This essay, on Asian ‘grooming gangs’ and the debate about them,, was my Observer column this week. It was published on 11 November 2018, under the headline ‘We’re told 84% of grooming gangs are Asian. But where’s the evidence?’
Few debates about academic methodology result in a researcher being labelled a ‘posh socialist ‘activdemic’’ or another being told that her work is akin to a BNP leaflet. But this is no ordinary academic debate. It’s about Asian ‘grooming gangs’ and a report on the issue published last year by the anti-extremism thinktank the Quilliam Foundation.
Thanks to a series of high-profile court cases, the question of Asian and, specifically, Muslim grooming gangs has become an incendiary issue. Quilliam and its chairman, Maajid Nawaz, divide opinion. For some, they are a scourge on political correctness, bravely shining a light on dark corners of Muslim communities. For others, they give succour to bigots.
The Quilliam report, Group Based Child Sexual Exploitation: Dissecting Grooming Gangs, written by Haras Rafiq and Muna Adil, claims that 84% of grooming gang offenders are Asian, the majority ‘of Pakistani origin with Muslim heritage’. That figure quickly caught the headlines, cementing the narrative of an ‘epidemic’ of Asian grooming gangs.
The report has, however, faced fierce criticism from academic researchers. Ella Cockbain, a lecturer in security and crime science, is an expert on child sexual exploitation. She said it ‘is a case study in bad science: riddled with errors, inconsistencies, a glaring lack of transparency, sweeping claims and gross generalisations unfounded its own ‘data’’.
The latest controversy began not with an academic but with a celebrity. Lily Allen tweeted that the report had been ‘outed as being utterly useless’. Cockbain backed her up, calling it ‘utter rubbish’. Nawaz denounced both as ‘Disgusting #RegressiveLeft neo-colonial hypocrites’. And so it went on.
Beyond the inflammatory rhetoric, what are the facts? Surprisingly few. Certainly, the media have highlighted many cases involving Asian men grooming girls, often white, for sexual exploitation. Media coverage is, however, a poor gauge of facts. Nazir Afzal is the Crown Prosecution Service’s former lead on child sexual abuse and the prosecutor most responsible for bringing down grooming gangs. The media, he observes, pounce on cases involving Asians, but often ignore those involving white perpetrators.
‘Grooming gang’ is not a legal category. Group-based child sexual exploitation (CSE) falls under a range of offences, from rape to conspiracy to incite prostitution. In only some cases, often when non-whites are involved, is ethnicity recorded. All this makes it difficult to ascertain the facts and behoves us to be cautious.
Using ‘extensive data mining methods’, Quilliam researchers found 58 cases between 2005 and 2017, leading to 264 convictions for ‘group-based CSE involving grooming tactics’. There is no information as to where the data comes from, how it was selected or how ethnicity identified.
Of the 264, 222 were Asian – hence the figure of 84% of grooming gang offenders being Asian. Just 18 were white. Critics have pointed out, however, that even a casual media search produces far more white perpetrators of group CSE who seem to have been ignored by Adil and Rafiq. And 58 cases over a period of 12 years seems exceptionally low. As the Quilliam report itself notes, a Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) study found 57 cases of Type 1 offending (in Quilliam’s eyes, the equivalent of grooming gangs) in 2012 alone. Rafiq told me he was unsure about the reasons for the disparity but that it may be a difference between grooming cases and court convictions.
Given all this, the figure of 84% of grooming gangs being Asian seems dubious. There have, however, been previous studies suggesting disproportionate Asian involvement. Two CEOP reports, in 2011 and 2013, noted that the data was so ‘incomplete’ and ‘inconsistent’ that one could not ‘draw national conclusions about ethnicity’. Nevertheless, data available suggested ’a disproportionate number of offenders… as Asian’.
In 2012, Cockbain called the CEOP figures ‘striking’. Today, she is more cautious. ‘It is enormously difficult to separate out group and lone offences from large-scale national datasets,’ she argues. Without a proper definition of what ‘distinguishes ‘grooming gang’ activity from other forms of child sexual abuse, it simply isn’t possible to measure the scale or characteristics of offenders’. Quilliam researchers disagree, but have produced no methodology to assuage the concerns.
Equally contentious is the question of why Asians may offend. The Quilliam report blames the ‘culture’ of Muslim communities. Those who deny this are being ‘politically correct’.
No one could accuse Afzal of political correctness. He has pushed through prosecutions of Asian offenders, often in the face of considerable resistance. The issue, he argues, is less about culture or religion than opportunity and circumstance. In many small towns, Asians control the night-time economy – working in takeaways or driving minicabs. Just as church schools or football clubs provided opportunities for certain types of men to commit sexual offences, so do such night economies.
The Quilliam report itself observes that ‘Asian CSE offenders represent 0.01% of the UK’s Asian population’. The attitudes of the perpetrators towards women undoubtedly shaped their actions. The social mores of many British Muslims are deeply conservative. Given the numbers involved, however, it is difficult to infer that the culture of particular communities is causally responsible for grooming gangs.
The cases of grooming gangs, the role of Asians, and of Muslims, and the failure of the authorities to take the issue seriously, raise important and complex questions. The manner in which the issue has been debated, however, has been abysmal.
There is an assumption of bad faith. Cockbain has implied that Quilliam’s argument is driven by a desire for funding. One of her detractors hinted darkly (and without providing any justification) that her motivation is ‘other than academic’.
There is guilt by association. The fact that the far right has made use of the Quilliam report is seen by some as tainting it. A Quilliam source suggested that Cockbain’s criticisms were damned by the fact that ‘jihadists gleefully egg her on’.
There is dismissal by label. ‘Vicious white #regressiveleft socialists will never accept PoC [people of colour] breaking away from their script. Their Orientalism stinks,’ Nawaz tweeted. When it suits, Quilliam researchers are happy to exploit their racial identity to deflect criticism.
