• Monday, April 15, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

EXCLUSIVE: Stop putting Asians in danger

‘DANGEROUS RHETORIC’: MPs including Afzal Khan and Khalid Mahmood and experts such as Dr Ella Cockbain and Nazir Afzal have expressed alarm at the government making the serious issue of child sexual exploitation into ‘a matter of colour’ (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

By: BARNIE CHOUDHURY

THE home secretary is pandering to right-wing racists and putting south Asian lives in danger, MPs and experts have told Eastern Eye.

It follows Suella Braverman’s comments over the weekend (2) that “vulnerable white girls living in troubled circumstances have been abused, drugged, raped, and exploited”.

She highlighted cases in Rotherham, Telford and Rochdale as proof-positive that networks of grooming gangs of rapists were “overwhelmingly” made up of British-Pakistani men.

But this is the complete opposite of a Home Office report, published in December 2020, which concluded that the majority of child sex abusers were white.

“It’s totally inflammatory, and there’s no need for it,” said the Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, Khalid Mahmood.

“This [child sexual abuse] is a heinous, heinous crime, and anybody who’s involved in that will be and should be prosecuted.

“We know that British white people are the largest group responsible for child sexual abuse.

“This issue is not a race issue, this is an issue of abuse, and what we should do is anybody who is anywhere near this, we should take all action to prosecute.

“We know the prime minister has made the NCA [National Crime Agency] work on this.

“He’s already put the NCA on the refugee migrants, so what sort of resources is he going to put into the NCA, what sort of resources is he going to put into the police, social services to make this work?

“Or is this just another one of the inflammatory comments that Suella is very good at doing to get their red wall votes?

“And that’s absolutely disgraceful for that reason.”

Dog-whistle politics

Like the MP, the former chief prosecutor in the north-west of England, Nazir Afzal, criticised Braverman for “dog-whistle politics” – messages aimed at certain groups.

“This will backfire on them because victims, and I know many of them, have contacted me in the last 24 hours, are shocked by this.

“When you tell a victim what a perpetrator looks like, you present some of them with a false sense of security.

“If you tell them that the only perpetrators you should be worried about are British Pakistani men, they will then go with British white men, who are the vast majority of perpetrators, and feel safe and secure.

Nazir Afzal (Pic credit: Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)

“So, it actually puts victims in danger by focusing on one group of perpetrators.

“There are lots of British white offenders today who are not trembling when they should be trembling.

“They’ll be thinking ‘Well, actually, they’re not interested in me, I can carry on offending. They’re interested in those British Pakistani men in those northern towns.’

“And that I think, also empowers them to carry on offending because they think the police aren’t interested in me.”

Everyone Eastern Eye spoke to stressed that tackling child sexual abuse and so-called grooming gangs was important.

They said that cultural sensitivities must not stop authorities from making arrests and jailing those found guilty of committing crimes.

Irresponsible and dangerous

Dr Ella Cockbain, associate professor at University College London, told this newspaper that the term “grooming gangs” had become a racial slur.

Academic studies have shown links between a rise in hate crime and political rhetoric.

The Labour MP for Manchester Gorton, Afzal Khan, described the prime minister’s and home secretary’s comments as “irresponsible and dangerous”.

Afzal Khan

“We can see from the past, whenever irresponsible language is used by politicians, it has knock-on consequences on the community.

“Boris Johnson’s attack against Muslim women wearing veils and looking like letterboxes saw Muslim women suffering a 270 per cent increase in hate crime and such targeting by the home secretary and the prime minister over grooming gangs, I think would do the similar thing against the Asian communities.”

The ethnic minority ambassador to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), Sabah Kaiser, told the BBC that it was “very, very dangerous” to turn child sexual abuse “into a matter of colour”.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, she said, “Child sexual abuse does not have a skin colour, it doesn’t have a religion, it doesn’t have a culture.

“Child sexual abuse does not discriminate.”

The Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, Khalid Mahmood, told Eastern Eye that he had been working on rooting out perpetrators for almost a decade.

Khalid Mahmood

He would now be writing to the home secretary.

“I’ll be asking her to stop using this racial stereotyping which serves no purpose in terms of better community cohesion.

“This is all about her showing off her xenophobic and racist strategy.

“This is absolutely dog whistle politics, and everything should be done to address the issue of abuse of young woman by grooming by any community of any one individual.”

Mahmood is not alone.

“Parliament is currently in recess,” said his colleague, Afzal Khan. “A number of MPs are concerned with the way the home secretary and the prime minister have used this issue.

“They have been in power for 13 years and it’s their failure to protect which is the issue and what we should all be concerned with.

“When parliament returns, we will either be asking direct questions of the prime minister or the home secretary.

