The UK government officially announced a taskforce to crack down on grooming gangs that sexually abuse children in the UK. However, Home Secretary Suella Braverman sparked a debate after she said that the perpetrators of such crimes are “groups of men, almost all British Pakistani”.
In the past two decades, Britain has been rocked by reports of child abuse rings, which came to be known as the grooming gangs. Girls as young as 11 were plied with alcohol and drugs and sexually abused. They were trafficked, forced into prostitution, raped by several men on more than one occasion. The magnitude of child sex abuse was hair-raising. Worse still, some of the perpetrators have been tried and convicted, but not all.
Now, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has vowed to do whatever it takes to root out grooming gangs and put more perpetrators behind bars. The UK PM announced a new Grooming Gangs Taskforce to tackle the menace. But a day before the UK government officially announced the taskforce, Home Secretary Suella Braverman ignited a debate after she said that the perpetrators of such crimes are “groups of men, almost all British Pakistani”.
The mention of the ethnicity of perpetrators by a UK minister has opened another can of worms. It has also polarised debates — with one side claiming that the culture of these men led to the crimes, while the other is worried that the racial overtones would hamper investigation.
To break down the issue, we need to know a little about the grooming gangs, about those convicted in the crimes, the debate surrounding perpetrators’ race, the recent remark by Suella Braverman, and the taskforce launched by UK PM Rishi Sunak.
WHAT ARE GROOMING GANGS?
Grooming refers to a gradual process, involving days or weeks or months, by which an abuser wins a potential victim’s trust. The interaction may start normally, by a stranger or someone the victim is familiar with, who then goes on to build a connection with them. The abuser pays special attention to the potential victim and offers compliments and gifts to lure them. In every instance, the abusers prey on their vulnerabilities.
Next, the abuser desensitises the victim to sexual behaviour and aims to break down their resistance. This, in turn, makes the victim less likely to recognise the sexual abuse and even less likely to report it.
According to a UK-based organisation, National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), “Children and young people who are groomed can be sexually abused, exploited or trafficked.”
And this was happening with teens in Britain. On a much larger and nightmarish scale. Huddersfield, Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford, Bristol, Peterborough, Newcastle — sex abuse scandals were unearthed in these places across the UK one after the other. Young British girls fell prey to gangs of men, who raped and abused them. And the sheer number of victims and the sex crimes committed against them was enough to shock the nation.
WHAT ABOUT CONVICTION IN THESE CASES?
In 2018, a gang of 20 men in Huddersfield were convicted of trafficking and sexually abusing young girls, in what was believed to be Britain’s single biggest grooming prosecution. The convicts were found guilty of more than 120 sex crimes against 15 girls in Huddersfield between 2004 and 2011. The convicts were all British Asians, mainly of Pakistani heritage.
Nine men from Rochdale and Oldham were jailed for exploiting young girls. The group was accused of plying victims with drink and drugs and “passing them around” for sex, as per a 2012 report by the BBC. All the convicts were found guilty of sexually abusing girls below 16 years of age. Of those convicted, eight were of Pakistani origin and one from Afghanistan.
Eight men were jailed in Oxford in 2018 for grooming and sexually assaulting girls as young as 13 over a seven-year period. The convicts raped and assaulted children in cars, laybys, parks and guest houses, as per a 2018 report by The Guardian. The men were mostly British citizens of Pakistani origin.
More men were convicted, but a lot of them were able to walk away after committing these heinous crimes.
WHAT’S THE RACIAL DEBATE ABOUT?
In September 2012, an article in The Times revealed that a 2010 police report had warned of widespread sexual crimes being committed against children in South Yorkshire by ‘networks of Asian men’. The shocking article prompted an independent inquiry led by Professor Alexis Jay. In the inquiry report, published in 2014, Prof Alexis Jay went into details about how girls as young as 11 were raped, trafficked, abducted, beaten, and intimidated by men predominantly of Pakistani heritage, as per a June 2022 report by the BBC.
According to a 2017 report by anti-extremism think tank the Quilliam Foundation, 84 per cent of grooming gang offenders were Asians, the majority being “of Pakistani origin with Muslim heritage”.
However, critics warned against the pitfalls of such reports and writings.
According to Nazir Afzal, the Crown Prosecution Service’s former lead on child sexual abuse and the prosecutor involved in bringing down grooming gangs, the media pounced on cases involving Asians, but often ignored those involving white perpetrators, as per a 2018 report by The Guardian.
A 2020 UK Home Office report on group-based child sexual exploitation found that while some studies show a possible overrepresentation of black and Asian offenders, it was not possible to conclude this was representative of all grooming gangs. The report further noted that the majority of offenders were young white men.
WHAT DID SUELLA BRAVERMAN SAY?
But despite the UK government’s own report not supporting the fact, Suella Braverman, the home secretary, on Sunday spoke over concerns about grooming gangs and said “the perpetrators are groups of men, almost all British Pakistani, who hold cultural attitudes completely incompatible with British values”. She also accused authorities of turning a “blind eye” over fears of being labelled “racist”.
Braverman said that the British Pakistani men held cultural values that were “totally at odds” with British values and regarded women in a “demeaning and illegitimate way” while behaving in an “outdated and frankly heinous” way.
Braverman’s comments elicited a sharp reaction from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), who warned that sexual predators do not just come from “one background” and that a focus solely on race could create new “blind spots” when tackling child abuse cases.
ABOUT GROOMING GANGS TASKFORCE
The UK government has announced a new Grooming Gangs Taskforce which will see specialist officers parachuted in to assist police forces with live child sexual exploitation and grooming investigations to bring more of these despicable criminals to justice.
Talking about the task force, UK PM Rishi Sunak said, “The safety of women and girls is paramount. For too long, political correctness has stopped us from weeding out vile criminals who prey on children and young women. We will stop at nothing to stamp out these dangerous gangs.”
In a statement, Downing Street said, “Data analysts will work alongside the taskforce using cutting edge data and intelligence to identify the types of criminals who carry out these offences, helping police forces across the country catch offenders who might otherwise be missed. This will also include police recorded ethnicity data to make sure suspects cannot evade justice because of cultural sensitivities.”
This will include better data on the make-up of grooming gangs, including ethnicity, to make sure suspects cannot hide behind cultural sensitivities as a way to evade justice, the statement added.
Source: India Today