There is nothing racist about asking whether Asians or Muslims may be disproportionately represented in any form of crime. That doesn’t mean that any investigation or claim should be uncritically accepted. There is equally nothing racist about white researchers calling out the work of non-whites as shoddy.
These are terrible crimes. There needs to be a proper public debate. The victims, indeed all of us, deserve better than this.
The images are from the BBC drama ‘Three Girls’, about the Rochdale abuse cases; and a picture from Sky News of those convicted in the Huddersfield ‘grooming gang’ case.
“Given all this, the figure of 84% of grooming gangs being Asian seems dubious. “
Given that all except a tiny handful of the members of the twenty-odd grooming gangs convicted since 2012 have been Asian i.e. of subcontinental ancestry it seems rational to assume that the Quilliam figure may even be an under-estimate.
Has there been a single prosecution of a grooming gang consisting entirely or even mostly of white males, that is, native Britons?
By ‘grooming gang’, what is meant here of course is the customary usage of the term to refer to ‘street’ grooming of underage girls for illegal sexual activity with large groups of adult males.
First, let’s ask Nazir Afzal shall we? In 2014 he observed that part of the problem is that the media often doesn’t cover the cases involving white perpetrators, pointing out that ‘A few weeks after the Rochdale case, we dealt with a case of 10 white men in North Yorkshire who had been abusing young girls, and they were all convicted and they got long sentences. It didn’t get the level of coverage’. This week he tweeted about Ella Cockbain, ‘I reject the attempts to slur @DrEllaC whose analysis I found persuasive Her credibility in the field of “grooming gangs” is second to none – and that’s coming from someone who prosecuted more of them than anybody else’
Afzal and Cockbain between them probably know more about child sexual exploitation and grooming gangs than the rest of us put together. Anyone willfully disregarding their experience and research and arguments can only be doing so because of a political agenda.
Second, the 2011 and 2013 CEOP reports looked into the issue of grooming gangs. The 2013 report used data from 31 of the 48 England and Wales police forces. On ethnicity, the reports warn that the data is ‘inconsistent’ and ‘incomplete’ and that figures are skewed because police, social workers, etc are on the look out for offenders that fit particular ethnic profiles and predominantly record those ethnicities. What data was available showed ‘a disproportionate number of offenders were reported as Asian’. Given the caveats, it is difficult to know how to interpret the figures, and CEOP itself would not draw national conclusions. The available data also showed that 21% of gangs were wholly white and another 17% were gangs of mixed ethnicity. Even with skewed figures, in other words, it is the case that a large number of grooming were white. Without the skewed figures the numbers would be larger still, though, of course, we cannot know what that number would be. The fact that you don’t know of any of these cases, and assume they do not exist, confirms Afzal’s point about the distorted manner of media reporting. That’s why media coverage is not a good basis for factual analysis.
Third, there are nevertheless many instances of white CSE or CSA gangs: here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.
Some of the links you’ve done there are about full on pedophile rings which committed offences against very young children and involved internet images of abuse. Which is a different kind of sub-category perhaps.
It might not be worth making any distinction, but I would bet that in the eyes of some of the Asian perpetrators who’ve been convicted, they’d think what they did wasn’t as bad as that, as the girls were older and seemed to be giving consent.
I heard a woman on the radio the other day, who said that twenty years ago in her part of Yorkshire, older men having sexual relationships with under aged girls was very common. She had been involved with white men in their mid twenties when she was only fourteen, and it was common amongst her female peers. My guess is that many of these Pakistani guys saw this “English culture” and thought they could do it too. And then took it to the extremes they did.
How are you distinguishing the “full on pedophile rings” from grooming gangs. If the perpetrators of the links kenan provided were S. Asian in appearance, do you think the grooming gang label wouldn’t be applied. What I have gathered from this whole fracas is the need for a distinct category within cse of grooming gangs so we can have accurate numbers as opposed to the cherry picked data provided by quilliam
Very good. But what to make of Maajid Nawaz and Quilliam then?
I hear him on LBC radio quite a lot and I’m not a great fan. But that’s mostly because he comes across as having quite an ego. As for the substance of his claims on this issue, I’m not sure.
I do feel you just can’t trust the left at all these days and they will deny problems that do exist are at all serious.
If this was just the case that you couldn’t trust people who work in the night time econony, then the left would still deny that was a problem. Because every town in the U.K. has late night opening kebab shops and Asian and Muslim taxi drivers. And that accusation would cast aspersions on all of them.
On the other hand, the figures about rates of incarceration for Muslims in Britain shows that they are sent to prison in higher numbers than what is average. And that their crimes are often committed as groups of people who all look out for each other and know each other because they come from tight minority communities.
Without bringing “him” into this too much, it was a complaint of the younger Tommy Robinson, that in his home town of Luton, Muslim bullies were throwing their weight around in the places where they had numerical advantage. And that by sticking together more than the wider community did, they projected more power this way.
And I don’t see it too hard to understand why visible minority people stick together often, as it offers security and a sense of belonging in an often racist society.
It seems to me that a focus on Quilliam’s claims is a bit of a red herring here. The point is taken that there is no ‘umbrella’ offence under which perpetrators of street grooming can be neatly categorized, although a common underlying theme would be one of facilitating child prostitution.
I’m not sure there is much value either in attempting an exact evaluation of the numbers of perpetrators who are ‘Asian’, or Muslim or whatever. The empirical data on convictions (easily found online) indicates that a very high proportion are either or both.
What is striking though when viewing the figures through the lens of ethnicity is how small a propensity the native population (aka ‘white British’) show for this particular type of criminal activity. It’s not as though child prostitution is unknown in British society historically, but it something that has not been culturally acceptable since at least the 1880s when the age of consent was raised from 13 to 16.
