Thursday, October 02 2014

Rochdale sex-grooming gang and the 'Muslim' factor


There has been widespread coverage on the sentencing of nine Asian men from Rochdale who have been found guilty of exploiting and grooming young girls for sex.

From the Daily Telegraph:

“Judge Gerald Clifton said the nine men from Rochdale, who preyed on up to 50 young white girls, had been driven by "lust and greed".

“The men appeared at Liverpool Crown Court amid tight security after being convicted yesterday of abusing five vulnerable teenagers after plying them with alcohol, food and small sums of money in return for sex.

“Police have admitted that the true number of victims, who were "passed around" by the gang, is likely to be as high as 50.

“Judge Clifton told them: "All of you treated (the 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."


The Daily Telegraph article adds that “…a tweet from BNP leader Nick Griffin almost caused the trial to collapse when it led to allegations of the jury having a "far-right bias".

The tweet referred to in the article read, ''News flash. Seven of the Muslim paedophile rapists found guilty in Liverpool.” The Tweet prompted fears that the confidentiality of jury deliberations had been breached.

What the nature of Griffin’s tweets show is the vigour with which certain people have capitalised on the trial and convictions of these men to fuel anti-Muslim prejudice, even though the crimes committed have absolutely nothing to do with the religion of the men concerned.

In an appearance in April on the BBC’s Sunday morning talk show, The Big Questions, the leader of the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson also referred to cases of sexual exploitation of young white girls in an attempt to spin it as a cultural-religious issue. The EDL leader’s take on the issue is much like the narrative of the BNP with leader Nick Griffin recording a message outside the courthouse yesterday saying:

"The mass street grooming of young girls from the English community is only being carried out by Muslims. All the paedophile groomers in this particular sort of crime – on the street, in gangs – are Muslims. That's the common denominator".

But as Ella Cockbain and Helen Brayley, researchers at UCL's Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science, point out, "This is misguided for two reasons. First, it is not paedophilia since the victims are not pre-pubescent. There is also no indication that the offenders are exclusively or preferentially sexually attracted to minors. Secondly, religion seems to be a red herring here, in that many offenders seem to be Muslim only in a nominal sense. Prior to arrest many drank alcohol, took drugs, did not have beards, and all engaged in extramarital sex with underage girls. Hardly the hallmarks of a strict Muslim."

The ‘Muslim’ angle to these heinous crimes is well reflected in the comment piece written by Melanie Phillips for the Daily Mail’s Right Minds blog in which she argues that the issue of grooming is a distinctly ‘Muslim’ one, rooted in the religion.

Phillips writes:

“…these men were all Muslims: eight of them of Pakistani origin and one from Afghanistan. Early last year, the Times reported that 50 of the 56 men convicted in 17 street-grooming prosecutions from 13 northern towns and cities were Muslim.

“Exactly the same paralysis of the mind is on display in the reaction today to these atrocious and horrifying disclosures. The word Muslim is simply absent from much of the coverage. The men are described as Asian or Pakistani. But this cowardly euphemism wrongly implicates communities that have nothing whatever to do with such terrible crimes. They don’t involve Pakistani Christians or Pakistani Hindus; they don’t involve Chinese or Malaysians, Sri Lankans or Thais.

“While it is the case that in general the overwhelming majority of sex crimes against girls are committed by white men, this particular phenomenon of street gangs in northern towns targeting white girls and passing them around for sex is disproportionately committed by Muslims.

“The police maintain doggedly that this has nothing to do with race. What a red herring. Of course it doesn’t! This is about religion and culture - an unwesternised Islamic culture which holds that non-Muslims are trash and women are worthless. And so white girls are worthless trash. Which is itself of course a race issue.

“…the fact that Muslims are disproportionately represented among the perpetrators of this particular crime means inescapably that a cultural Muslim issue is involved. If this is not acknowledged, this terrible pattern of abuse will simply continue.”


Her claim that an ‘unwesternised Islamic culture’ is to blame is ridiculous. Indeed, were she correct would it not follow that all Muslim men would be engaging in such horrific crimes? Why is it that Muslim communities categorically identify the behaviour of these men as immoral and criminal, with their own penchant for drinking and drug taking setting them apart from Islamic practice?

The fact that the men are Muslim is besides the point - the Christian community at large is never asked to do deep soul searching when cases of sexual abuse involving men of a Christian background are involved, nominal or otherwise. And the recent coverage of the Irish abuse scandal involving Brendan Smyth by Cardinal Sean Brady is a relevant and stark contrast to the way in which Islam is being put in the dock along with the nine men who were sentenced yesterday.

Neither is there any fault placed on ‘white culture’ at large for the fact that as the CPS finds, most sexual offences are carried out by white men (79%). To use the ‘Islamophobia witch-hunt’ as a fig leaf for Phillips’ own anti-Islam agenda is wholly irresponsible and merely masks the deeper questions that arise from the cases.

The Assistant Chief Constable for Greater Manchester Police, Steve Heywood stated that race only played the part of coincidence and was not a motivating factor, “This is about adults preying on vulnerable young children. It just happens that in this particular area and time the demographics were that these were Asian men.”

The BBC provides us with research from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) on "localised grooming", which looked at 1217 offenders. Asians are indeed over-represented in the data, which found that “30% of offenders - 367 - were white. Some 28% were Asian, of whom 11 were Bangladeshi, 45 were Pakistani and 290 were described as "Asian Other".”

However, as the BBC states, “the report stresses national conclusions about ethnicity cannot be drawn from the data available because it relies on limited nationwide information, with much of the data coming from a limited number of areas.”

The BBC also cites Professor Malcolm Cowburn, a criminologist who for fifteen years has studied sexual violence, who said that he "had not seen any empirical evidence to say that one group of people has a greater proclivity to sexual violence than any other".

"The larger issue is of problematic masculinity and how certain men view women, children and their sexual rights. I don't think it lies within ethnicity but within gender,"

"It's a failure of empathy. Certain men and sex offenders don't show any empathy to the people that they harm."


And writing in the Guardian, Jane Martinson give a measured analysis of the issue of sexual abuse, highlighting the fact that under a quarter of all reported cases of sexual abuse went to trial last year- a huge failure in the system of prosecuting. A comment piece by Julie Bindel in the Guardian iterates this, focusing on the fact that so few sex offenders are brought to justice. She states that “We kid ourselves if we think the CPS would have pushed ahead if her [one of the victims] rapists had been white.”

In addition, Martinson argues that with so much attention on the ‘race’ factor, “Not so much has been made of why the young girl's allegations weren't believed in the first place. Nor how the reporting of this case could lead to a similar kind of stereotype and myth around sexual violence.”

She cites Nazir Afzal, the chief crown prosecutor for the North West, who was responsible for bringing the men to trial, who said "It wasn't their race which defined them, it was their treatment of women…There is no community where women and girls are not vulnerable to sexual attack and that's a fact," and also Marai Larasi of the organisation Imkaan who states that "The focal point of this should be the fact that vulnerable young people are being targeted."

Looking to interpret the sex grooming scandal involving the nine men from Rochdale as a cultural-religious issue does a grave injustice to the many victims of sexual exploitation, whatever the ethnic or religious identity of the perpetrators, whether white British or Asian. Emphasising the ‘race’ element to the crimes as the causal motive ignores the many cases where exploitation has nothing to do with race or religion. Indeed, as the BBC’s File on Four programme last year highlighted, 30 cases of sexual abuse in British madrassahs were recorded by local authorities in three years (2008-2011). Are these cases any less abhorrent because the victim and abuser were of the same religion?









Last Updated on Tuesday, 22 May 2012 19:40

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