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Debunking the grooming gang debunkers

The focus on this issue is right and proper

Artillery Row

“‘Inaccurate’ grooming gang claims putting children at risk” read the Guardian headline, as it reported a new open letter. Hosted by the University of Bedfordshire and signed (so far) by 60 organisations or researchers, it warned the Prime Minister and Home Secretary against making “partial, inaccurate or divisive claims about child sexual abuse”.

What the letter is really worried about is the government’s focus on “group based child sexual exploitation in the community” — commonly known as “grooming gangs”. In the aftermath of the GB News film “Grooming Gangs: Britain’s Shame, Home Secretary Suella Braverman announced new measures, including a new Grooming Gangs Taskforce, which was one of the policies the documentary called for.

The documentary recounted the story of the grooming gangs scandal and showed that the issue was still going on. What really upset people, however, was the focus by Braverman on ethnicity: in places like Rotherham, Rochdale and Telford, the “overwhelming majority” of the perpetrators were British Pakistani, whilst their victims were white. As the title of an article by Braverman stated however, “the truth can’t be racist.

These numbers demonstrate rape on an industrial scale

The open letter argues that singling out any one “type” of abuse as being especially heinous and worthy of attention is “ineffective and unethical”. In particular it says focusing on the identity of those in grooming gangs runs contrary to the evidence, citing the 2020 Home Office report into the issue. It risks overlooking other groups of victims, claims the letter, and it draws attention away from other potential perpetrators. All of this ignores the reality of the grooming gangs scandal.

Whilst all forms of child abuse are heinous, the grooming gangs stand out for their scale. We know that in Rotherham over 1,500 girls were abused, whilst in Telford at least 1,000 girls were abused. Most other locations where grooming gangs have been convicted have yet to complete full inquiries; as such the total number of victims of the gangs is unknown. Even so these are huge numbers, demonstrating rape on an industrial scale, which has no other comparison in 21st century Britain.

Furthermore, there is a communal element. Although British Pakistanis were a small minority in both Rotherham and Telford, inquiries in those towns found the majority of abusers were drawn from that community, whilst most of their victims were white. Although it is true that they could also abuse people within their own community — Shabir Ahmed, ringleader of the Rochdale grooming gang, also abused a British Pakistani girl — the vast majority of their victims were white. Reports from those victims make it clear that they were often targeted for their race, as well as being subjected to racial abuse.

This is, however, a rare case where The Guardian and academics are uninterested in racism. It’s obviously not true that they themselves think that focusing on one particular type of crime is wrong. After all, hate crimes against Muslims account for a mere 3,459 of the total 155,841 hate crimes in 2021-22. Yet academics and The Guardian are quite happy to focus on a subject like Islamophobia. I’ve yet to see an open letter suggesting that this is wrong, or that it might lead to Buddhist victims of hate crime being overlooked.

Meanwhile, the claim that the 2020 Home Office report showed no link between the type of perpetrator and victims is flatly wrong. As Dan Hodges revealed, civil servants tried their hardest to avoid even releasing the report. When they finally did so, the report was so heavily flawed that then Home Secretary Priti Patel should have refused to publish it, as the report has since been used to argue that the matter is settled, even though it admits there are huge gaps in the data it uses.

Rather than conduct original research using Home Office resources, the report relies on a summary of five academic papers. These generally show that whites make up the largest group but also show that ethnic minorities, especially Asians, are heavily over-represented. That would confirm the original claim made by Andrew Norfolk in The Times, when he first broke the story of the grooming gangs: that the majority of abusers in Britain were white, but that there was an over-representation of British Pakistanis, especially in this type of crime.

Many are embarrassed that ethnic minorities can be racist to whites, too

It’s also obviously absurd to say that focusing on this crime could lead to other victims being overlooked, when one of the main reasons why the grooming gangs scandal was so scandalous was that it was overlooked, deliberately, for decades. When Anne Cryer MP first raised the subject in 2003, she was called a racist and had to install a panic button at home. In 2004 Edge of the City, a Channel 4 documentary about social workers in Bradford, which also covered what we now know as grooming gangs, was dropped from schedules after a lobbying campaign by anti-racist groups.

In both Rotherham and Rochdale, it was only the bravery of whistleblowers Jayne Senior and Maggie Oliver that led to the scandals there reaching the news at all. Inquiries showed that senior figures in the council and police either failed to do anything or did their best to keep it from the public — in many cases, over fears that they might look racist for tackling it. As the GB News documentary showed, that extended to a break-in of the offices of a Rotherham youth project, which had been working with a Home Office researcher on exposing the issue.

As for the worry that it might lead to an over-focus on one type of perpetrator, the way the media responded to the grooming gang scandal shows that this is unlikely. Despite being the worst child sex abuse scandal in 21st century Britain, there has been only one drama, released in 2017. In the northern soap opera Coronation Street, the only two grooming plotlines have involved a white man trying to pimp his younger white girlfriend and a white boy being recruited by a group of far right extremists. When the authorities made an educational film in 2008 about a white girl being groomed by her Asian boyfriend, it was never distributed widely.

If people have focused on grooming gangs, that’s often because without that the authorities would have continued to ignore the issue. If people have focused on ethnicity, that’s both because it is true, because the racial element was a significant reason why the truth was hidden for so long, and because it’s relevant to why the crimes were perpetrated. If anything, it is the victims of grooming gangs who have been overlooked whilst the identity of abusers hasn’t been focused on enough. There’s no need to drag race or religion in: Pakistan has high rates of child abuse, and some British Pakistani immigrants have retained elements of the culture that leads to that abuse.

The Guardian and so many academics only seem to be concerned about focusing too much on racism in this one case, which suggests that their hostility isn’t rooted in concern about the facts so much as it is in embarrassment about the reality that ethnic minorities can be racist to whites, too. By trying to shut down discussion of the subject, they risk repeating the same shameful behaviour that led to the grooming gangs being hushed up for years. The result of that was hundreds if not thousands more raped girls. As the GB News documentary and the Home Secretary have shown, the truth is uncomfortable — but it isn’t racist.

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