A more meaningful distinction to make, in my view, rather than between ‘Asians’ and others would be between native Britons and persons of what the Germans call ‘migration background’. If we examine the ethnicity of perpetrators of grooming offences along those lines, we find that of the 355 convictions secured up to and including the most recent Rotherham trial (October 2018) a total of 14 were white Britons. Interestingly this includes four cases of middle-aged English women who were jailed for procuring on behalf of Asian gangs of Pakistani heritage.
So, what we can say is over 96% of perpetrators convicted for grooming offences (so far) have not been white British.
Ain’t diversity great?
I’m always amused by the confidence of those who image that the data about these issues are so easily come by. I assume that Nazir Afzal and Ella Cockbain and all the other researchers who have spent years delving into this issue are simply too thick to recognize that they have been wasting their time trying to work out the figures from national datasets, and really it is all ‘easily found online’. Or perhaps they understand that there are major problems with figures ‘easily found online’, just as there is with media coverage; that such figures are close to useless when trying to answer detailed, complex questions, and that questions of sampling, bias, missing data, definitions, boundaries, error rates, and so on, are all significant and cannot be wished away simply because it suits your political agenda to do so.
In 2015/16 (the last year for which I have data; I am sure there is more recent data but I don’t have them to hand) there were 6,200 prosecutions for child sexual exploitation; 67% of defendants were white, 4% were Asian (for 24% of defendants there was no information on their ethnicity). ‘But I’m talking about child prostitution, not child sex abuse’ you say. Since you’re an expert in the field, you would know that for many years now, prostitution cases involving children under 16 have been treated as child sex abuse. The phrase has, more recently, also been removed from legislation because it is seen as ‘victim blaming’. So, the data for child prostitution is bound up in the wider child abuse figures. If you want to find what the real data is, you will have to disaggregate those overall figures, and then work out how to identity ethnic categories. But if you simply want to pursue a political agenda, you will no doubt ‘easily find online’ all the figures you need.
Ain’t ignorance great?
I’m not alone in considering that grooming gang activity is a distinct and readily identifiable form of child sexual exploitation, something that is qualitatively different to other forms such as parental or carer abuse, pornography rings or sexual molestation. In the series of articles in the [i]Times[/i] that first brought the phenomenon to wider national attention in 2012, these gangs were described as ‘organised groups of men grooming, pimping and trafficking girls across the country’. In 2013, the Home Affairs Select Committee, in its report on ‘Localised Grooming’, referred to a ‘specific model of offending’ thereby clearly distinguishing grooming gang activity from other forms of CSE. It condemned localised grooming as a ‘vile crime’ and suggested that the evidence indicated ‘a model of Pakistani-heritage men targeting white girls’.
By 2011 the [i]Times[/i] had reported on twelve grooming trials with a total of 56 convictions. Using the same criteria to identify trials for the same ‘model’ of offence after 2011 gives a further fifty-nine proceedings and 299 additional convictions, for a grand total of 355 convicted perpetrators of of October 2018, as noted earlier. All of this is, as stated, easily found online by anyone who takes the trouble to look.
It’s completely understandable, of course, that MultiKultists and sundry other ‘progressives’ will seek to obfuscate and over-complicate the matter by attempting to subsume and camouflage grooming gang activity within the general rubric of CSE. Kenan Malik’s protestations that ‘Asians’ only account for 4% of prosecutions for CSE is a perfect case in point.
And the 2011 CEOP report observed that ‘It has proven impossible, however, to neatly segment localised grooming from other forms [such as ‘online grooming, trafficking of children into the UK, peer-on-peer abuse or other forms of sexual exploitation’] due to the complexities and overlap within the offending behaviour’. It added that ‘Data relating to child sexual exploitation is often partial and incomplete, concealed in secondary indicator data, or simply unrecorded’. The 2013 CEOP report pointed out that ‘Terms such as ‘grooming’, ‘street grooming’, ‘localised grooming’, ‘trafficking’ and ‘group associated child sexual exploitation’ are often used interchangeably’ and that the lack of proper definitions, boundaries etc has created ‘disparities between data sets collected from different sources’.
All of which reveals the need for proper methodology and definitions, and a great deal of caution in interpreting the data. That is why I asked questions about methodology, definitions, boundaries, sampling, bias, missing data, error rates, etc. Your response was to quote a few lines from the Times and one from a Home Affairs Select Committee and to suggest that to take issues of methodology seriously is to ‘obfuscate and over-complicate the matter’. Why is it that those who insist on the facts coming out are also so often the ones most resistant to discussing the actual facts, and who bat away any inconvenient facts with the claim that that’s to ‘obfuscate’? As I’ve already noted, you seem not to be interested in the facts, just any facts that can help promote your particular agenda.
A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since CEOP made its deliberations. Since then there have been dozens of trials and hundreds of convictions, not to mention the recent revelations that in Rotherham alone over 420 (!) suspected grooming gang members are still being sought by the authorities. Even the most fastidious of observers would have to acknowledge the pattern that has emerged and accept that at this point the insistence on ‘academic rigour’ and the purity of ‘data sets’ is trumped by straightforward common-sense and the empirical evidence which id directly in front of our noses.
Certainly as far as the general public are concerned there is little doubt that the phenomenon of grooming gangs is a very real one and represents a ‘model of offending’ that is distinct from other forms of child exploitation. They are also aware that it is a form of criminality in which members of the indigenous population are dramatically under-represented, a fact that the pusillanimity of the authorities has worked to obscure until fairly recently. The scale of the abuse, and its racial complexion, are now so overwhelmingly obvious that even the present Home Secretary has felt compelled to order an inquiry into the ‘cultural drivers’ involved.
At this stage we can only conclude that those who like your goodself remain in denial, despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary, remain so because they have a particular axe to grind. We might even term it a ‘political agenda’.
