Child sexual exploitation and the response to localised grooming - Home Affairs Committee Contents

4  The issue of race

108. The vast majority of convicted child-sex offenders in the UK are single White men. However, with this specific model of offending, there is a widespread perception that the majority of perpetrators are of Asian, British Asian or Muslim origin. This would certainly seem to be the case from the major grooming prosecutions which have gone to court so far, but in fact both CEOP and the Office of the Children's Commissioner have found serious inconsistencies with recording of ethnicities and gender of both victims and perpetrators across UK forces.[238] Given the number of child sexual exploitation cases which have so far failed to make it to court, for the reasons discussed, this highly unsatisfactory situation means that it is extremely difficult to form an evidence based opinion on the true nature of what is still a largely hidden crime. Nevertheless, the perception, that grooming perpetrators are largely of Asian, British Asian or Muslim origin colours the attitudes of those working in the field, as well as the media and the wider public. Ann Cryer, the former MP for Keighley, who raised concerns about localised grooming in her constituency as long ago as 2003, faced a backlash when she described the offenders as Asian and pointed to the fact that most of them came from the Mirpur district of Kashmir (a description which she still stands by).[239] She suggested that underlying cultural attitudes might be a factor in the offending. As Andrew Norfolk told us

    The far right leapt on the story, predictably, and [Ann Cryer] was accused of demonising all Muslims. I think that it almost acted as a brake for several years on anybody seriously looking at whether there was any truth in what she was saying but, as the years passed, I noticed cases cropping up from time to time across Yorkshire and Lancashire with a very similar pattern.[240]

109. Kris Hopkins MP, the current Member for Keighley, also spoke of the reaction that Ann Cryer received and supported her view[241] that a fear of being labelled 'racist' had hindered the ability of official agencies to combat the grooming and sexual exploitation.

    Lots of the people in that community dismissed Ann's comments and saw them as inflammatory rather than as challenging and helpful. Many people believed another injustice was being done to the community by the fact that Ann kept raising the issue. The victimhood that ran through the community gave an excuse for not facing up to the problem. I went to lots of public events to discuss the issue, but all I heard was that Ann's constant comments undermined the community. The community failed to face up to the core issues that Ann was putting out there. The reality is that the problem has not gone away. Ann Cryer was right. Since that time, many more children have been abused because of the failures of the agencies and of the communities to address what was happening.[242]

110. There was little media coverage of the issue in the intervening years but in 2010 there were two trials which again saw groups of Asian men convicted for sexual offences against White British girls. In November 2010, five men from Rotherham were jailed after being found guilty of grooming teenage girls for sex[243] and less than two weeks later, nine men from Derby were convicted of sexual offences, having been found to have been "systematically grooming and sexually abusing teenage girls."[244] The first of the series of Andrew Norfolk's Times articles on the subject was published several days before the ringleaders in the Derby case were sentenced and listed 17 trials that had been identified as prosecutions related to localised grooming. In all but one of the trials, the offenders were identified as being Asian, mostly British Pakistani, and the victims were predominantly White.[245]

111. In May 2012, while sentencing those convicted of similar offences in Rochdale, the Judge noted that the offenders had claimed that the investigation was racially motivated:

    Some of you, when arrested, said it (the prosecution) was triggered by race. That is nonsense. ... What triggered this prosecution was your lust and greed.[246]

He also noted that the victims in the case had been treated as though they were worthless and beyond respect. He suggested that "one of the factors leading to that was the fact that they were not part of [the defendants'] community or religion".[247]

112. Witnesses have given us a number of reasons why they think their appears to be an association with the British Pakistani community. Kris Hopkins MP who had previously spoken in the House on the sexist behaviour of some Muslim men which went unchallenged by their peers or community elders,[248] talked to us about the importance of the empowerment of women in these communities.

    I think the most powerful voices within there—or they need to be the most powerful voices—will be women in those communities, so the mums, grandmas, future mums, the girls in those families need to be empowered.[249]

However, Alyas Karmani suggested that negative attitudes towards women were a wider problem across British society, not something that was peculiar to Pakistani males.[250] Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra agreed, stating that sexual violence and the degradation of women was directly opposed to the teachings of the Koran.[251]

113. Sara Rowbotham pointed out that to some extent, a shared language among the perpetrators which was not understood by the victims (who were already at a disadvantage due to the maturity and strength of the perpetrators) further disempowered them.[252] Andrew Norfolk suggested that issues around the age of consent may play a role, pointing out that

    If you come from a rural Mirpuri, Kashmiri community, where, whatever state law says, village tradition and sharia says that puberty is the green light for marriage—as it does—and if you recognise that most girls in this country are hitting puberty at 11 or 12, perhaps one begins to understand why it is not just lone offenders. There has to be something, given that so often this is a normalised group activity—not among a major criminal gang, but among friends, work colleagues and relatives—that does not have the same sense of shame attached to it as would be the case for your typical White offender, who works alone because if he told too many people, somebody would report him.[253]

114. Many witnesses spoke of the disgust of the vast majority of the British Pakistani community at the exploitation of these children but Alyas Karmani said that many of those in the community would fail to recognise it as a problem they ought to address, seeing it instead as a societal problem,[254] a view Ann Cryer also supported.[255] Both Ann Cryer[256] and Andrew Norfolk suggested that a desire to protect the community from criticism might sometimes override the duty to address the criminal behaviour of these men.

