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Huff Post blog: Why Blaming ‘Asian Sex Gangs’ Is the Real Disservice to the Victims

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You can read this on my Huff Post blog, here

Yesterday’s interim report on Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) has reignited debate over ‘asian sex ‎gangs’ and whether the PC brigade are impeding the police from identifying the variable of race as ‎relevant. In a debate with Tory MP David Davis on BBC Radio 2 yesterday, he put to me ‎that we all apparently ‘know deep down’ that girls are targeted due to inherent misogyny in the ‎Asian – and specifically Muslim – community. In defence of his argument, he referred (erroneously) ‎to the Quran. Because of course, ‘Muslim’ paedophiles like to consult their Holy book before they ‎ply children with alcohol and abuse them.‎

The latest report is a vital contribution to our understanding of child sexual exploitation, but it ‎focuses only one particular type, namely that involving gangs or groups. ‎Although Asian men are overrepresented in this particular category, 95% of the UK’s sex offenders ‎are white males. An interesting question the report does raise is why Asian men favour this gang or ‎group set up. It could be that in certain gang dominated areas, typically impoverished areas where ‎BMEs are overrepresented, CSE is an extension of broader criminal activity. A paucity of details ‎about perpetrators means we can only speculate, but what the report makes clear is, “there is ‎more than one type of perpetrator, model and approach to child sexual exploitation by gangs and ‎groups.”‎

The report also belies the suggestion that such groups target ‘white girls’, playing on age old fears ‎of black sexuality preying on white innocence: “the characteristics common to all victims are not ‎their age, ethnicity, disability or sexual orientation, rather their powerlessness and vulnerability.” ‎Indeed the report showed victims come from a range of backgrounds, ethnicities and genders, ‎with 28% of victims from black and ethnic minority backgrounds. ‎

In a Daily Mail article yesterday, Yasmin Alibhai Brown argued that “some Asian cultural ‎assumptions make the paedophiles feel no guilt or shame about what they do,” raising questions ‎about a culture which could condone such abuse. The report itself states: “There is no doubt that ‎girls and young women are targeted due to the way some men and boys perceive women and ‎girls.”‎

There is no denying the existence of misogynistic attitudes among some Asian men. In the Muslim ‎community, I’m the first to denounce their existence. Each subculture has its own variant to ‎express disdain for women – sluts or skanks, hoes and bitches, gora or kuffar. Pick your idiom and ‎I’ll show you a lexicon referring to women deemed worthy of contempt. The problem is, misogyny ‎is not exclusively ‘Asian’ .‎

What exactly is uniquely ‘Asian’ about these cases? Alibhai-Brown suggests the fact many of the ‎men “cannot relate to women except as objects” is symptomatic, but various feminist groups, ‎including OBJECT, regularly denounce the objectification of women in popular culture as leading to ‎the dehumanisation of women.‎

What exactly is ‘Asian’ about men plying young girls with alcohol at ‘parties’ and then taking ‎advantage of them? In Britain, alcohol is one of the most commonly cited factors in attempts to ‎explain or excuse rape, alongside a woman’s attire. According to the Fawcett society nearly a third ‎of people (30%) say a woman was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was drunk ‎and more than a quarter (26%) if she was wearing sexy or revealing clothing (AIUK 2005).‎

The report raises some worrying questions about the perception of women or girls whose lifestyle ‎might not conform to mainstream views of ‘propriety’, a view which filters through to CPS ‎professionals, who dismissed victims as ‘promiscuous’ and ‘liking the glamour’. The report notes ‎that some of the most common phrases used to describe a young person’s behaviour by CPS ‎professionals, were: ‘prostituting herself’, ‘sexually available’ and ‘asking for it’. Why did these ‎professionals perceive the girls in this way? A study by Warwick university argues that working class ‎women are framed in the press as “oversexualized and with the ‘wrong’ kind of relation to men”. ‎When you consider the troubled background of most victims, including the fact that 34% are in the ‎care system, this has serious implications.‎

This sexualising terminology and the suggestion by Alibhai- Brown that “many abusers are sexually ‎frustrated,” reflects a widely held misconception that rape is primarily about sexual gratification, ‎when studies suggest power and control are central. The abuse described in the report, namely ‎the fact that oral and anal rape were most widely reported, alongside physical violence, suggests a ‎pattern of intentional humiliation and control. The misrepresentation of rape in the media has left ‎even CPS professionals confused as to what constitutes rape.‎

The Leveson inquiry recently heard that misrepresentations of violence against women in the ‎media impact on public perception of these crimes. Marai Larasi, head of the End Violence Against ‎Women coalition affirmed that the media perpetuates a culture of blaming female victims, ‎including through the “exoticising of violence through racism or anti-religious rhetoric”.