So, you happily quote from the 2013 House of Commons Select Committee report, but when I quote from a CEOP report from that same year (the report from which both the Select Commitee and the Quilliam report drew), your response is ‘A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since CEOP made its deliberations’. Consistency really is not your strongpoint, is it?
The argument that ‘ insistence on ‘academic rigour’ and the purity of ‘data sets’ is trumped by straightforward common-sense’ is simply another way of saying ‘I don’t care about the facts’ or rather ‘I only care about the facts so long as they back up my political argument’. You’re quite right, people who argue in that fashion do so ‘because they have a particular axe to grind. We might even term it a ‘political agenda’’.
Hi kenan, I found this on quilliam website: http://journal.quilliaminternational.com/2018/11/10/answers-to-questions-posed-by-kenan-malik-writing-for-the-observer/
Apparent responses to your questions for this observer peice, I take it by the framing of the article that you don’t necessarily buy the answers given. I found some of them to be quite sloppy myself for example using a tweet from an mp to justify the slippery and circular grooming gang label. Obviously we can’t know what quilliam’s motivations are but why do you think they are so willing to trumpet these claims with little scientific rigour. Majid Nawaz specifically has spoken quite assertively about the causal relationship between Islam and cse . Is it an expression of this new trend to over correct for perceived excess on the left. Is this anti political correctness gone mad?
Yes, I’ve seen that. I had talked to Haras Rafiq on the phone and emailed him some of the criticisms raised about the Quilliam report. And suddenly I discover that the questions and the answers had been published online. Very odd.
The answers are not helpful at all. For instance, to the question about where the data comes from, how it was selected, etc, the answer:
might be adequate for a journalistic account but not for a report that claims ‘academic’ rigour. The response to the question about ignoring white perpetrators is no answer at all. The claim that ‘that all victims who have come forward so far have been white’ is simply not true. As Ella Cockbain has pointed out, at least one of Qulliam’s case studies is one she has worked on, and it includes a number of non-white victims. And so on. I don’t know about motivation, nor would I want to speculate, but the data and analysis are inadequate.
In fact, and unfortunately, the figures for vulnerable girls and women abused by sexists and misogynists in the Pakistani / Muslim heritage community may be underestimated in another way.
Anyone familiar with some Muslim-heritage BAME communities in the north of England will know how insular and patriarchal some of the prevalent attitudes within them continue to be, with attitudes of male supremacy and male immunity rife and doing serious harm to women and children. This insularity is partly a defensive strategy adopted in response to racism and Islamophobia, but let’s not kid ourselves that the true extent of the abuse has yet been uncovered. In terms of Asian-heritage victims, it’s obvious that matters of family shame and “honour” can be a huge obstacle to advancing a progressive agenda within these communities.
Of course, the exploitation of these matters by fascist low-lifes like Tommy Robinson and (previously) Nick Griffin does nothing to help anyone except the fascist low-lifes themselves. The integration of BAME communities has been very badly managed by a succession of governments and the secularist / progressive agenda that I and many others are anxious to see advanced within these communities seems as embyronic as ever.
What is Islamophobia?
Only Islamophobes ask that question. If you’re seriously interested in learning more, I recommend the Runnymede Trust.
Kenan, there has been a lot of discussion of the statistics, the methods and definitions used to compile them and the Quilliam Foundation. I could write about that but I think the main problem with the statistics is that they are incomplete and inadequate because for years some police forces did not investigate complaints of rape properly and some prosecutors did not prosecute some rapists that they could have prosecuted. The recent convictions relating to rapes of girls from Huddersfield and Rotherham were for offences committed as long ago as 1998 and the offences were reported to the police many years before the rapists were prosecuted so I think any discussion of the statistics has to be prefaced with the assertion that for years some police forces and prosecutors did not treat some rapes as crimes.
I want to focus on a different aspect of your article. You wrote that “there needs to be a proper public debate” and stated that “the victims, indeed all of us, deserve better” than the debate you described in your article. However, one of the first prosecutions of an Asian grooming gang was of a gang in Rotherham who were convicted in 2010 and press reports about grooming gangs were published as long ago as 2003 so why hasn’t the “proper public debate” you said there needs to be taken place already?
Your article was published in The Observer which is published by Guardian News & Media Limited which is part of Guardian Media Group which is owned by the Scott Trust Limited. In January 2016 The Observer’s then Readers’ Editor Stephen Pritchard wrote an article for The Observer in which he stated that “certain subjects – race, immigration and Islam in particular – attract an unacceptable level of toxic commentary, believes Mary Hamilton, our executive editor, audience”, that “it had been decided that comments would not be opened on pieces on those three topics unless the moderators knew they had the capacity to support the conversation and that they believed a positive debate was possible” and that “it was an acknowledgement, however, that some conversations had become toxic at an international level – “a change in mainstream public opinion and language that we do not wish to see reflected or supported on the site””.
On the same day an article by Mary Hamilton about this new policy was also published and two months later Stephen Pritchard wrote about the subject again and defended the policy.
Last Sunday The Observer did publish your article about Asian grooming gangs and surprisingly it was opened for comments (albeit with premoderation) and you and The Observer deserve credit for that. However, you wrote in The Observer that there needs to be a proper public debate about Asian grooming gangs but I put it to you that one of the reasons why there hasn’t been such a debate is because Guardian News & Media Limited hasn’t wanted such a debate to take place and has tried to prevent such a debate taking place.
This policy was made official and public in 2016 but it has been The Guardian’s unofficial private policy to try to deter anyone writing for The Guardian to say anything anywhere which may cause people to question or criticise Islam or the actions of any Muslim. Guardian writers are free to write or say anything about the unproven allegations of sexual misconduct made against Brett Kavanaugh or Harvey Weinstein, the unproven allegations of everyday sexism collected by Laura Bates or the joke about female scientists made by Sir Tim Hunt but if yet another gang of Muslim men are found guilty of raping underage white girls under the noses of the authorities in a provincial town years or decades ago if you know what’s good for you then you don’t write or say a word about it because The Guardian has decided that the subject is haram and that comment is free but Islam is sacred.
