26/10/2018 14:37 BST | Updated 26/10/2018 14:37 BST

Islam Does Not Justify Sexual Exploitation - We Must Challenge These Harmful Misconceptions

Too often, worthy campaigns to get justice for victims are shadowed by an unsavoury subtext of Islamophobia

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Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is abhorrent, disgusting and appalling. It is wrong on every conceivable level. There can be no justification or mitigation for it. Nonetheless, we shouldn’t allow it to be turned into a whipping rod to attack the generalised perceptions about its perpetrators.

In a media world dominated by the threat of apparent #FakeNews and so-called disinformation, there’s an opportunity, should we allow it, for campaign messages to be manipulated and distorted by those with an agenda. The most obvious examples are the allegations of interfering in the US presidential elections and in the EU Referendum in 2016. But it’s happening too, at a grassroots level.

In Middlesbrough, the town where I live, there was recently a protest by a group ostensibly seeking to speak up for victims of rape, sexual assault and grooming. On the face of it, these are laudable objectives. Who doesn’t want justice for those who have suffered such dreadful abuse?

The vast majority of the organisation’s rhetoric stands up to scrutiny; seeking justice and compensation for victims. But this is shadowed by an unsavoury subtext of Islamophobia, with claims about Sharia Law and grooming gangs having religious justification for their actions. I don’t blame the organisation for making these claims, because they are based on all too common misconceptions about Islamic teaching, which painfully, are shared by some followers of the faith too. The fact is, that these are mistruths, and they need to be debunked.

In such horrifying child grooming events as those in Rochdale, the victims of CSE are shown to be vulnerable white girls and the perpetrators British Asians. This has led to the belief that these crimes are racially motivated.

But in fact, the Qur’an says: “And come not near to unlawful sexual intercourse. Verily, it is a Fahisha (great sin), and an evil way.” [Qur’an 17:32].

Although estimates vary, it is likely that thousands of children each year are sexually abused by gangs in England. The Office of Children’s Commissioner study found that there were 2409 victims in the 14 months to October 2011. But the true number is likely to be far greater, owing in part to the cultural norms surrounding family honour within the British Asian community. The statistics, those that we have, do not hold up to the view that CSE is done by the British Asian community to white children. A report by the NSPCC in 2016 showed that, where ethnicity was recorded, the majority of offenders were themselves white, along with 61% of victims.

By no means is this a defence of the British Asian perpetrators of CSE but rather an inquiry into the truth behind the preconceptions which lead to the, perhaps, misdirected campaigns of some organisations. When religion is recorded in a serious crime, there can sometimes be a link made which marries the incident and the faith together, as in the abuse scandals which have racked the Roman Catholic establishment in recent years. In reality, such incidents have far more to do with the abuse of power than the misinterpretation of religious text. Within the British Asian community, it’s vital that we begin to break down the cultural norms of family honour and reputation, to deprive predators of their hiding places and afford victims the capacity to speak out for justice and protection.