i was listening to this interview (nine to noon, 9.50am) on radio nz this morning, the regular weekly discussion with uk correspondent anne leslie. she spent a large part of the interview talking about the 9 men who have been jailed for their part in the sexual abuse of teenage girls. if you haven't heard about the story, i'd recommend this piece. it's a pretty harrowing read, here's a short excerpt:
Girls aged between 11 and 14 are most vulnerable and are often
targeted by someone close to their own age, sometimes a younger brother
or friend of the older men.
The location is usually innocuous –
school gates, shopping centers, arcades. It can start with a car pulling
up, young guys with charm and good looks engaging a girl in banter.
Then cell phone numbers are exchanged and a friendship begins.
The men then work for several months to make the girls believe the friendship is genuine, the relationship meaningful.
from the radio interview and an article in the waikato times (not online), the basic facts seem to be that gangs were preying on teenage girls, particularly those living in children's homes. those predominantly involved, particularly in northern england, are asian men & mostly pakistanis, while their victims were all white.
because of this fact, there has been a huge focus on whether race & culture played a significant part in this crime. this is fuelled by the accusation that the police had failed to investigate properly back in 2008 due to fears of being accused of racism - the daily mail has plenty to say about that, though no actual proof other than the opinion of a former labour MP. the BNP has been right in there, with their usual line of attack & there is a sizeable portion of the population who agree with their views.
none of this helps the situation at all. there are things that need to happen, and questions that need to be asked. there will be an police complaints commission inquiry into the police's failure to act, according to this guardian piece. that's very much needed. it could be that the police feared being branded by racism, although given the spark that led to the rioting in england last year, it doesn't appear that the police have generally been too fussed about that accusation. but it could be true.
it could also be partly because the victims were chosen well. they were often poor, and according to the times article were "known to social services" - sounds like a euphemism for girls that got into trouble a lot. According to the chief crown prosecutor nazir afzal "these girls were on the street at midnight. it made them easy prey for evil men". and it's exactly that kind of victim-blaming that could have been partly a cause of the police failing to take action. in any case, i really hope that the independent inquiry gets to the bottom of it.
other questions need to be asked about the sub-culture these men were living in. if they, and those around them, believe that white girls are more deserving of abuse because, to channel colin craig, they are promiscuous anyway, then that culture needs to be challenged and changed. that needs the leadership of these communities speaking out as well as the rest of the community being active in challenging these kinds of views. the sheikhs in the mosque need to be talking a lot more about the responsibilities of men to treat all women with respect. however, i wonder how many of the convicted men ever bothered to go to the mosque.
the subculture reminds me of the gang rapes perpetrated in sydney some years ago, with the victim-blaming we saw from sheikh tajuddin. at this stage, we haven't heard any such stupidity from british leaders, but while they have been active in condemning the abuse, have been too much on the defensive, trying to protect the rest of the community from being vilified by association. which is entirely predictable and totally frustrating. the focus on race distracts from the areas where focus needs to be placed.
there must have been people associated or close to these men who knew what was going on. it's not possible that no-one knew. and also there were people around the young women who knew that they would disappear for periods of time. it seems the young women also talked about what was happening to them, because the crown prosecution service and rochdale social services have felt the need to issue an apology.
so what caused this silence, this failure to help the young women and to stop the men who were preying on them. anne leslie also mentioned the responsibility of the parents of these young women, and in some cases it could very well be that parents weren't taking enough care. but whatever it is, the reasons for that silence, across all communities in that region, really do need to be investigated.
as the police and others have said, it's not like asian or pakistani men have more of a tendency to be abusers than other men. the police have been clear about this:
"It is not a racial issue. This is about adults preying on vulnerable
young children," the Telegraph quoted Assistant Chief Constable Steve
Heywood of Greater Manchester Police as saying. "It just happens that in
this particular area and time the demographics were that these were
"I am currently running several other inquiries about
on-street grooming and it is not Asian men," BBC News quoted Heywood as
kathryn ryan talked about sex tours to asia by white men seeking to abuse young women. i agree that abuse presents itself differently in different communities - there are different drivers, different ways that abusers seek to justify their behaviour. there is one thing they all have in common: they see women as less than human, less than themselves. they are impervious to the pain of others and the damage they cause, and more focused on their own needs and pleasures.
it's really important that we focus on these things, and figure out how best we can change them. and that we focus on the institutions and societal structures that failed to protect these young women, even after they made complaints.