So if, as you wrote, “the cases of grooming gangs, the role of Asians, and of Muslims, and the failure of the authorities to take the issue seriously, raise important and complex questions” and “the manner in which the issue has been debated, however, has been abysmal” why focus on a bad debate about the issue which has taken place between a few people on Twitter in recent weeks rather than the newspaper company which for years hasn’t wanted a debate about the issue?
I speak for myself, not for the Observer or the Guardian. Both have commentators of significantly different views and who often are critical of each other – Owen Jones and Nick Cohen are hardly of a mind, nor, say, Simon Jenkins and Aditya Chakrobortty. Much of what I write, on free speech or racism or the EU, runs against the grain of what is perceived to be the ‘Guardian line’ (every time I write an article, I get the response ‘But I’m surprised it’s in the Observer/Guardian’; the fact that it is might say as much about the perceptions as about the Observer/Guardian ). As for why there hasn’t been proper public debate, I doubt very much that the Guardian’s moderation policy is a primary reason.
I realise that you speak for yourself and not The Observer or The Guardian. I also realise that you are one of the commentators who runs against the grain of the Guardian line and part of that is because you write for The Observer which gives its writers more freedom than The Guardian. However, I don’t think that The Guardian’s moderation policy is a primary reason why there hasn’t been a proper public debate about grooming gangs. I think a primary reason is The Guardian’s editorial policy which is to deter its commentators from writing or saying anything which is questioning or critical of Islam or any Muslims or which readers may respond to in that way. The moderation policy introduced in 2016 was an attempt to extend this policy to readers and was introduced after The Guardian was treated with contempt below the line by its readers for its pathetic responses to the Rotherham grooming gang scandal and the mass sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve 2015 in Cologne and elsewhere in Germany.
The Rotherham grooming gang scandal was described by Angie Heal, who helped uncovered the grooming gangs in Rotherham in the early 2000s, as the “biggest child protection scandal in UK history”. We now know that there were similar grooming gangs in Aylesbury, Banbury, Bristol, Derby, Halifax, Huddersfield, Keighley, Newcastle, Oxford, Peterborough, Rochdale and Telford. After the convictions in Newcastle The Independent quoted Pat Ritchie (the chief executive of Newcastle City Council) as saying that “any area that says it does not have a problem is simply not looking for it” and quoted Steve Ashman (chief constable of Northumbria Police) as saying that “I think there’s every likelihood that this is happening in every town and city across the country” and the same report quoted Sammy Woodhouse (one of the victims of grooming gangs in Rotherham) as saying that “It’s an issue for every town and city, more people are being failed”.
Even if it isn’t happening in every town and city the abuse on an industrial scale over two decades that was happening under the noses of the authorities that has already been uncovered is a huge scandal. However, there has been nowhere near as much debate about the grooming gang scandal as there has been about the Grenfell fire or phone hacking or Boris Johnson’s comments about women in burkas looking like letter boxes and one of the places where the issue of grooming gangs has not been debated anywhere near as much as it should have been is in The Guardian. Every time another Muslim grooming gang is convicted of raping underage girls or another council or police force is found to have failed rape victims The Guardian and its commentators are almost always completely silent. Much the same can be said of The New Statesman, Prospect, UnHerd and other current affairs outlets but it is particularly shocking that the issue of grooming gangs is not viewed as important by The Guardian because it is supposedly a great supporter of feminism and is the employer of a large number of feminist commentators.
If you think that there hasn’t been a proper public debate about Asian grooming gangs and you are unhappy with the quality of the debate that is taking place you can criticise the Quilliam Foundation and Maajid Nawaz. However, I think the primary reason why there hasn’t been a proper public debate about Asian grooming gangs is because some people and organisations don’t want that debate to take place at all and they include Alan Rusbridger, Katharine Viner and The Guardian. If they decide that the issue should be taboo it becomes a taboo.
First, this notion that the Guardian is responsible for the lack of a proper debate (on any subject) says more about some people’s obsession with the Guardian than it does about the issue at hand. I have many criticisms of the Guardian, and often disagree with its editorial line, but the idea that its editorial policy is the ‘primary reason’ for the lack of a proper debate on grooming gangs is, frankly, one for the cuckoos. (The Guardian, it’s worth remembering, has a circulation of less than 150,000, compared to over a million for the Sun, the Mail and the Metro; even the FT now has a higher circulation.) Second, a decade ago it was true that there was little discussion of grooming gangs. It certainly isn’t true now (even in the Guardian – put ‘grooming gang’ in its search box, and you will find dozens of entries). Anyone who insists that there is no discussion today is, again, betraying their prejudices rather than any desire for the truth. Finally, a proper debate isn’t simply a matter of talking about the issue or of throwing any claim into the pot. It requires one both to have the facts and to put them in context, not jump to conclusions about what the problem is or how big it is. As I have already suggested in a previous thread, those who demand that the facts about grooming gangs be made public are often also the ones most resistant to actually accepting those facts when they doesn’t suit them.
When the Labour MP Ann Cryer was trying to raise the profile of the problem back in 2003, she naturally enough, as a progressive feminist, went to the Guardian and sought its help. She was disappointed by what followed:
I couldn’t get The Guardian interested. Its reporters seemed paralysed by political correctness. When I wasn’t being openly accused of racism and religious hate — my name was on the website Islamophobia Watch — I was painted as someone who didn’t understand Asian culture.
For once, I trust what I read in that highly unsavoury source. The Guardian didn’t give her any help or defend her against the unjust accusations levelled by her critics.
