Greater Manchester. In June 2011 eight men involved were accused of offences including rape, paying for the sexual services of a child and controlling child prostitution. Others were implicated, and in May 2012 nine men were jailed for their involvement in the ring. As eight were of Pakistani origin and one from Afghanistan much debate has developed around the racial, cultural and religious backgrounds of the criminals.
The judge who convicted the nine men from Rochdale stated that they had treated their victims "as though they were worthless and beyond respect... One of the factors leading to that was the fact that they were not part of your community or religion." During the trial the police argued against the idea that the crimes were racially motivated, but Labour MP for Rochdale Simon Danczuk dismissed this as "daft".
Far right response
The case became a cause célèbre for far-right groups such as the BNP and English Defence League. In 2004 the BNP leader Nick Griffin was secretly filmed making statements such as "18, 19 and 25-year-old Asian Muslims are seducing and raping white girls in this town right now". "It's part of their plan for conquering countries", his speech concluded. "They will expand into the rest of the UK as the last whites try and find their way to the sea. Vote BNP so the British people really realise the evil of what these people have done to our country." He was put on trial for stirring up racial hatred as a result of his comments, but was subsequently cleared. After the conviction of the Rochdale gang the BNP seized the chance to portray itself as Cassandra, warning the world of an unseen menace only to be ignored.
The BNP can hardly take the moral high ground, of course. In late 2012 it published a pamphlet entitled "Together we'll beat 'em!" which is targeted towards youth and ostensibly aims to help them defend themselves against grooming gangs. Grooming is portrayed as a specifically Muslim issue throughout, and the piece also implies that Arabs or Asians in general should be treated with suspicion. Whenever the term "grooming gangs" is used the text switches to a faux-Arabic typeface, and one page has a grid of thirty-five pedophiles with a caption telling us that this is what child sex groomers look like - the most obvious characteristic shared by the men being that most or all of them are Asian.
Former BNP member Alistair Barbour condemned the pamphlet for hijacking a serious issue to attack a minority group, and pointed out that the text ignored all-white grooming gangs that had been caught in Derby and Scotland. Barbour also told the story of an acquaintance who joined the BNP after his daughter fell victim to a groomer, only to later leave in disgust at the party.
Nick Lowles of the anti-fascist organisation Hope not Hate weighed in. "[N]o-one can deny that a significant number of recent ‘grooming’ trials do involve men of Pakistani origin and young white women", he wrote. "Rather than pretend this is not the case we must confront this issue, understand why it is going on and then do something about it." He dismissed the BNP's stance on the issue as "racist nonsense" but concluded that the perpetrators do focus on white girls on the grounds that they are outside the community.
Nick Griffin was hardly the first to touch upon this issue. In 2004 Channel 4 aired a documentary entitled Edge of the City, examining claims that under-age white girls were being groomed for sex by adult men, mostly Asians. Its screening was delayed on the grounds that it could provoke community disorder.
There have been a few other incidents which have sparked similar controversies to the one surrounding the Rochdale gang.
The Saddique-Liaqat case and Jack Straw
In January 2011 Abid Mohammed Saddique and Mohammed Romaan Liaqat, two men from Derby in their late twenties, were jailed for meeting up with a total of twenty-six girls ages 12 to 18 and grooming them for sex. Former home secretary Jack Straw caused controversy in January 2011 when he commented on wider issues surrounding the this case on the BBC programme Newsnight:
Pakistanis, let's be clear, are not the only people who commit sexual offences, and overwhelmingly the sex offenders' wings of prisons are full of white sex offenders. But there is a specific problem which involves Pakistani heritage men, of some age as well, who target vulnerable young white girls. We need to get the Pakistani community to think much more clearly about why this is going on and to be more open about the problems that are leading to a number of Pakistani heritage men thinking it is OK to target white girls in this way. 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. 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.
Straw's comments were criticised in some quarters. "What I don't think we can do is say that this is a cultural problem", said fellow Labour politician Keith Vaz. "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."
