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The Danger in Referring to 'Asian' Sex Gangs

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‎"Asian gangs, schoolgirls and a sinister taboo" read the Daily Mail headline in November 2010, ‎‎"Muslim gang jailed for kidnapping and raping two girls as part of their Eid celebrations" states ‎another of its salacious headlines in April this year, while the typically more demure Telegraph ran ‎with "Asian grooming gangs, the uncomfortable issue".

These headlines all refer to recent cases ‎involving sexually predatory gangs, the most recent of which, is the case of a group of men in Rochdale ‎found guilty of sexually abusing 47 vulnerable girls. The case has caused controversy as some ‎pundits claim the police failed to prosecute the men through fear they'd be branded racist. Former ‎MP Ann Cryer believes such fears meant that both the police and social services failed to act to ‎protect the girls and Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation urged the ‎police and the councils "not to be frightened to address this issue, there is a strong lesson that you ‎cannot ignore race or be over sensitive."‎

The case has thrust the issue of race back into the spotlight just as the MET is being investigated for ‎mounting complaints about racism and as increasingly strident voices claim political correctness is ‎impeding an assessment of the role race plays in such crimes. Columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown ‎suggests as much as she writes she's been "warned not to write" about such cases, for fear of ‎encouraging racism. "The rapists are all probably in one sense 'good' Muslims, praying and fasting ‎in the daytime, then prowling and preying at night", she lambasted, ignoring as one commentator ‎pointed out that "the defendants in question are at most nominally Muslim". Practising Muslims ‎certainly aren't supposed to rape children.‎

Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee Keith Vaz claims that the issue has nothing to do with ‎race or being Asian. He cautioned of the dangers in singling out the Asian community and has advised ‎caution in using race-related terminology. ‎

The focus on isolating race as an explanatory variable in cases of sex-grooming ignores all other ‎factors and essentialises the identity of the culprits - it ignores why Asian men are over-‎represented in socio-economically poorer areas where street-grooming occurs and why white girls ‎are over-represented among vulnerable groups in such areas.‎

What's more, plenty of sex-gangs are not Asian. Crime researchers Ella Cockbain and Helen Brayley ‎warned: "If on-street grooming continues to be reduced to the big Asian networks alone, a whole ‎host of other offenders will get overlooked."

The sex slave trade in this country is sadly alive and ‎well and is not primarily Asian driven, and paedophiles are not overwhelmingly of Asian ethnic ‎backgrounds, suggesting any abhorrent link some may seek to make between race and inherent ‎sexually predatory behaviour is not born out by the facts.

Such a link is also reminiscent of racist ‎terminology used to refer to black gangs in the 1980s, particularly Jack Straw's comment in January ‎last year relating to a separate case in Derby: "These young men are in a western society, in any ‎event, they act like any other young men, they're fizzing and popping with testosterone, they ‎want some outlet for that..." His comment both singled the men out as 'foreign' by referring to ‎them as "in a western society", rather than products of a society they were born and raised in, and ‎reduced their behaviour to physically urges, completely ignoring the dimension of power inherent ‎to rape, which is primarily a crime of violence, not sex. ‎

Some have referred to culturally specific terminology in order to claim that the view of some ‎women as worthless and thus open to abuse is restricted to certain communities. This ignores ‎power inequities based on gender manifest at every level of society and expressed through ‎different social and cultural idioms. Different terminology expresses a shared disdain for women, ‎inflected with culturally specific justifications: "sluts" "hoes" "gora" "skank" "cheap" "easy" - ‎sexism is not an 'Asian' issue, though it does of course affect Asians as it does everyone else - it is ‎sadly omnipresent, cross-culturally.‎

Those seeking to locate these crimes within some inherent Asian characteristic need to explain the ‎vast majority of law abiding Asian men, the diversity of Asian cultures, not culture and the fact the ‎Chief prosecutor who re-opened the case is himself an Asian Muslim, Nazir Afzal.‎

The treatment of this case is not about political correctness, it is about not stigmatising an entire ‎community based on a mis-identification of the explanatory variable in the crimes of this group of ‎men, who happen to be Asian.

Both the police and the judge appear to believe the race of the ‎victims and abusers was "coincidental", so the real question is why as a society, we are seeking to ‎attribute a racial dimension to it and what that says about our unspoken racist assumptions ‎concerning Asian men.

Academic Vron Ware recounts that the black male has been historically ‎constructed as the antithesis of white femininity, sexually predatory upon white innocence and ‎beauty - we'd be naive not to notice the same rhetoric being played out now with Asian/Muslim ‎males...‎

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