In Britain, malaise is afoot. After news hit that a gang of Pakistani men sexually abused 1,400 girls in one northern town—the fifth such group of Pakistani or Muslim heritage to materialize in just four years—one question lingers: are grooming rings endemic within certain cultures?
These rings—groups of men who befriend and establish emotional connections with children as a precursor to sexual abuse and/or trafficking—aren't only rife in the UK. In Australia, a group of Muslim youths were convicted of gang raping a series of teenagers. Two years later, in the same country, four Pakistani brothers and their Nepalese friend were found guilty of sexually abusing nearly 20 women. Three of those siblings were already in jail for rape by the time the trial came around. And in the US, 30 men from Somalia, a predominantly Muslim country, were tried for recruiting young girls across three states and trafficking them for sex.
This trope of the past decade is a troubling one, only exacerbated by the latest sex ring scandal in the English town of Rotherham. Though a number of staff within the local authority had been warned of the abuse that was taking place—largely against girls aged 12-15—they batted away the claims “for fear of being thought racist.”
It is not that sexual abuse is more endemic within these cultural or religious groups, explains Dr. Kieran McCartan, an Associate Professor in Criminology at the University of West England, but that they uphold conflicting attitudes towards women, relationships, and sex. “There is a stricter culture surrounding sexuality and status, and some of the closed nature of aspects of the Pakistani, Kashmiri and Asian cultures can make it difficult to for the police and the broader social community to gain access,” McCartan says. “This means it’s harder to identify abuse and then prosecute it.”
It was Andrew Norfolk, The Times of London’s chief investigative reporter, whose initial report on predatory Asian men in Rotherham led to a full inquiry into the town’s dark sexual deviancy. “I didn’t want the story to be true because it made me deeply uncomfortable,” he wrote this week. “The suggestion that men from a minority ethnic background were committing sex crimes against white children was always going to be the far right’s fantasy story come true. Innocent white victims, evil dark-skinned abusers. Liberal angst kicked instinctively into top gear.”
If that angst was rife then, it hasn’t ebbed since. This summer has been one of inflamed tensions between Islam and the West, or rather, a tiny faction of Muslim extremists and their declared enemies: the infidels of the modern world. Cultural cohesion—something cities like New York, London, and so many others have prided themselves on for years—feels like it’s fraying around the edges.
In the case of Rotherham, again, that long lauded relationship between East and West is being put under pressure, and again, unfairly so. But there is no denying the facts: the number of sex grooming gangs from predominantly Muslim or Pakistani backgrounds that have sprung up in various corners of the globe recently are staggering. Is it that collectivist cultures such as those in Asia lend themselves to this nature of group sexual crime? Is it their contempt for the west, for whites, for women? In the case of these vile perpetrators, it is probably all of the above.
It is a mistake, though, to concentrate solely on those whose story makes for the most shocking headline; pedophilia, rape, and other forms of sexual assault are not problems restricted to one ethnic group. Data from both the US and UK marks those from Asian backgrounds as being far from the top of the list of sexual attackers.
“Sex abuse is a problem across many societies and cultures—and to label it as Pakistani problem is dangerous,” says Umar Farooq, a 25-year-old British Muslim from Bradford. “But I don't think it's a coincidence that the men in these gangs come from Pakistani backgrounds. It is all a result of segregated communities where illiteracy is rife and the men think they can get away with anything. Seeing white girls as targets of abuse is a cultural issue, and these criminals believe there is nothing wrong with it.”
That these gangs almost exclusively abuse white girls is no mistake. “A woman of a different ethnicity can make the sense of crime seem less severe,” says Roger Griffin, a Professor of Modern History at Oxford Brookes University and specialist in extreme right-wing ideologue. “These are the acts of men who are sexual predators, who do not feel like they can go and carry out their lust in their own communities. They see that white girls do not behave in a ‘modest’ way, and take advantage of these ‘lost women.’”
Let there be absolutely no doubt that the men who committed these crimes against vulnerable children must take the blame for their abhorrent actions. But where were the authorities—the police, the politicians, the protective services funded by the public to look after those who truly need it? The complete and utter lack of compassion or a clue exhibited by these people is shameful in the extreme.
And what of the rest of the Pakistani community, or the wider Muslim community, trying to piece back their public perception after another devastating blow? “The knock-on effects of Rotherham are having a negative impact already, but we can’t shy away from the problem. Criminals are criminals, and British Pakistanis must weed them out so they face the full force of the law,” Farooq says. “But we can’t tarnish the community as a whole. The majority of these people are hardworking, law-abiding citizens who believe in strong family values. We must remember that.”
And, crucially, what next for these so-called lost women, for the lost girls who have been failed so miserably? Because at its core, this sustained, systematic abuse of women is the problem. Why is it women—almost always women—who are pushed into the hands of sexual attackers? Why did it take 16 years for this grooming ring to be exposed? And if they hadn’t been exposed now, how many years would it take for their vile cruelty to stop?
In the wake of Rotherham, all we have are questions, questions, questions. These girls deserve answers.