Arrested for being a public nuisance outside a takeaway shop, the 15-year-old blamed her behaviour – screaming and bashing the counter – on the systemic abuse she had suffered at the hands of two men inside. During six hours of videotaped testimony she went on to say how she’d been lured in by the men with gifts – drinks and a phone card or maybe something to eat – and made to feel “pretty” before eventually being asked to “pay for” the vodka with sex. She even handed over underwear spotted with the 59-year-old accused’s DNA.
Nine months later, in August 2009, the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to charge the two men as the girl would make an “unreliable witness” and the lawyer doubted any jury would believe her.
Three-quarters of the time, when sexual offences against children are reported to the police, the adult alleged to have committed the offence will not go to trial. According to NSPCC research, a third of children who are sexually abused “do not tell anyone at all about it, let alone report it to the police.”
The teenager who screamed and yelled and told the police this year saw her evidence – believed at last – form a central part of the case against the gang of nine men found guilty of raping and trafficking children.
As a white feminist, I feel like Fleet Street Fox and Julian Norman: this is about adult men raping and abusing girls, and race doesn’t enter into it.
The Cornwall and Derby villains who used girls as sex toys believed that their victims had “asked for it”, which in our permissive age is an easy excuse. Very young girls are sexualised in the social environment, so paedophiles must feel they are only helping themselves to the goodies that are on offer. But in the case of the Asian men, disgusting cultural beliefs further validate their acts and their uncontrollable lechery is, in part, a symptom of repressed sexuality and sick attitudes.
Most Asian men do not go around raping young white girls and women; many have happy and equal relationships with white partners. However, an alarming number of Asian individuals, families and communities do believe that white females have no morals, are free and available, deserving of no respect or protection.
Up in Bradford a few years back, I met Muslim pimps, some wearing mini Koran pendants on heavy, gold chains. “Not our girls,” they reassured me, “just them white girls from the estates, cheap girls. They love it man, all the money they make! What else will they do with their lives? We’re helping them make a career.”
Much laughter, until I asked them what they would do if a white pimp groomed their daughters. They would kill the pimp and the girls too, they said. They would too.
Training children to not fight you off doesn’t make it consensual. It’s grooming, and it’s rape. Over a period of time these girls were plied with alcohol, money and drugs, bullied, and made to feel reliant on their abusers. They were extremely vulnerable, with damaged childhoods that made them glad of any attention no matter how vicious and wrong it was. Because the abuse was being spread among friends it was normalised, but nothing detracts from the fact the men who carried out those acts are rapists.
It doesn’t matter what colour they are, or how they went about it, how long it took or how much money they spent on drugs and booze, or whether crisps were offered. Rape is rape.
“There is a small minority of Pakistani men who believe that white girls are fair game,” she said — choosing her words with care but not mincing them. “And we have to be prepared to say that. You can only start solving a problem if you acknowledge it first.”
She is clear that the colour of the victims’ skin, as well as their vulnerability, helped to make them a target. “This small minority who see women as second class citizens, and white women probably as third class citizens, are to be spoken out against,” she said.
This puts her at odds with some commentators who argue that the racial element was coincidental and that sex abuse occurs in white gangs. She says the Rochdale case was “even more disgusting” than cases of girls being passed around street gangs. “These were grown men, some of them religious teachers or running businesses, with young families of their own,” she said. Whether or not these girls were easy prey, they knew it was wrong.”
Her second challenge is to British Muslim leaders and preachers who have been equally appalled but nervous of speaking out.
“In mosque after mosque, this should be raised as an issue so that anybody remotely involved should start to feel that the community is turning on them,” she said. “Communities have a responsibility to stand up and say, ‘This is wrong, this will not be tolerated’.”
So far, she added, the response from organisations like the British Muslim Forum and the Muslim Council of Britain has been “fantastic”.
Sayeeda Warsi says her father Safdar asked her what the Government was going to do about it and she said she didn’t know. (Haven’t we all had family conversations like that?)
“Dad then said, ‘Well, what are you doing about it?’ I said, ‘Oh, it’s not me, it’s a Home Office issue’.” At this her father, Safdar, gave her a remarkable lecture.
“He said to me: ‘Sayeeda, what is the point in being in a position of leadership if you don’t lead on issues that are so fundamental? This is so stomach churningly sick that you should have been out there condemning it as loudly as you could. Uniquely, you are in a position to show leadership on this.’