Julie Bindel is another progressive feminist who couldn’t get the Guardian’s help. She had to published her article “Gangs, Girls and Grooming: The Truth” at the highly unsavoury Standpoint (just look at some of the comments the article attracted to see why I call Standpoint “unsavoury”):
When I first wrote about the issue of Asian grooming gangs in 2007, my name was included on the website Islamophobia Watch: Documenting anti-Muslim Bigotry. So was that of Ann Cryer, the former Labour MP for Keighley in Yorkshire, who had been at the forefront of attempting to tackle the problem, after receiving requests for help from some of the parents of children caught up with the gangs in her constituency.
The Guardian and BBC should have been falling over themselves to offer Cryer and Bindel a platform. They didn’t. They collaborated with the cover-up.
We have to face the truth: for too long the Guardian, BBC and other progressive outlets effectively sided with patriarchy, misogyny and rape culture rather than with the victims of the aforementioned. And it’s highly significant that in Rotherham the strongly Zionist MP Dennis McShane did nothing for 15 years, while his replacement Sarah Champion has done a lot — and been abused for it. Much as I support Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott, I feel this is one issue where they are not taking the right action. Diane was right to criticize Sajid Javid for his race-baiting comments after the recent Huddersfield trial, but this should be an issue that Labour takes much more seriously. Apart from everything else, the inaction (and worse) of the progressive community is an excellent propaganda point for the fascists and Islamophobes.
I think you make some good points, but what on earth has Dennis McShane’s “strong Zionism” to do with his lack of action on grooming gangs? Most bizarre!
McShane’s “strong [and well-rewarded] Zionism” had the obvious effect of taking his attention off the people he was in parliament to serve: his working-class constituents in Yorkshire. Rich north Londoners did not need McShane’s help, but got a lot of it. For years on end. Some working-class girls in Rotherham definitely needed McShane’s help. And didn’t get it. Ever.
I have many criticisms of the Guardian, and often disagree with its editorial line, but the idea that its editorial policy is the ‘primary reason’ for the lack of a proper debate on grooming gangs is, frankly, one for the cuckoos. (The Guardian, it’s worth remembering, has a circulation of less than 150,000, compared to over a million for the Sun, the Mail and the Metro; even the FT now has a higher circulation.)
I think it’s a little disingenuous to compare raw circulation figures like that. The Sun has a far higher crculation than Nature or New Scientist. This doesn’t mean the Sun has more influence over the priorities and attitudes adopted by scientists. Clearly the Guardian has much more influence in social work departments, Labour council offices and progressive institutions in general than any of the other newspapers you name. The police too have come under increasing influence from the Guardian’s agenda in recent decades (witness transformed police attitudes to the LGBTQ community). If the problem of grooming gangs has not been given the attention it deserves, the Guardian has played a central role. Social workers take their cue from the Guardian, which has (quite rightly) insisted that racism is a serious problem in Britain and that BAME communities are unjustly targeted by the state. But social workers weren’t being simultaneously told with the same vigour and emphasis that:
1) BAME communities have internal imperfections of their own, e.g. in terms of issues around patriarchy, misogyny and homophobia.
2. Anti-racism and solidarity with BAME communities can never justify complicity in crimes carried out by individuals within BAME communities.
Like it or not, the Guardian shares the blame for the grotesque reversal of priorities whereby, for example, violent drug-dealers of BAME / Muslim heritage were treated as bigger potential victims than the pre-teen girls whom the drug-dealers were abusing. It’s all set out in the official reports into the abuse in Rotherham and Oxford. Police and social workers failed to act out of fear of seeming racist or being accused of racism. Responsibility for sponsoring those toxic attitudes can’t be laid at the door of the Sun, Mail, Metro or FT. This is from a Guardian article about the Oxford grooming gang:
Which newspaper do you think the social workers and police were most influenced by: the Sun or the Guardian?
“Karrar was brazen in his exploitation of Girl D and acted in the belief that the authorities would never challenge him – something that for years proved to be true. Isolated, terrified and dependant on the drugs she was being fed, she summoned up the courage to report Karrar to the police twice; once in May 2005 and again in 2007. Nothing happened. Social workers also knew and did not act. One told the court it was the “general consensus” of the staff in her care home that she was being groomed. In 2007, while Girl D was on a trip with a social worker, Karrar and his brother repeatedly called her mobile phone. When her social worker answered one of the calls, Karrar told him: “If you don’t get her I’ll fuck you up, I’ll fuck her up and I’ll fuck her mum up.””
When I read about incidents like this my first thought is “Where do public sector employers find people who think and behave like this and let rapists get away with it?”. My second thought is that they found them by placing job adverts in The Guardian which used to publish a Society section on Wednesdays which contained so many advertisements for public sector jobs that the section sometimes had over a hundred pages.
When I read about incidents like this my first thought is “Where do public sector employers find people who think and behave like this and let rapists get away with it?”. My second thought is that they found them by placing job adverts in The Guardian
Yes, unfortunately, you’re right. One can hope things have changed, but I suspect (indeed, I know) that in many ways they haven’t. And when the Blairite / Zionist Labour MP for Rotherham sought to exculpate himself for his shocking dereliction of duty, this is what he said:
If Mr MacShane was a “true Guardian reader” when he sided with patriarchy, misogyny and rape-culture, we must hope there are many more untrue Guardian-readers about nowadays.
@Cable Strada, First, it’s one thing to say that the Guardian’s editorial line or the argument pursued by some of its writers reflect the same attitudes that may exist in social work departments. It’s quite another to suggest that the Guardian is ‘the primary reason why there hasn’t been a proper public debate about Asian grooming gangs’ or that ‘If the problem of grooming gangs has not been given the attention it deserves, the Guardian has played a central role’. Sorry, the Guardian does not possess the magic powers you attribute to it, any more than the Sun does.
