By Lauren Codling
ASIAN girls are being exploited by grooming gangs across Britain, but victims are afraid to report it to authorities and seek justice because they fear for their safety and concerns over bringing shame to their families, MP Preet Gill has said.
Gill, who represents Birmingham Edgbaston and previously worked as a manager with child services in the region, told Eastern Eye on Monday (14) that she was aware of young girls from Sikh, Hindu and Muslim backgrounds being groomed at universities too.
The MP’s comments come following last week’s convictions of a sex ring operating in Newcastle, consisting of 17 men from the Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Iranian, Iraqi and Turkish communities.
“It isn’t just a case of these girls coming forward – their families worry if they will get married? Will they be able to live a normal life because of what they’ve endured, even though they are victims of a crime?” Gill said.
The MP said she had known for years that girls from Asian backgrounds are being targeted, but alleged that it is being under-reported due to fear of the possible impact on their future and their families.
“This type of abuse is no doubt under- reported because we know women and girls from an Asian background will not go to the police, because their family would then be in that public domain [and] they don’t want the shame on their families,” the Labour politician said.
Last week, a gang of 18 people, one of them a woman, was found guilty of trafficking and sexually abusing vulnerable teenage girls and young women for several years in northern England.
The men raped or assaulted the victims after drugging them or threatening them with violence at specially convened “parties” – often referred to as “sessions” – where they were supplied with drugs and alcohol.
While the offenders were predominantly Asian and aged in their 30s and 40s, their victims were white.
“There has been no political correctness here,” Northumbria Police chief constable Steve Ashman said last Wednesday (9).
“These are criminals and there has been no hesitation in arresting them and targeting them using all the means at our disposal.”
“It is for individual communities to ask themselves whether they are doing all they can to eradicate such attitudes and behaviour.”
Several MPs and campaigners have now urged sentencing to take into account the racially aggravated nature of the offences.
Former director of public prosecutions Lord Macdonald described the Newcastle sex-ring as a “profoundly racist” crime and there was “a major problem in particular communities” of men viewing white girls as “trash” and freely available for sex.
Sarah Champion, Labour MP for Rotherham, also caused controversy with her comments when she said “people are more afraid to be called a racist than they are afraid to be wrong about calling out child abuse”.
Champion resigned from her position as the shadows equalities minister on Wednesday (16).
Shaista Gohir, the chair of the Muslim Women’s Network (MWN), told Eastern Eye she disagreed with these claims as that was assuming these specific types of gangs only target white girls.
“There are victims up and down the country who are also of the same background of these men. It’s just that you don’t hear about them because they are even less likely to come forward,” Gohir said.
She also suggested Asian victims are perhaps more vulnerable as the perpetrators know they are less likely to speak out about the abuse due to the consequences they may potentially face.
“It’s hard for victims of any background to come forward, but these victims who have the same (ethnic) background as these men are less likely to speak out as they fear shame and the consequences from their families, and possibly honour-based violence.”
Suggestions that Asian victims are more vulnerable were made back in 2015, when convicted child molester Jamal Muhammed Raheem Ul Nasir was given a longer jail sentence due to the ethnicity of his victims.
Judge Sally Cahill QC claimed that due to the victim’s Asian backgrounds, their families
had suffered particular “shame” in their communities and future prospects as a “good catch” for arranged marriages may be damaged.
A 2013 report titled Unheard Voices by the Muslim Women’s Network showed that Asian offenders consider Asian girls and young women a “less risky option” because they were less likely to report the abuse because of “shame and dishonour that was purposefully exploited.”
It also found that when families became aware of the abuse their children had suffered, they were often subjected to being re-victimised – being disowned, forced into marriage or forced to have hymen repair surgery.
The report found the victims were of Afghani, Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani backgrounds. Two thirds were of Pakistani background.
Zlakha Ahmed, CEO of Apna Haq, a Rotherham-based women’s organisation, told Eastern Eye on Monday (14) she “totally [agreed]” that the media isn’t paying attention.
Referring to the Rotherham grooming scandal, when it was revealed that “at least” 1,400 children were sexually exploited in the South Yorkshire town over a prolonged period, Ahmed claimed out of the 1,400 people that were quoted, 109 were Pakistani heritage girls.
“Their stories have never come out,” Ahmed said. “We know, as Asian women who live in a community, that young Asian women and girls are being raped and groomed – just as white girls are – but what we know is that their stories are not making the headlines.”
Ahmed said Apna Haq has supported many older women who have said when they were young they were gang-raped and groomed, but “none of their stories have made the press.”
She expressed her disappointment with Champion’s comments, describing them as irresponsible.
“We’ve been shocked and horrified because we are here as an organisation doing the
work on the ground, trying to support women and girls. Then you have an MP like Sarah who has been so irresponsible in terms of labelling all Pakistani and Muslim men as racists.”
Gohir also told Eastern Eye that since 2013 her organisation had dealt with cases where the victims are not necessarily white. She questioned suggestions these are racially motivated crimes “when [the perpetrators] are also raping and abusing girls from their own communities”.
Birmingham-based campaigner Gohir said MWN have worked with victims who have suffered at the hands of sex gangs allegedly operating in Birmingham.
West Midlands Police said they have invested a significant amount of resources into tackling sexual offences against children in recent years.
“We continue to raise the awareness of all of our staff to spot the signs and deal with the issues of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE), which has seen significant cultural changes within the force,” they said.
As well as wanting to highlight the number of Asian victims, Gill wants to emphasis the impact the extent of the “damaging” abuse can have on them too.
“We look at victims of domestic violence at an older age. Can you imagine what’s being done to these girls at a very young age, from 10, 11 and 12 years old? With no understanding of the misuse of abusive power? These girls are frightened to death.
“The extent of the damage that it has done to them, and I’ve seen it first-hand working with victims, is just so damaging. It is damaging for them, their families and their future,” she said.
Chief constable Ashman said the wider police investigation into sexual exploitation in Newcastle, known as Operation Sanctuary, was the largest and most intricate operation his force had ever undertaken.
In total, officers had arrested 461 people, leading to 93 convictions, he said.
“Most of the offenders are not white. They are from a really diverse section so we have people from Bangladesh, from Pakistan, from Iran, from Iraq, people who are Kurdish, Turkish, Albanian, eastern European,” he added.
Ashman also defended the decision, heavily criticised by a child protection charity, to pay a convicted child rapist around £10,000 to act as an informant, saying he had helped police to prevent and detect serious crimes.
Newcastle City Council said more than 700 victims had been identified as part of Operation Sanctuary.
“We do not believe that what we have uncovered in Newcastle is unique,” said Pat Ritchie, the council’s chief executive.
“Sadly, there is evidence of sexual exploitation in just about every other town and city in the country, and anyone who says they do not have it are not looking for it.”
In response to the Northumbria case, home secretary Amber Rudd said: “This was an abhorrent case of sexual predators preying on young women and girls and I am pleased they have been brought to justice. Child sexual exploitation is a sickening crime.
Those responsible are not restricted to any single ethnic group, religion or community – it is an affront to everyone in our society and I want to be absolutely clear that political and cultural sensitivities must never be allowed to get in the way of preventing and uncovering it.”