On Friday 11 August the Sun newspaper published an article by Labour MP Sarah Champion under the headline ″British Pakistani men ARE raping and exploiting white girls … and it’s time we faced up to it″.
The article is incredibly confused and naive (at one point Champion suggest that despite being the director of a children′s hospice until becoming an MP in 2012, she only heard the abbreviation CSE for Child Sexual Exploitation a few months after becoming an MP). Champion talks of British Pakistani men, but also references recent events in Newcastle where most of the men convicted were not Pakistani. She seems to conflate race, ethnicity, and religion throughout. Champion′s claim that ″Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls″ is crude, inaccurate, and wrong.
Champion has tried to distance herself from the article, saying that it was edited to take the nuance out of her comments. But her choice to publish such an article with the Sun, well known for dog-whistle racism often targeted at Muslims, where her article appeared alongside an editorial which called for MPs to tackle ″the Muslim Problem″, condemns her. Champion is the MP for Rotherham where large scale child sexual exploitation, involving an estimated 1,400 children between 1997 and 2014, was exposed in 2014. That case, unlike Newcastle, did involve British-Pakistani men.
In other respects the Rotherham case bears many similarities to that of Newcastle. There were multiple factors involved there: vulnerable young women, poverty, the use of drugs and alcohol, authorities disbelieving or in some cases blaming victims as well as, the patriarchal attitudes of some men, attitudes which are prevalent in many communities, in different forms, and which make women and girls “fair game” for sexual exploitation.
At the time of the Jay Report into CSE in Rotherham we wrote: ″What happened in Rotherham is happening in other areas of the country; although there will be particular local circumstances, there will be a wide range of abusers and victims. "
The Jay Report cites the hesitancy of social workers and practitioners over reporting the ethnicity of abusers as Pakistani, for fear or being accused of racism. This is a problem. It points to a dishonest way of dealing with racism.
″For many years Labour-led Rotherham council has relied upon tokenistic ‘multicultural events’ and communicating almost exclusively with self-appointed ‘community leaders’, often religious ones rather than engaging and building strong links with communities.
″This does not deal with racism in an open way; wrongly presumes the opinions of Muslim communities can and should be communicated by ‘community leaders’, and disenfranchises others.″
Unfortunately Corbyn’s response to these events was to flatten out all these complex issues and pose the problem as one of child sexual abuse alone. Our responses must talk about the multiple factors involved in abuse. Anything else makes it possible for “community leaders” and others in positions of power to say “nothing to do with us”. That situation makes it very difficult for women’s groups and others in Muslim communities who are pushing hard for more discussion about attitudes to sex, sexuality and respect for women.
As we said in relation to Rotherham, it also endangers Muslim girls. ″... the council and social services ignored the possibility that abuse may be happening within the Pakistani community. An image was established of Pakistani men abusing white girls. In fact such abuse usually happens to those closest to the abuser. The under-reporting of abuse from minority ethnic victims is a problem.″
It appears some lessons have been learnt from the Jay Report; police did at least actively pursue gangs in Newcastle, but other lessons have not, and many vulnerable young women continue to suffer abuse.