Tory minister Baroness Warsi waded into the debate about the Rochdale abuse case last week. She claimed that some Pakistani men saw white women as “fair game”.
Warsi argued that no one was prepared to “speak out” about this. But in reality there has been a deluge of Islamophobic commentary, denouncing Muslim “culture” as being the cause of the abuse of young women in Rochdale.
Right wing historian David Starkey went as far as to say that the nine men convicted of sexual exploitation of young women “were acting within their own cultural norms”.
He added, “Nobody ever explained to them that the history of women in Britain was once rather similar to that in Pakistan and it had changed.”
Starkey said that English history should be taught to ethnic minorities in schools so they would become “English men”.
This pretends that women’s oppression and sexual exploitation do not exist in “English culture”.
“This crime has been racialised,” Parveen Yaqub, who presents a local radio show in Rochdale, told Socialist Worker. “You would think this was an epidemic among Muslims. Now the far right and fascists are organising and that’s very dangerous.”
What young people targeted by abusers have in common is vulnerability—not race.
In Rochdale the men groomed young women by giving them gifts and paying them attention. Violence or force is rarely a feature at the start, or at all in some cases.
People who have suffered abuse may see relationships through the distorted prism of past experience.
Women are bombarded from a young age by a popular culture that measures women by their sexual attractiveness and availability.
Receiving sexual attention from men can therefore be seen as something positive. When the abuse started, several of the women in the Rochdale case did not at first see themselves as victims.
One young victim in a study of sexual exploitation in Northern Ireland explained, “They keep going back because they think that nobody else cares for them, that they’re the only people that’s there for them.”
All this is more complicated than the crude moral outrage expressed by politicians and media.
Their horror seems to be rooted in the fact that, in this case, the abusers were Asian and their victims white. Racist stereotypes of black men as sexual predators prevail.
This response will do nothing to protect vulnerable young people from exploitation and abuse.
Young people in care face many challenges
- There are around 89,000 looked after children in Britain
- In England some 54 percent are in care because of abuse or neglect
- Research by University College London found that only 4 percent of abusers were involved in an organised network—and 92 percent had no contact with other offenders prior to arrest
- Abuse is under-reported