Second, I’m glad you’ve recognized that ‘BAME communities have internal imperfections of their own, e.g. in terms of issues around patriarchy, misogyny and homophobia’. Perhaps you will also now change your support for blasphemy laws, and for laws against the giving of offence? It’s precisely such laws and restrictions that the conservatives and reactionaries within minority communities use to try to silence progressive voices and to maintain and promote patriarchal, misogynistic and homophobic ideas.
Finally, your continual reference to Denis MacShane as a ‘Zionist’ (and as serving the interests of ‘rich North Londoners’), in an entirely irrelevant context (this is a debate about Asian grooming gangs, not about Israel), suggests that you are trying to tap into anti-Semitic tropes and conspiracy theories. I hope it’s not a case of your mask slipping.
@Kenan Malik: With respect to Macshane, I believe the point being made is that his interventions on behalf of the thousand-plus victims of Asian grooming gangs during his 18-year tenure as Labour MP for Rotherham were, on his own admission, minimal to non-existent.
On the other hand, over the same period, his unstinting efforts in combatting anti-Semitism and in furthering the interests of the state of Israel have earned him the accolade of being ‘one of the Jewish community’s greatest champions’.
As far as I’m aware the number of Jews in his parliamentary constituency is vanishingly small, certainly in comparison to the number of local victims of grooming gangs. If we include the victims’ families as well the discrepancy is even more apparent.
If I had a pound for every time someone has tried to smear me as an antisemite, I’d be almost rich enough to move to north London. Or to hire that well-known moralist Tony Blair as an after-dinner speaker. Or to keep that dedicated champion-of-the-proles Denis McShane in cigars and Napoleon brandy for a month.
It’s disappointing to see you adopt Blairite tactics and try to close down the debate.
@Cable Strada, First, it’s one thing to say that the Guardian’s editorial line or the argument pursued by some of its writers reflect the same attitudes that may exist in social work departments.
Are you seriously claiming that social work departments set the agenda for the Guardian, rather than vice versa? I’m gob-smacked. I’ve never seen a journalist claim to be a mere puppet of his readers before.
It’s quite another to suggest that the Guardian is ‘the primary reason why there hasn’t been a proper public debate about Asian grooming gangs’ or that ‘If the problem of grooming gangs has not been given the attention it deserves, the Guardian has played a central role’. Sorry, the Guardian does not possess the magic powers you attribute to it, any more than the Sun does.
When the Labour Ann Cryer MP went to the Guardian for help in 2003, she received no help. None. Zero. Zilch. If she had received the help that she should have received, do you think the Guardian could have made her information into a big story? And helped 1,000s of extra women and girls avoid being victims? I’m astonished that you are seeking to downplay the power and influence of the Guardian. It has huge power and influence among precisely those progressive agencies who failed in Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford, Newcastle and Huddersfield. To name but a few.
If the Guardian had publicized the story, the BBC would have followed suit. As it was, a male reporter at one of Murdoch’s papers was the one who broke the media wall-of-silence. A Murdoch paper, ffs! Not a good look for the Guardian or Observer, is it? And I think that explains your reluctance to admit the truth.
Second, I’m glad you’ve recognized that ‘BAME communities have internal imperfections of their own, e.g. in terms of issues around patriarchy, misogyny and homophobia’. Perhaps you will also now change your support for blasphemy laws, and for laws against the giving of offence?
Not at all. You still don’t appear to have grasped my argument. When Asia Bibi was appealing to the Pakistani Supreme Court for freedom, how do you think her lawyer would have reacted to an offer of support from Salman Rushdie and Charlie Hebdo? With absolute horror, of course. Can you understand why? You must be able to. If Charlie Hebdo runs an issue in support of Bibi next week, she will be in even more trouble than she already is. And I am sure that she is no supporter of CH or of Rushdie.
Btw, it’s interesting to compare the number of times you, as a self-proclaimed champion of free speech, have written about the poor and powerless Pakistani woman Asia Bibi as compared to the rich and powerful male westerner Salman Rushdie. You seem to be taken McShane as your role-model. Not a good look again.
Finally, your continual reference to Denis MacShane as a ‘Zionist’ (and as serving the interests of ‘rich North Londoners’), in an entirely irrelevant context (this is a debate about Asian grooming gangs, not about Israel), suggests that you are trying to tap into anti-Semitic tropes and conspiracy theories.
How can McShane’s Zionism be irrelevant when it clearly affected McShane’s priorities as an MP? He was working on behalf of rich north Londoners when he should have been working on behalf of his working-class constituents in Yorkshire. Do you deny this? McShane claims to be an anti-fascist. His complete failure to tackle the grooming problem in Rotherham has given a huge boost to the fascists. With a few more “enemies” like McShane, Nick Griffin would have become PM.
I hope it’s not a case of your mask slipping.
What mask? I’m a Marxist, a defender of the working class and a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn. You can’t be surprised that I have serious issues with Zionism and with the Blairite clique who seek close down debate with spurious accusations of “antisemitism”. I spotted McShane for a wrong un long ago and it came as absolutely no surprise that he’d let the working class in Rotherham down so badly.
And if I had a pound for every time someone has introduced the term ‘Zionist’ into a discussion not about Zionism or Israel in order to label an opponent, and then tried to play the innocent, I would definitely be rich enough to buy up the whole of north London.
Says the person who has been allowed to – and continues to – spout off at inordinate length on this blog. Why is it that those who are given complete freedom to argue their points as they wish are also so often the ones who cry ‘Oh, but you’re closing down the debate’ when they get criticised? As for what’s disappointing, it’s your attempt to play to anti-Semitic tropes and then pretend to be shocked when someone calls you out for it.