Yasmin Alibhai Brown, who describes herself as "avowedly a leftie liberal, anti-racist, feminist, Muslim, part-Pakistani" and a critic of Straw, supported his comments on the issue. "Just before Christmas, I too wrote about these rapists and the anti-white cultural prejudices in some of their communities and families. It was a hard column to write", she said; "we need to expose and discuss more openly the underpinning values of the Asian criminal rings in many of our cities. If we don't, the evil will grow. Fear of racism should no longer be the veil covering up hard truths."
Brown later criticised a report on gangs of child sex abusers issued in November 2012 by the Office of the Children's Commission, complaining that it did not tackle the issue of Muslim grooming gangs.
The ethnicity of the victims has emerged as a secondary issue. "I don't think this is so much about targeting white girls - because there black girls are also victims - it's about targeting vulnerable, isolated girls", said Martin Narey, chief executive of Barnardo's. "And I don't sign up to the proposition that these men convicted yesterday would not have abused a vulnerable Asian girl if one had been available to them."
Times and Telegraph reports
A Times report from January 2011 looked at 17 court cases since 1997 dealing with the grooming of 11-16 year old girls, and noted that 53 of the 56 people found guilty were Asian, mostly Pakistani, and three white. In addition, 50 of them were Muslim.
"So what the hell is going on?" asked blogger Ibn Khaldun after recounting the findings of the Times report. "I know from personal experience that this does happen and the scale of the problem is much larger than the above statistics would have you believe. I have seen this taking place in the Midlands and heard young men talking about it... they pick up young girls [and] offer them cigarettes, alcohol, food and in some cases jewellery and before long sexual abuse is taking place." He added that the young women are "simply too young and immature to see how they are being abused and often it’s too late before they realise what is going on."
He suggested that the issue is not directly related to religion and should not "be discussed as a ‘Muslim’ issue", and instead attributed it to "a British Pakistani sub-culture that has developed in many decaying northern towns... certain young Asian men are disconnected from mainstream society; they develop their own lingo, their own traditions and sub-culture. This sub-culture is often an amalgamation of rural Punjabi values and US hip-hop culture This sub-culture, in turn, has a deviant offshoot, a sub-culture of a sub-culture if you like, that is anti-establishment, rebellious, crime-prone and deeply ignorant. Petty crime, racism, sexism and homophobia are standard."
"These young men do not see white girls as equal, as valuable, of high moral standing as they see their own daughters, and their own sisters, and I think that's wrong. It's a form of racism that's abhorrent in a civilised society", said Mohammed Shafiq, director of the Muslim Ramadhan Foundation youth group. "I first raised this two or three years ago and I got a lot of stick within the community from people who said I was doing the work of the BNP and stigmatising them."
Guardian writer Libby Brooks argued that "no official data exists on the ethnic or religious background of perpetrators of this form of child abuse [but] Engage – based in Blackburn and one of the largest multi-agency organisations working on this issue – found that in the past year that 80% of offenders were white" and dismissed the concerns raised in a Times report as part of "an ignoble tradition of racialising criminality in this country".
In April 2011 the Daily Telegraph ran an article on an unpublished police report put together following investigations into the 2003 disappearance of Charlene Downes, stating that "[y]oung people were being groomed and sexually assaulted both inside and outside of premises by a number of takeaway owners and workers". According to the Telegraph, the report "identified 11 takeaway shops in the town centre which were being used as 'honeypots' where the non-white men preyed on young white victims, who were given food, alcohol and cigarettes in return for sex."
Tim Loughton and CEOP
In June 2011 minister of children and families Tim Loughton gave his thoughts on reports of Asian grooming gangs in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire:
In many cases we are dealing with some closed communities. Closed in terms of things being able to go on under the radar and away from the public glare, and closed in terms of a reluctance of certain victims and their families to want to come forward and report in case it gets them into trouble with other members of their local comunity.
