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Myriam Francois-Cerrah Headshot

Why Blaming 'Asian Sex Gangs' Is the Real Disservice to the Victims

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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.‎