Rather than viewing the men responsible as cultural aberrations whose views of women were ‎drawn from the plains of Afghanistan, we would do well to ask to what extent they reflect ‎pervasive representations of (certain ‘types’ of) women and in particular of working class girls.‎

Let’s talk about culture – popular culture which has led to such confusion over the notion of ‎consent, to images spewed out by the porn industry skewing the way young people think about ‎sex. CPS professionals themselves have expressed concern that pornography is impacting ‎children’s understanding of what constitutes ‘acceptable, required or expected’ sexual behaviour.‎

The closest Alibhai-Brown came to an ‘Asian’ cultural explanation was the suggestion the men ‎were buying the girls ‘kebabs.’ Why would we assume, as a society, that Asian men live in mental ‎ghettos where their values and ideas are so radically different to those of the rest of society. It ‎seems to fit neatly into the characterisation of Muslims and Asians as ‘resistant’ to integration, ‎essentially ‘different’ to the rest of us and the classic orientalist depiction of the ‘hypersexed ‎Muslim’. It also lets our common culture off the hook, by avoiding a deeper examination of ‎normalised sexist attitudes which prevail. Ultimately though, it is the victims who pay the price. ‎Twice.‎

New Statesman: Was race a factor in Rochdale?

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My article in this week’s New Statesman (print and online) can be found here

Simon Danczuk, the town’s MP, and Myriam Francois-Cerrah discuss the relevance of race and religion to the grooming case.

On 9 May, nine men were jailed for their role in a child sex abuse ring in Rochdale, Greater Manchester. Eight were of Pakistani origin and one was from Afghanistan. Their victims – teenage girls from local care homes – were white. Far-right groups have tried to exploit the issue while debate rages over whether race or religion played a role in the crimes. Here, we present two perspectives on the case.

We can’t ignore it
Simon Danczuk, Labour MP for Rochdale

This month, Labour experienced some of its best ever local election results. Turnout, however, was worrying, falling as low as 13 per cent in parts of Greater Manchester. For me, one of the abiding memories in Rochdale was the exhilaration of new councillors as they won their seats; but I also recall walking up to a group of youths fixing a motorbike outside a house on a council estate in the Littleborough area on polling day. “Will you be voting?” I asked. They shifted uncomfortably, looked askance and mumbled, “No, but we would if the BNP were standing.”

A few weeks earlier I had sat facing a distraught mother in one of my weekly surgeries, watching her shake with fear and anger as she described how an Asian man had raped her daughter.

If politics is to mean more than bureaucratic white noise to people, it has to give a voice to the voiceless. When mothers tell me their daughters are being hounded by groups of Pakistani men, I will not leave it to the likes of the BNP to address their concerns.

Economic anxieties, high unemployment and uncertainty about the future blight the country, but in working-class Pennine seats like mine in the north-west of England, a host of other complicated issues follows in their slipstream.

I thought long and hard before telling the media this past week that race was indeed a factor in the grooming scandal that has brought shame on our town, and that a small Asian subculture has to be confronted. Anti-racist vigilance is the default position of many politicians like me who remember the deeply entrenched societal racism of the 1980s, but this should never blind us to uncomfortable truths in some sections of the Asian community – or any other, for that matter.

For a while now, I’ve had concerns about disturbing attitudes towards women shown by some of Rochdale’s Asian residents. It goes way beyond casual chauvinism to something far worse. In the two years I have been an MP, I’ve had to throw people out of my surgery because of their violent views on women.