    I have spoken to young men in some of the towns where this has been going on. Universally, they decry what happens. They say they are disgusted with the men who have been doing this but, equally, that they would never have dreamt of going to the police about it, because you do not turn on your own community.[257]

There is also the line of reasoning offered by some witnesses that these are socially-conservative communities where such behaviour is not openly discussed and so members of the community are not always aware that it is taking place.[258] However, Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra acknowledged that

    The fact that the cases that have come to light that have been in court and the sentencing that we have so far witnessed includes a disproportionately larger number of Muslims and Asians, and that is very worrying.[259]

115. A factor that may reinforce the perception of localised grooming being carried out by Asian men against White girls could be the under-reporting of offences against children from ethnic minorities. Witnesses told us that there were cases of groups of Asian men grooming Asian girls[260] but these do not come to light because victims are often alienated and ostracised by their own families and by the whole community if they go public with allegations of abuse.[261] The inquiry by the Office of the Children's Commissioner also found that there was an under-reporting of ethnic minority victims of child sexual exploitation. The interim report noted that children from a minority background were unlikely to be identified as victims by police or social services. Instead victims tended to be identified by "BME, faith and statutory and voluntary sector youth justice agencies," if at all. [262]

116. Given the high level of debate around the issue and the fact that many of those involved in investigating the issue of localised grooming have warned against citing race as a key factor in these cases,[263] it is not difficult to see why the British Pakistani community might feel that the suggestion that this is an "Asian problem" is inaccurate and unfair.[264] There is certainly evidence of localised grooming being carried out by offenders from other ethnic groups. Tim Loughton cited cases involving offenders from central Africa.[265] The CEOP 2011 report cited a study from 2004 of a case in Lewisham involving Eastern European offenders, which followed much of the recognised pattern of localised grooming, including girls being passed to much older men by a younger 'boyfriend'.[266] The Deputy Children's Commissioner cited "White, Pakistani, Afghan, Traveller, Gypsy and Romany travellers" communities where children were seen as an opportunity for sexual exploitation.[267] She considered that the race factor in the cases in northern towns was an artefact of local demographics, not culture.[268] This point was also made by Emma Jackson who told us that, whilst all of her abusers in Rotherham had been Asian and the victims White, in subsequent work that she had done in other areas, the ethnicity of the perpetrators would reflect the local demographics.[269]

117. There is a concern that statutory agencies are now looking only for a model as presented in the high-profile localised grooming cases, where the aspect of race is emphasised, rather than looking for incidents of child sexual exploitation as a whole.[270] Given the sentencing of Jake Ormerod for offences relating to child sexual exploitation as part of a wider group of White British men in July 2011 and the five White British men from Derby who were sentenced for sexual offences relating to child sexual exploitation in September 2012, it is obvious that such crimes are perpetrated by offenders of all races. Both these cases reflect the established model of localised grooming: the victims were vulnerable, either in care or from difficult backgrounds, who often went missing, and were given 'gifts', often alcohol and drugs, before being sexually exploited.

118. It is difficult, however, to argue that race has had no impact in some of these cases, not just on the part of the perpetrators—who, whatever their race, are criminals, who, in an exercise in depravity, dehumanised their victims based on their vulnerability and turbulent lives—but also on the part of their communities, who turned a blind eye to the abuse of hidden BME victims who cannot come forward,[271] and on the part of professionals who were scared of being labelled racist if they raised concerns about the abuse.[272] Alyas Karmani admitted that in certain communities, there was a tendency towards over-sensitivity which led to a sense of denial.[273] However, this should not have stopped statutory agencies from intervening as happened. Andrew Norfolk told us that

    After we ran our first story, in January last year, I was contacted by so many people who had refused to speak to me before. When you have a Director of Children's Services ringing and saying, "My staff are jumping for joy in the office today because finally somebody has said what we have not felt able to say," and when you have very senior police officers saying exactly the same. ... There was a fear of treading into a cultural minefield that they did not really know anything about—a fear of marginalising; a fear of stereotyping—and it allowed this situation to develop to where we were two years ago.[274]

However, we would have thought such senior experienced officers would have realised that it was not the issue of race, let alone any connection with cultural traditions, but sheer opportunism on the part of the depraved individuals out to exploit young, vulnerable females for sex and financial gain.

