THE BLOG

Sex Grooming: We Must Protect The Vulnerable

18/08/2017 14:44 BST | Updated 18/08/2017 14:44 BST
Susana Vera / Reuters

The Newcastle grooming case, involving the sexual abuse of more than 20 vulnerable women and girls, has appalled us all. It has clear similarities to grooming cases in Rotherham, Oxford and Rochdale, involving gangs of British Asian men abusing white girls. The perpetrators in Newcastle are from a wider range of backgrounds but we cannot hide from the fact that the perpetrators of these appalling crimes were mostly Muslims. So that means we need to raise this issue and have this conversation within the Muslim community. Everyone in Britain has a responsibility to uphold the law and protect the most vulnerable, and that means British Muslims do too.

That's why I and other Imams, throughout the country, used last week's Friday prayers to, once again, address the gross acts of the offenders.

We need to condemn, unequivocally, the actions of these predators. They may call themselves Muslims but their actions are in opposition to Islam. My faith obliges me and all others to be active in preventing any unacceptable sexual behaviour and abuse of women. If it is cultural prejudices that have led these men to prey on white girls, seeing them as 'fair game', then this needs to be openly addressed.

This needs to be addressed in a way that does not result in "us versus them", Pakistani versus white. The key issue is protecting our young vulnerable girls. The Newcastle grooming case again raises some key questions: how can we better protect young vulnerable women, irrespective of their faith, colour and background and how can we dismantle the systematic models that the perpetrators have developed to exploit or abuse young vulnerable individuals? How can we bring about behavioural change in some men of our country?

There can be no excuse if anyone is aware of people exploiting children and young girls and not reporting the wrongdoers to the authorities. If we see something not right, like older men with young girls buying drinks and gifts, we should not be afraid to report it. It does not mean that people have to become spies and whistle-blowers, rather good neighbours in order to protect their own families and communities.

But that responsibility cannot be limited to a community. It is the duty of every community to do everything they can to prevent abuse of young people. We need to send out a loud and clear message that abuse and abusers will not be tolerated within any of our communities.

The focus on race and religion of the perverse criminals detracts from the real issue. Sexual abuse is not an 'Asian issue' or a 'Muslim issue' - when it comes to wider child abuse nearly 90% of those convicted and on the sex offenders register are white men. Therefore, headlines such as "British Pakistanis are raping white girls" are factually incorrect and demonise a whole community. We must not stigmatise whole communities because of the evil few that we have within them because this will only peddle hatred and division in our society and not deal with the real issue.

The coverage of the sex-offenders convictions, and how it has been painted in the media as predominantly an issue of one race or religion detracts from the key issue that the offences are male-led sexual exploitation of vulnerable women.

As a country, we have to ask ourselves how come these men believe that sexual and physical abuse against young girls, passing them around between each other is normal. Attitudes to women and to sex and relationships need to be addressed. We need to bring about behavioural change in our society to protect the vulnerable and challenge misogyny.

As far the Muslim or Pakistani community, we need to acknowledge that Pakistani men are disproportionately involved in grooming gangs and this particular model of abuse. Some of our elders sometimes prefer to blame women - or even evil spirits - rather than accept that these young men can be responsible for such grotesque behaviours. We must accept that these abuses could be happening in our own neighbourhoods and take necessary actions to stop them.

The solution must come from within - our faith and our family traditions provide us with critical tools to eradicate sexual exploitation. We all know that their criminal acts are alien to the religion of Islam and against the cultures of the perpetrators so it's high time we started speaking out against the offenders because they are not acting like "our own". As the Qur'an says: "stand for justice even if it be against yourselves, your parents, your close relatives ... "

It is the duty of everyone to do all they can to prevent abuse. We should be united against sexual exploitation and Muslims, and the Pakistani community must be part of the solution.