Political correctness must not get in the way of tackling child sex abuse, Amber Rudd has said amid calls to review racially-motivated crimes.
The Home Secretary was speaking after the convictions of 17 men and one woman over the sexual abuse of under-age girls in Newcastle.
Rudd labelled the case “an abhorrent case of sexual predators preying on young women and girls”.
Much like the Rotherham and Oxford grooming scandals, victims were conned into thinking they were in a relationship with their abuser.
They would then be passed round a group of abusers to be used for sex, sometimes with the encouragement of the class B drug M-Kat or cannabis.
Rudd described the exploitation of young girls as a “sickening crime”.
“Those responsible are not restricted to any single ethnic group, religion or community,” she said.
“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.”
Northumbria Police launched a major investigation into the abuse of women in Newcastle after receiving information from social workers and initially spoke to 108 potential victims.
Over the course of four trials, 20 young women gave evidence covering a period from 2011 to 2014.
Those prosecuted were from the Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish communities and mainly British-born, with most living in the West End of Newcastle.
Concerns have been raised the ethnicity of the perpetrators may have meant the actions of the gangs were not uncovered sooner.
Former justice and defence minister Mike Penning, a Conservative MP, said he had written to the Attorney General to find out whether the incident should be treated as a “race-hate crime”.
Mohammaed Shafiq, who is head of the UK’s Ramadhan Foundation, told Sky News that many of the men involved in these kinds of cases view white girls as “worthless”.
“There is a minority of criminals involved in sexual abuse of children in on-street gang grooming who view white girls as worthless,” he said.
“They think they can be used in this abhorrent sort of way where they can be seen as trash.”
While acknowledging that grooming goes on in every community, Shafiq said there is a “process of education” that must begin.
Sarah Champion, whose Rotherham constituency was rocked by similar crimes, said people were not raising potential cases of child abuse as they feared being labelled racist.
Meanwhile, Maggie Oliver, lead detective in the Rochdale case, said there was an “epidemic” of this kind of abuse because authorities had chosen to turn a blind eye to it due to the ethnicity of perpetrators and victims.
Labour MP for Newcastle Central Chi Onwurah said she was “ashamed” that her home city had harboured abusers.
She said: “I want to make it absolutely clear that there is no excuse, neither ignorance, culture, prejudice nor lack of education which can possibly justify or excuse the abuse of young women.”
The MP said authorities worked together to deal with the problem and did not ignore the offending when it came to light.
Onwurah said those who sought to use the abusers’ Asian or Muslim backgrounds to create division were putting other girls at risk.
She said: “Assuming that grooming and child abuse is prevalent in one group helps potential abusers hide in plain sight if they are not part of that group.
“Crimes of sexual exploitation can be and are committed by members of all communities and indeed it remains regrettably true that sexual abuse is most likely to come from within the family circle.”