There are few more awful crimes than the sexual abuse of children. There are certainly fewer crimes that incite so much anger and hatred within our communities. Sexual assaults on young girls have been in the news recently with the unfolding Jimmy Savile scandal, the arrests of several high-profile TV stars and the reports into abuse at a North Wales children's home and Manchester music school.
On Thursday, the jury at an Old Bailey trial retired to consider a verdict against nine men from Oxford accused of grooming and sexually exploiting young girls over an eight-year period. This is just the latest in a series of high-profile cases involving British Muslim men, which have then been seized upon and exploited by the Far Right and more general anti-Muslim adherents. In fact, there is little else they are campaigning on at the moment. But if we are to prevent the likes of the British National Party (BNP), English Defence League (EDL), National Front (NF) and their hate-fuelled friends benefiting from these cases, we need to prove to the public that we are concerned about these stories of grooming by both gangs and individuals, and, more importantly, are going to do something about it.
And that's why HOPE not hate is delighted to be involved in the setting up of the 'Community Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation' (CAASE). We are seeking to develop a cross-community initiative that can deal head on with the issue of 'on-street grooming by gangs'.
Our aims are simple. We want to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation, via education and campaigning across all communities. We want to encourage reporting and promote services to help vulnerable young people. We want to produce training kits and background fact-sheets for faith and community leaders, so they can speak out with knowledge and confidence.
Furthermore, we intend to produce myth-busting materials to counter extremist groups who are tempted to exploit these terrible crimes for their own destructive purposes, in order to divide communities and stir up hatred. And we want to create a space for dialogue and open discussion between - and within - communities, to help break down misconceptions, address issues of real concern and develop more effective cross-community responses.
Fundamentally, we want to help create a 'zero tolerance' attitude to child sexual exploitation and develop young leaders to take the campaign into their communities.
Paedophilia and sex abuse reach across all communities. These sickening actions involve men from all ethnic backgrounds - so it is vital we take 'race' out of the equation. However, we must also be willing to confront the issue wherever we find it. Staying silent and ignoring the problem is simply not an option.
There are many great initiatives going on already. Police, local authorities and child protection agencies are working hard. But there is more that can be done. We believe that community and faith organisations are often best-placed to reach out to local people and prevent their communities being divided: that is why CAASE is a long overdue initiative and one that we hope will make a real difference.
Led by the Islamic Society of Britain (ISB), and HOPE not hate (HNH), CAASE is being supported by faith and civic leaders including the Muslim Council of Britain, Muslim Youth Helpline, Muslim Community Helpline, Federation of Muslim Organisations, the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB), Faith Associates, the Christian Muslim Forum, City Sikhs Network, and the Church of England, plus women's rights networks including Inspire, the Henna Foundation, and Making Herstory.
Professional guidance is being provided by Victim Support, plus STREET, which works with at-risk young people, and NAPAC (the National Association for People Abused in Childhood) which specialises in support for abuse survivors.
Community Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation - CAASE - is a cross-community response to the issue of 'on-street grooming by gangs'. It launches today, 10 May, in Bradford