119. Tim Loughton summed up the situation well when he told us that

    It is not in the interest of the British Pakistani community or the British Congolese community for this sort of abuse to be going on by members of their own community. It is in their best interest to make sure that it is being reported, rooted out, and the perpetrators dealt with as criminals, which is what they are.[275]

It was a sentiment repeated by Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra who said "If the perpetrator is a Muslim, treat that perpetrator and that criminal as you would treat any other criminal. They should not get any preferential treatment or anywhere to hide behind the name of Islam or of Muslim."[276] Following the Rochdale 2012 trial, a grassroots community forum was set up to improve communication different communities in the area and improve early identification of the issue demonstrating that communities can work together to combat child sexual exploitation. Councillor Lambert told us that

    Although the forum was initially set up through the mosques, at the first meeting there were women from the Asian community, women from the White community and men from the White community. As a community forum, we have to involve the community. So although it came up from the grassroots from within the BME community, they were determined to widen that right across the area—and not just to Rochdale, but to Heywood and Middleton into the Pennines, so that we bring the community in. All faith groups and both sexes, but also the age ranges, were to be brought in.[277]

120. There is no simple link between race and child sexual exploitation. It is a vile crime which is perpetrated by a small number of individuals, and abhorred by the vast majority, from every ethnic group. However, evidence presented to us suggests that there is a model of localised grooming of Pakistani-heritage men targeting young White girls. This must be acknowledged by official agencies, who we were concerned to hear in some areas of particular community tension, had reportedly been slow to draw attention to the issue for fear of affecting community cohesion. The condemnation from those communities of this vile crime should demonstrate that there is no excuse for tip-toeing around this issue. It is important that police, social workers and others be able to raise their concerns freely, without fear of being labelled racist. The communities that these offenders come from must also play their part and do much more to acknowledge, report and tackle the issue. In particular community leaders and Imams have a vital role to play. We welcome the establishment of the Rochdale community forum and we recommend that multi-agency safeguarding hubs carry out outreach work in order to connect with forums such as this and all communities. In essence, the responsibility of all agencies, particularly social services, the police, and schools, is to protect those at risk from grooming and sexual exploitation and help to bring to justice those responsible, totally regardless of race or background, or indeed any other factor. To do otherwise leads to what occurred, or in fact didn't occur, for far too long at Rotherham and Rochdale, and quite likely other places as well.

121. We caution against focusing just on one particular model of child sexual exploitation. We have heard evidence that models vary within and between different types of child sexual exploitation. For example, the majority of child sexual exploitation conducted online is by White perpetrators. Authorities should not be blinkered by one formula which will blind them to other patterns of abuse taking place. Stereotyping offenders as all coming from a particular background is as likely to perpetuate the problem as is a refusal to acknowledge that a particular group of offenders share a common ethnicity.

122. Every child, whatever community they come from, must feel able to report abuse. In order to do so, they need a justice system that they can have confidence in and communities to give them absolute support. We are concerned by reports that ethnic minority children are less likely to be identified as victims of child sexual exploitation. Statutory agencies must ensure that they are able to support children of all races and tackle abuse by offenders of all races.

238   Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, Out of Sight, Out of Mind, p40-41; Office of the Children's Commissioner, Interim report, p98 Back

239   Q 808 Back

240   Q 625 Back

241   Q 801 Back

242   HC Deb, 13 Nov 2012, Col. 231-2 Back

243 Back

244 Back

245   The 17 cases identified by The Times which showed a pattern of exploitation, 5 January 2011 ( Back

246 Back

247 Back

248   HC Deb, 13 Nov 2012, Col. 233 Back

249   Q 812 Back

250   Q 818 Back

251   Qq 820-1 Back

252   Q 291 Back

253   Q 641 Back

254   Q 819 Back

255   Q 811 Back

256   Q 816 Back

257   Q 638 Back

258   Q 847 Back

259   Q 817 Back

260   Q 830 Back

261   Q 829 Back

262   Office of the Children's Commissioner, Interim report, p91 Back

263   Qq 56, 104 Back

264   Q 818 Back

265   Q 156 Back

266   Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, Out of Sight, Out of Mind, p15 Back

267   Q 130 Back

268   Qq 681-2 Back

269   Qq 766-7 Back

270   Q 684 Back

271   Q 816 Back

272   Q 801 Back

273   Q 843 Back

274   Qq 635-6 Back

275   Q 158 Back

276   Q 841 Back

277   Q 9 Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2013
Prepared 10 June 2013