Obviously you were so gobsmacked that you didn’t bother to read what I wrote. ‘It’s one thing to say that the Guardian’s editorial line or the argument pursued by some of its writers reflect the same attitudes that may exist in social work departments’ does not mean ‘social work departments set the agenda for the Guardian’ but exactly what I wrote: that both may draw on similar attitudes.
I suppose for someone who imagines ‘Jeremy and Diane’ standing on top of a barricade leading a Leninist insurrection, conjuring up the great power and influence of the Guardian is not that great a fantasy.
And that’s your argument against free speech? That one must argue against free speech because the reactionaries in Pakistan are so brutally vicious? How do you think Asia Bibi’s lawyer would have reacted to an offer of support from a self-proclaimed Marxist? And would that have any relevance to the debate about the worth of Marxism?
Actually, you can ask Asia Bibi’s lawyer, Saif Ul Malook, himself. On Sunday he is a keynote speaker at this year’s International Conference on Sharia, Segregation and Secularism, organized by Maryam Namazie and One Law for All. And what do Namazie and One Law for All stand for? Oh, yes, free speech. They are as staunch a defender of Rushdie and Charlie Hebdo as they come.
They defend Rushdie and Charlie Hebdo for the same reason that Pakistani cartoonists, such as Sabir Nazar, do so. The same reason that Turkey’s three leading satirical magazines published ‘Je Suis Charlie’ covers. The same reason there were Charlie Hebdo vigils in Cairo and Beirut, where people added to ‘Je suis Charlie’, ‘Je suis Samir Kassir’ and ‘Je suis Gebran Tueni’ and ‘Je suis Riad Taha’ and ‘Je suis Kamel Mroue’, and the names of many others murdered in the attempt to curtail free speech and blasphemy. Unlike you, they all recognize the importance of free speech and of opposition to blasphemy to the struggle for freedom and equality.
And you know that how?
Asia Bibi has been persecuted, has spent almost a decade on death row, and is now in hiding as mobs hunt her down, because of blasphemy laws. You, not me, have defended such laws. Pakistani officials point to the conviction of an Austrian woman for blasphemy, which I condemned and you supported, as legitimizing their country’s opposition to blasphemy. Pakistani extremists have used the case to buttress their own extremism. Your support for blasphemy laws shreds any moral authority you may have to speak on a case such as Asia Bibi’s. I don’t know which is worse, your reactionary politics or your rank hypocrisy.
MacShane was doing many things when he might have been ‘working on behalf of his working-class constituents in Yorkshire’. But you just had to point out, completely irrelevantly, that he was a ‘Zionist’. I wonder why?
I, too, have ‘serious issues’ with Zionism. What I don’t do, though, is to label someone a ‘Zionist’ entirely out of context in a discussion that has nothing to do with Zionism or Israel. You, on the other hand, seem happy to play on anti-Semitic tropes and conspiracy theories.
It crossed my mind that white abusers, historically, have been able to get to positions of power, teachers, youth leaders, social workers, priests, charity worker, TV presenter, so the pattern is different. The race element is present of course, but is unstated because whites in positions of authority seems like the default, and the issue is presented not as white abusers preying on women, but as betrayal of trust. So perhaps Asian men are over represented in gangs targeting vulnerable girls in poor areas, but the common demographic for abusers overall is not race but gender.
Research such as that produced by the Quilliam Foundation needs to be thorough and verifiable and tested but the approach I would take when looking at the issue of grooming gangs would be to use the Five Ws: Who was involved?, What happened?, Where did it take place?, When did it take place? and Why did that happen? In my view the W that is most important to this issue is When.
If you look at the timeline of events in the grooming gang scandals in various places (Aylesbury, Banbury, Bristol, Derby, Halifax, Huddersfield, Keighley, Newcastle, Oxford, Peterborough, Rochdale, Rotherham, Telford) they are similar. The same things (the rapes, the failings by social services and police, the warnings from whistleblowers, the denials by the authorities, the cover-ups, the belated prosecutions, the official enquiries, the admissions of failings and the apologies) were happening in different places in the same time period. The time period in which the earlier part of the sequence of events was happening was the period of the New Labour government which claimed that it would be “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”.
From what I’ve read about the Rotherham scandal I believe that New Labour knew about the grooming gangs as long ago as 2001 because the Home Office was told about them by researchers who went to Rotherham to look into the causes of prostitution in the town. Ann Cryer raised the issue in 2002. The family of one of the victims of a Rotherham grooming gang who was abused between 1999 and 2003 wrote to the home secretary David Blunkett (who held the post from June 2001 to December 2004) at the time the offences were being committed and being ignored by the authorities. Nick Griffin spoke about the issue in 2004 and was prosecuted, although he was found not guilty of all charges after two trials in 2006. The family of one of the victims of a Huddersfield grooming gang who were convicted of offences committed between 2004 and 2011 wrote to the Prime Minister, although the court reports I have read did not say whether the Prime Minister at the time the letter was written was David Cameron, Gordon Brown or Tony Blair. Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman led a debate about grooming in Parliament in 2009. The later part of the sequence of events began in 2010 with the first prosecutions followed by enquiries, admissions and apologies but by then the grooming gangs had been committing mass rape with impunity for over a decade and some people who should have been trying to stop them knew what was happening.
The grooming gang scandal is the biggest scandal of New Labour’s time in government but I don’t think it has been debated as a political issue and I would class the mass rape of underage girls under the noses of the authorities as a political issue. It has been treated as a failure of social services departments or police forces or prosecutors but not debated as a failure of politicians and especially politicians in Westminster.
I think there are also questions to be asked about the roles of The Guardian (which supported New Labour) and the feminist movement (at the time feminists were given a platform by The Guardian and that platform has got even bigger) but New Labour’s role in this scandal needs to be discussed. Talking about the grooming gangs who have been committing rape on an industrial scale for the last two decades without mentioning New Labour is like talking about mass unemployment in the 1980’s without mentioning the Conservative Party.