So she is, in principle. Will she?
The recession and benefits cuts will make these young lives even more exposed to domestic violence, sexual exploitation and mistreatment. The PM and Deputy PM and too many members of the Cabinet represent constituencies with low levels of poverty and relatively few problem families. Their voters despise the “feckless, fecund and feral” underclass, so the politicians can happily ignore the losers.
Today [29th April 2012] an NSPCC report warns that almost half of the 90,000 children in care are sent back to abusive and neglectful families. Austerity means more applications for care and more returns. More than 70 per cent of such children interviewed by the NSPCC did not want to go back home. The assessments are that poor and hasty decisions are being made – in my view to save money. Abusive parents, from what I know as a journalist, can accuse returned children of treachery and subject them to increased torment. Many youngsters will have to be taken into care again or will run away.
The statistics are grim: 14,000 children are living with relatives because their own parents are alcoholics or drug addicts. According to the Missing Persons Bureau and Make Runaways Safe, around 100,000 children under 17 go missing every year, a large number to escape from brutal parents. Unicef and OECD reports have, over the past five years, concluded that too many children in our country have broken lives and no hopes for their futures.
Two days ago in the New Statesman, Simon Danczuk, Rochdale’s MP, and journalist Myriam Francois-Cerrah, discussed “the relevance of race and religion to the grooming case”. When Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Sayeeda Warsi independently speak about their direct personal experience of the interaction of racism and sexism, this should not be dismissed or devalued. On the 10th May Question Time, almost the entire panel cheerfully engaged in slut-shaming and victim-blaming with hardly a thought that when an adult man rapes an underage girl it is not her fault. As the one ethical panel member, Lord Oakeshott, said,
That cannot be right – this was an evil crime, whatever the girls were wearing, and we must focus on that, surely.
We so seldom see the perpetrator of rape unequivocably blamed.
And though I honour Sayeeda Warsi for speaking out so publicly, I notice that she does not consider taking a lead against the austerity cuts to children’s social services. From the NSPCC’s 2011 report:
Children’s social care spending in England is expected to be reduced by an average of 24% in 2011–12 – this is significantly more than the overall real-terms reduction in local government spending of around 10%, and more than the budget reductions for most other local authority services. For example, adult social care spending was projected to fall in 2011–12 by less than 2%. The cuts are most apparent in English urban areas and those authorities that have a high proportion of looked after children. Seven councils plan to reduce this spending in 2011–12 compared with the previous year by over 40% and a further 38 plan to shrink their children’s social care budgets by over 30%.
She had such hate in her eyes they singed you when you tried to get her to talk. Her thighs were dotted with cigarette marks and she told me one of her rapists had branded her for not being nice to him. Sometimes Lizzie ran away from the care home and returned when she was frightened or desperate. After some months she started to trust me and we went out to Pizza Hut or clothes shops and once I took her to Richmond Park. She had never seen deer before, or real paper kites. Soon after that she disappeared for ever. Her key worker was sure all the damage was caused by sending this child back to her chaotic and cruel home. I still dream of her sometimes.
So what does our Government say or do? It is obsessed with finding fairy godparents to come forth and adopt unwanted children. There will never be enough such mums and dads for the more-than-90,000 kids in care and some adoptions break down, leaving children even more hurt and angry. The only other “strategy” is to pass all responsibility and blame to local authorities, as Tim Loughton, Children’s minister, did this weekend: “It is right to keep families together… We’ve toughened up the law, so local authorities must make a rigorous assessment of parents’ suitability…” blah blah blah. While they squabble, more children suffer or disappear into the twilight underworld of crime and prostitution.
“Sayeeda, what is the point in being in a position of leadership if you don’t lead on issues that are so fundamental? This is so stomach churningly sick that you should have been out there condemning it as loudly as you could. Uniquely, you are in a position to show leadership on this.”
Update, 22nd July
By now surely everyone knows the case of the eight men convicted of picking vulnerable underage girls off the streets, then plying them with drink and drugs before having sex with them. A shocking story. But maybe you haven’t heard. Because these sex assaults did not take place in Rochdale, where a similar story led the news for days in May, but in Derby earlier this month. Fifteen girls aged 13 to 15, many of them in care, were preyed on by the men. And though they were not working as a gang, their methods were similar – often targeting children in care and luring them with, among other things, cuddly toys. But this time, of the eight predators, seven were white, not Asian. And the story made barely a ripple in the national media.