The case of the Rochdale grooming ring is first and foremost a case of sexual exploitation and abuse of defenceless young girls, let down by a system and society that should have protected them
Last week saw the conviction of nine men on charges of running an appalling child sexual exploitation ring. The disgraceful crimes have sent shockwaves across Britain. The nine men from Rochdale, ranging between the ages of 24 to 59, were convicted of grooming and sexually abusing girls as young as 13. Many of those charged came from ostensibly respectable backgrounds, being married with families of their own. The nine have been jailed for a total of 77 years for their crimes.
With the men all being of Asian origin and their victims white, the British National Party and numerous predictable media outlets have, somewhat irresponsibly and shamefully, racially profiled these crimes. They have suggested the actions of these men reflect a propensity by some communities, such as Pakistanis, to target young white girls due to a lack of respect for them over girls from their own ethnic community. The damaging reality of this brand of shallow and irresponsible analysis is something that should not be underestimated.
The Police have stated that the grooming was not racially, but sexually motivated, and many have condemned the suggestion that the girls were targeted merely for being white and therefore considered fair game. The Greater Manchester Police Assistant Chief Constable, Steve Heywood, commented,
“It is not a racial issue. 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 street grooming issue is about vulnerability and who has access to that vulnerability.”
Meanwhile, Martin Narey, Chief Executive of Children’s charity, Barnardos, stated, “This is not just about Pakistani men, and not just about Asian men. And it is happening all over the country.”
Worryingly, the racialised analyses divert from the more legitimate and pressing concerns the case highlights. Pointedly, the degeneration in moral and ethical values that permits men to commit such heinous crimes without apparent concern or remorse, and the remarkable failure of the responsible agencies in protecting children most at risk.
That grown married men see fit to groom and abuse young and vulnerable teenage girls should cast a sharp and unforgiving spotlight on the state of a society that gives rise to the creation of such remorseless monsters.
Questions also arise regarding the hyper-sexualisation of society, through advertising, fashion, entertainment and a booming pornography industry that has proven to contribute to this brand of predatory crimes and sexual paedophilia. With children’s fashion and sensibilities also remaining unprotected from this barrage, the almost reckless carelessness many of the responsible industries show towards the most innocent and vulnerable of society is deeply disconcerting.
More significantly, many of those targeted came from troubled backgrounds, including turbulent council estates and care homes. These children are perhaps some of the most vulnerable in our society, and those that require the most protection. Many of these girls visited the takeaways that formed centres of the exploitation ring in search of free food, drink, drugs and companionship. The very nature of their cravings is an illustration of the plight of their circumstances – circumstances that the gang members deftly exploited to ensnare their victims. Victims spoke of how they were given gifts and alcohol, made to feel beautiful and then forced to give “something back” for the favours.
Furthermore, one victim recounted how she sought help but was denied this by the Crown Prosecution Services. And the mother of a victim suggested that the authorities were aware of the crimes as far back as 2002. An official report on kidnap and rape was passed on by a sexual health adviser to social workers and police in 2005. Nonetheless, authorities failed to act and it took a decade for the case to come to court and the perpetrators to face the penalty for their crimes. It is a shocking demonstration of the failure of the state in protecting some of its most needy and desperate citizens. Yet, with the shrill debate surrounding the races of perpetrators and victims, a shadow of disregard is in danger of being cast over this glaring reality.
It would not be balanced to brush aside the possibility that an element of abhorrent racism may have existed amongst these men. Yet, it would be fallacious to say they exploited these girls merely for their race; the targeting was centrally fuelled by perverted sexual motivations and against victims of convenient vulnerability. Racism, if it did feature, would be no more than an opportune excuse. To suggest that these particular men would not target an Asian girl given the chance would be a step-back from reality. Sexual abuse and exploitation is no stranger in South Asia and the victims there are not white.
Furthermore, there is little evidence to suggest that the racial makeup of these crimes is anything more than a reflection of the demography of the region: areas of Rochdale have a well-known high concentration of Asian residents. Indeed a study on such offences committed in the past year illustrated that 80% of the perpetrators were in fact white, clearly laying waste to such erroneous generalisation.
The image of a lascivious coloured “other” sexually exploiting the pure innocent white girl is one as old as racism itself. “An old black ram is tupping your white ewe” Brabantio is gratuitously told of his daughter’s marriage to the coloured Othello in Shakespeare’s renowned play. Indeed commentators have remarked on the historic propensity to racialise crime, in particular sexual crimes, in this country. It is a highly evocative image and one designed to titillate racist sentiments; ideal fodder for BNP and far-right exploitation.
Unsurprisingly, far-right protests and vandalism were sparked by these events. The take-away described as being at the centre of the grooming ring, and which has since come under new management, was attacked by some 100 youths. Meanwhile, BNP leader, Nick Griffin, clearly seeking to make good of the volatile situation, visited Heywood, the Rochdale area of the crimes, in a bid to recruit members.
Earlier this week Imam Irfan Chishti of the Rochdale Council of Mosques said he “abhorred” and was “sickened” by the case, and “glad to see that all segments of the Rochdale community have spoken out about it.” Meanwhile the Muslim Council of Britain also strongly condemned the “despicable and wicked” crimes.
That race or culture could in any way have been a major motivating factor for these crimes is a ludicrous suggestion. In addition to the perverted and promiscuous behaviour these men practiced – at breathtaking odds with their religious and cultural backgrounds – that they plied their victims with cigarettes, alcohol and even drugs, is quite a telling example of just how in line with their traditions and faith they really were. Their actions were diametrically opposed to the very ethos of both Islamic laws and Asian Muslim cultures.
While debates around the race of the perpetrators rage, the real troubling questions raised by the Rochdale grooming ring become dangerously buried in the dust of opportunistic conjecture. The case of the Rochdale grooming ring is first and foremost a case of despicable sexual exploitation and abuse of defenceless young girls, let down by a system and society that should have protected them. And it is this reality that must be at the forefront of the discourse.
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