“Alternatively, we may write a collective letter to the home secretary.

“Offenders can come from all backgrounds and all victims deserve protection.

“By focusing on one section, they will miss the full picture, and the victims are the ones who will pay the price.”

Taskforce

On Monday [3], the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, announced the launch of a taskforce to help the police tackle child sexual abuse.

“When victims and other whistle blowers came forward, their claims were often ignored by social workers, local politicians or even the police,” he told Sky News.

“The reasons they were ignored were due to cultural sensitivity and political correctness, now that’s not right.”

On social media, Sunak trumpeted that the police would collect the ethnicity of suspects, implying this was a new initiative.

But Eastern Eye revealed that police forces started data collection based on ethnicity of suspects in March 2021 – after this newspaper highlighted child sexual abuse among south Asian communities the previous year.

In 2011, Afzal started to investigate grooming gangs in Rochdale.

He overturned a decision not to prosecute a south Asian gang who groomed young girls in the town, which led to their convictions in 2012.

He is in favour of collecting data because the more information the authorities have the better, they can deal with crime.

But the former crown prosecutor thinks it is about grabbing headlines.

“Twenty years ago, I was in the special task force in the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service],” he said, “and there was two of us, and the other one worked part time, so the devil’s in the detail.

“What I’m really angry about is that nothing has been said about prevention.

“Fine, arrest more people, but the criminal justice system will fail them because we all know what the data is there one per cent conviction rates, but where’s the preventive work?

“Where’s the work in children’s services, social services, where’s the funding of children’s services, social services, youth services, community groups, NGOs?

“They’re all struggling. They all have massive workloads. The idea that they can suddenly provide support to more victims is just ridiculous with current resources.

“It tells me they’re not actually interested in the victims, it is all about the headlines, it is all about suggesting that they are tough on crime, when in fact, far from it, they’re not tough on crime nor the causes of crime.”

Government distraction

Dr Ella Cockbain from UCL described the targeting of minority communities as “a distraction”.

Dr Ella Cockbain (Pic credit: University College London)

“It’s dangerous for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse.

“It’s dangerous for communities that then get stigmatised as deviant, and it’s an enormous distraction from the government’s own failings, and the systematic underfunding of crucial services over the last decade and more.

“So, the criminal justice system, social care, children’s services, specialist support services for victims and survivors of abuse, none of these have been properly funded.

“They’re just pushing far right, hard right, talking points, against their own evidence.

“It’s pure politicking off the back of abused children and marginalised communities.”

One organisation which works with vulnerable children, the Freedom Charity, said it was desperate for funding.

Aneeta Prem

“The problem is when an Asian girl is groomed, not only is she a victim, but if she then tells her family and community for support, they’re going to shun her and that’s a really big problem,” said its founder and president, Aneeta Prem.

“For that reason, they’re going to need additional support and help where the wider community might not be as supportive because of their attitude towards grooming.

“Absolutely, we need more help, support and specialist funding to help these victims to come forward.

“At Freedom Charity, we would welcome any additional support and help that we can be given to support young people that need to come forward and report these terrible crimes.

“Because without that these are going to go on unreported.

“These things are going on within the actual families themselves and they’re just not give them the help and support they need to cope.”

Proper funding

Proper funding of organisations, and a willingness to tackle unpalatable truths are what is needed said Afzal.

“I’m the chair of the Catholic Church’s independent regulator on safeguarding, and we have put in place an audit process.

“Our team is inspecting diocese to make sure that they meet the regular standards, which is properly resourced.

“The Catholic Church is one church and has a hierarchy.

“The Muslim community, the Sikh community, Hindu community don’t have a hierarchy in the same way, so it’s a bit more difficult for other faiths.

“But absolutely, you do need independent auditing of safeguarding against a set of standards that every knows they have to meet.

“That gives reassurance mean people who come into contact with the faith will be safe.”

Eastern Eye asked the Home Office a series of questions related to comments made by the home secretary and the prime minister.

We also asked yet again why the government refused to ethnically monitor the victims of child sexual abuse.

It declined to acknowledge our email or provide a comment.

Dr Cockbain from UCL told Eastern Eye that the government’s rhetoric will have far reaching consequences because the far right has “weaponised the abuse suffered by abuse victims”.

“They’ve just handed the far right their biggest gift,” she said.

“We have things like the attacks on the centre housing refugees and asylum seekers in Knowsley [Merseyside] where there were far right protesters chanting nonces.

“This will then get tied up with a kind of broader anti-immigration agenda, the ammunition they’re being inscribed for Rotherham, then the attacks on the migrant centre in Dover.

“So, there have already been deadly consequences, and the government knows this, and they’ve just handed over marginalised communities on a plate.”

(Additional reporting by Sarwar Alam)

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