We've got a job of work to do to make sure that everybody is aware that this is a problem, that everyone is encouraged to come forward and report abuse where they see it, because it doesn't affect just that one particular family, because those abusers, because of the nature of this organised network of abuse that's going on, it will be affecting other dozens and perhaps hundreds of children in the locality as well.
I think that political correctness and racial sensitivities have in the past been an issue, and I want to send out a message loud and clear - and this is what I've been doing since the round table where I brought various people together - that although we have to be aware of certain characteristics of various ethnic communities and sensitive and sensible as to how we deal with them, a BME [Black Minority Ethnic] tag is not an excuse for us not investigating rigorously any abuse that may be going on.
In November 2011 a government plan to combat sexual exploitation of children was announced; acting as spokesman, Loughton denied that the government would "be held back from tackling this issue wherever it is by concerns about political correctness or ethnicity".
Lord Ahmed of Rotherham, a Labour peer, also weighed in: "It's a new crime, a new trend and we have to talk about it and be robust about it. I have never been politically correct about this thing... I have been criticised by my own community because I started talking about it."
The same month, the Child Protection and Online Protection Centre released the report revealing that 26% of suspects and the majority of grooming gangs reported to CEOP were Asian. However, it warned against focusing on race when discussing the subject.
Role of Islam
Exactly how big a role the religion of the Rochdale gang and similar groomers played in their crimes is a point of dispute. Nick Griffin latched onto Islam as the true culprit: "the common denominator is not their Asian ethnicity, it’s the fact that they are Muslims", he said. "Their 'good book' tells them that that's acceptable. If you doubt it, go and buy a copy and you will find verse after verse saying you can take any woman you want as long as they're not Muslim."
"[T]hese gang members select their victims from communities which they believe to be 'unbelievers' -- non-Muslims whom they view with disdain and hostility", commented Melanie Phillips. "You can see that this is not a racial but a religious animosity from the fact that, while the vast majority of the girls who are targeted are white, the victims include Sikhs and Hindus, too." Pat Condell has also blamed Islamic misogyny for the crimes, arguing that journalists who refer to the perpetrators simply as "Asian" are slandering Hindus and Sikhs. The same objection to the usage of the term "Asian" was made in a joint statement from the Network of Sikh Organisations UK, The Hindu Forum of Britain, and The Sikh Media Monitoring Group UK.
Journalist Mehdi Hasan criticised such views. "I must have missed the chapter of the Quran that encourages Muslim men to go out and ply young girls with alcohol (!) and drugs and then pimp them out to older men for sex", he wrote. Times columnist David Aaronovitch acknowledged this point, but argued that misogyny in Muslim cultures was ultimately to blame: "Of course it is no more a tenet of Islam that girls should be seduced than it is of Rome that altar boys be abused. But the fact that it happens must tell us something", he said.
Alleged conspiracy of silence
Accusations have been made that charities and agencies working with the victims have hidden the ethnic identites of perpetrators in incidents such as these. In January 2011 former detective superintendent Mick Gradwell told the Daily Mail that he had been aware of the issue since 1979. "The main pressure police have is being called institutionally racist if they highlight a crime trend like this", he said. "There’s a fantastic reluctance to be absolutely straight because some people may take such offence."
Libby Brooks argues that that "[b]y building an apparent consensus of voices 'bravely' speaking out in the face of accusations of racism, it becomes that much harder for a figure from within the Muslim community to offer a more nuanced perspective or indeed state that these allegations are simply not true". This stance, however, ignores Muslims such as Yasmin Alibhai Brown who say that the allegations are true.
The arguments that a conspiracy of silence is taking place have been spun by some commentators into a conspiracy theory of a media-wide cover-up - although, if the media was that determined to cover up the issue, it seems strange that the BBC broadcast Straw's comments in the first place. One example is Lee Barnes, who made a blog post entitled "Moe [sic] Asian Muslim Paedophiles Covered Up By Media Scum" which consists entirely of a Shropshire Star report on eight men charged with child molestation.