Yesterday's interim report on Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) has reignited debate over 'asian sex gangs' and whether the PC brigade are impeding the police from identifying the variable of race as relevant. In a debate with Tory MP David Davis on BBC Radio 2 yesterday, he put to me that we all apparently 'know deep down' that girls are targeted due to inherent misogyny in the Asian - and specifically Muslim - community. In defence of his argument, he referred (erroneously) to the Quran. Because of course, 'Muslim' paedophiles like to consult their Holy book before they ply children with alcohol and abuse them.
The latest report is a vital contribution to our understanding of child sexual exploitation, but it focuses only one particular type, namely that involving gangs or groups. Although Asian men are overrepresented in this particular category, 95% of the UK's sex offenders are white males. An interesting question the report does raise is why Asian men favour this gang or group set up. It could be that in certain gang dominated areas, typically impoverished areas where BMEs are overrepresented, CSE is an extension of broader criminal activity. A paucity of details about perpetrators means we can only speculate, but what the report makes clear is, "there is more than one type of perpetrator, model and approach to child sexual exploitation by gangs and groups."
The report also belies the suggestion that such groups target 'white girls', playing on age old fears of black sexuality preying on white innocence: "the characteristics common to all victims are not their age, ethnicity, disability or sexual orientation, rather their powerlessness and vulnerability." Indeed the report showed victims come from a range of backgrounds, ethnicities and genders, with 28% of victims from black and ethnic minority backgrounds.
In a Daily Mail article yesterday, Yasmin Alibhai Brown argued that "some Asian cultural assumptions make the paedophiles feel no guilt or shame about what they do," raising questions about a culture which could condone such abuse. The report itself states: "There is no doubt that girls and young women are targeted due to the way some men and boys perceive women and girls."
There is no denying the existence of misogynistic attitudes among some Asian men. In the Muslim community, I'm the first to denounce their existence. Each subculture has its own variant to express disdain for women - sluts or skanks, hoes and bitches, gora or kuffar. Pick your idiom and I'll show you a lexicon referring to women deemed worthy of contempt. The problem is, misogyny is not exclusively 'Asian' .
What exactly is uniquely 'Asian' about these cases? Alibhai-Brown suggests the fact many of the men "cannot relate to women except as objects" is symptomatic, but various feminist groups, including OBJECT, regularly denounce the objectification of women in popular culture as leading to the dehumanisation of women.
What exactly is 'Asian' about men plying young girls with alcohol at 'parties' and then taking advantage of them? In Britain, alcohol is one of the most commonly cited factors in attempts to explain or excuse rape, alongside a woman's attire. According to the Fawcett society nearly a third of people (30%) say a woman was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was drunk and more than a quarter (26%) if she was wearing sexy or revealing clothing (AIUK 2005).
The report raises some worrying questions about the perception of women or girls whose lifestyle might not conform to mainstream views of 'propriety', a view which filters through to CPS professionals, who dismissed victims as 'promiscuous' and 'liking the glamour'. The report notes that some of the most common phrases used to describe a young person's behaviour by CPS professionals, were: 'prostituting herself', 'sexually available' and 'asking for it'. Why did these professionals perceive the girls in this way? A study by Warwick university argues that working class women are framed in the press as "oversexualized and with the 'wrong' kind of relation to men". When you consider the troubled background of most victims, including the fact that 34% are in the care system, this has serious implications.
This sexualising terminology and the suggestion by Alibhai- Brown that "many abusers are sexually frustrated," reflects a widely held misconception that rape is primarily about sexual gratification, when studies suggest power and control are central. The abuse described in the report, namely the fact that oral and anal rape were most widely reported, alongside physical violence, suggests a pattern of intentional humiliation and control. The misrepresentation of rape in the media has left even CPS professionals confused as to what constitutes rape.
The Leveson inquiry recently heard that misrepresentations of violence against women in the media impact on public perception of these crimes. Marai Larasi, head of the End Violence Against Women coalition affirmed that the media perpetuates a culture of blaming female victims, including through the "exoticising of violence through racism or anti-religious rhetoric".
Rather than viewing the men responsible as cultural aberrations whose views of women were drawn from the plains of Afghanistan, we would do well to ask to what extent they reflect pervasive representations of (certain 'types' of) women and in particular of working class girls.
Let's talk about culture - popular culture which has led to such confusion over the notion of consent, to images spewed out by the porn industry skewing the way young people think about sex. CPS professionals themselves have expressed concern that pornography is impacting children's understanding of what constitutes 'acceptable, required or expected' sexual behaviour.
The closest Alibhai-Brown came to an 'Asian' cultural explanation was the suggestion the men were buying the girls 'kebabs.' Why would we assume, as a society, that Asian men live in mental ghettos where their values and ideas are so radically different to those of the rest of society. It seems to fit neatly into the characterisation of Muslims and Asians as 'resistant' to integration, essentially 'different' to the rest of us and the classic orientalist depiction of the 'hypersexed Muslim'. It also lets our common culture off the hook, by avoiding a deeper examination of normalised sexist attitudes which prevail. Ultimately though, it is the victims who pay the price. Twice.