The publication of a report into child sexual abuse in Rotherham is harrowing reading, both in the scale of the horrendous abuse and the appalling errors and cover-up by senior staff, local politicians and the police.
Even more depressing is the fact that none of this comes as a complete surprise. Similar failings were highlighted in previous reports, such as Rochdale, and we will undoubtedly see more reports like these in the future. Young people have been let down by the system for far too long.
What the perpetrators did was truly awful and the subsequent errors and cover-up by those in the council and police are inexcusable and criminal. More of those who were involved must be brought to justice and those in authority held accountable, starting with South Yorkshire's police and crime commissioner, Shaun Wright, who should resign after failing to act on three reports on the widespread nature of the abuse during his time as Cabinet Minister responsible for Children and Young People's services on Rotherham council.
The report details a combination of factors behind the failure of Rotherham Council to understand the scale of the problem, including disbelieving both the victims and the social workers who raised the issue, concern over being considered racist for highlighting the problem and a mood of denial amongst prominent Muslim councillors about the scale of the problem within the local Muslim communities.
Sadly, these are all problems we have heard before.
HOPE Not Hate was vocal in its criticism of how local authorities were dealing with on-street grooming from as far back as 2005, when we joined forces with Angela Sinfield, a mother of one girl who had been abused, and the then Keighley MP Ann Cryer. We stressed the need to push aside any racial or religious sensitivities when child protection is at stake and we supported changes to the law, which were being championed by Ann. More recently, last year, we came together with a number of other organisations and individuals to call for greater awareness about the threat of on-street grooming by gangs and encouraging communities to stop perpetrators.
As with have seen with the Jimmy Savile affair and with the long history of abuse within the Catholic Church, young people are sexually abused by people of all colours and religions, but let us not pretend that there is not a specific problem with some men within the British Pakistani/Kashmiri communities around on-street grooming by gangs. Rotherham is sadly just the latest in a long, and growing, list of British towns and cities which has experienced grooming by Pakistani/Kashmiri gangs. So, if it is right to call on public institutions like the BBC and the NHS to review procedures and the Catholic Church to address abuse by its clergy, we should not shy away from dealing with the problem within specific communities.
Back in 2012 I wrote a piece entitled: Grooming - an issue we cannot ignore, which explored the problem and highlighted the background of a growing number of the perpetrators. Unsurprisingly, I came under attack from certain quarters but, if anything, I underestimated the scale of the problem.
"Unfortunately, too many people have remained silent for too long," I wrote at the time. "Police and local authorities have been slow to protect these young girls. Leading figures in local Muslim communities have often been too slow in speaking out on this issue, and in some cases simply dismissed it as Far Right propaganda. They have been joined in this by some on the left, who have been too quick to silence any discussion.
"While the perpetrators of on-street grooming obviously have a low opinion of the white girls they abuse, they have a similarly poor opinion of all females. Grooming has more to do with misogyny rather than specifically religion/race."
The article also quoted Sara Khan, from the women's human rights group, Inspire. "As a Bradford-born and raised Muslim woman from the Kashmiri/Mirpuri community, I understand the cultural complexities. Let's be clear: it's not just white women that are viewed as inferior - many from these Pakistani rural villages believe all women are second class citizens. The culture of conservative Kashmiri/Mirpuri community has at its root a deep-seated misogyny with the aim of controlling every aspect of a woman's life and reducing her into subservience."
I attacked the BNP and EDL for having us believe that grooming was a consequence of Islam as a religion as the facts simply do not back this up. The vast majority of perpetrators are from one specific community, rather than spread across all Muslim communities, so it is here we have to address the problem.
Misogyny and sexual abuse cuts across all communities but this fact should not allow us to turn a blind eye to a particular manifestation of this problem. The Rotherham report highlights the need for the police to investigate child sexual abuse vigorously wherever it appears and more work needs to be done within the British Pakistani/Kashmiri communities to raise awareness of the issue, challenge behaviour and report and prosecute perpetrators.
We are all angry, but we cannot allow this to become an opportunity for racists to whip up anti-Muslim hatred, but at the same time neither can we allow a fear of a backlash to silence us from speaking out and, more importantly, addressing the problem. Anything less will be betraying the young people who are being targeted.
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