I have been asked to write letters of support for rapists and, in one case, for a man who had attacked a woman with a hammer. Research by Professor Roger Penn of Lancaster University shows that a good proportion of young white women in Rochdale have been subjected to verbal abuse by young Asian men.

It sickens me that law-abiding Asians in our town might be stigmatised because of the actions of a minority of warped individuals. But I believe that neither the police and social services nor community leaders can afford to duck this issue any longer. If even Asian councillors were writing letters of support for people now found guilty of horrific sex crimes, it is clear we have a culture of denial.

Since I spoke to the media, other MPs have told me privately that they agree with what I said. Asian campaigners who have spoken out against predatory Pakistani men say that white people have thanked them for saying what they could not say themselves. This is a sorry state of affairs.

It is time we abandoned the shibboleths that leave the political classes isolated from the realities debated on buses, in pubs and on the factory floor. Compare this position to the inspiring bravery shown by the young girls who stood up to evil predators in a court in Liverpool. They were doubly let down, because their background led some within the police and social services to think it was a lifestyle choice that had driven them into the arms of abusers. Vulnerable people need help and support, so we must have the courage to face up to these problems.

As I write, I hear the English Defence League is planning another march in Rochdale. Such racist thugs will not be welcomed in our town and neither will the BNP. But we will not resist them simply by denial. We need to take this debate out into the open and make sure it is led by reasonable voices that want to build a strong and cohesive community – not by siren calls of hatred from those who want to divide it.

Race is a distraction
Myriam Francois-Cerrah

“We need to talk about race,” pleaded one guest on Question Time – and the Rochdale case has certainly thrust the issue back into the spotlight. Yet the focus across a wide range of media on race as an explanation for sex grooming misses why Asian men are over-represented in poorer areas where street grooming occurs and why white girls are over-represented among vulnerable groups in such areas. About 95 per cent of the men on Greater Manchester Police’s sex offenders register are white. Most sex gangs are not Asian. The criminologists Ella Cockbain and Helen Brayley warn: “If on-street grooming continues to be reduced to the big Asian networks alone, a whole host of other offenders will get overlooked.” Asians are not over-represented in the sex-slave trade or among paedophiles.

What’s more, to link sexually predatory behaviour with race is reminiscent of the racist terminology that was used to refer to black gangs in the 1980s. Take Jack Straw’s comment in January 2011 relating to a separate case in Derby: “These young men are in a western society – in any event, they act like any other young men, they’re fizzing and popping with testosterone, they want some outlet for that.” Straw both singled out the men as “foreign” and reduced their behaviour to physical urges, ignoring the dimension of power inherent in rape, which is primarily a crime of violence, not sex.

Confusing matters further has been the tendency of some writers, such as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, to conflate race with religion. “The rapists are all probably in one sense ‘good’ Muslims, praying and fasting
in the daytime, then prowling and preying at night,” she wrote in the Independent on 9 May.

This overlooked how, as Cockbain and Brayley pointed out, “the defendants in question are at most nominally Muslim”. Practising Muslims certainly aren’t supposed to rape children.

Other writers, such as David Aaronovitch, have presented the common view of some women as worthless and thus open to abuse as somehow inherent to Islam. Aaronovitch wrote in the Times on 10 May that grooming is the “cousin of honour killing”. Surely if this were the case the main victims would be Muslim girls.

Furthermore, such assertions ignore the inequities of power based on gender at every level of society, and expressed through a wide range of social and cultural idioms. The terminology expresses a shared disdain for women, even if it is inflected with culturally specific justifications – “slut”, “ho”, “skank”. Sexism is not an “Asian/Muslim problem”, though it does affect Asians and Muslims, too.

The focus on the race or religion of the perpetrator conveniently obscures the failures by the police, Crown Prosecution Service and social workers in bringing these men in Rochdale to trial sooner. What’s more, it makes us look past our own rape culture, in which victims’ claims are dismissed and where one in three rape allegations involves alcohol. The methods used by the Rochdale criminals are common to many white British sex offenders.

Those who seek to locate these crimes within some inherently Asian or Muslim characteristic fail to acknowledge that the vast majority of such men are law-abiding. They also choose to overlook the sheer diversity of Asian cultures – and that the chief prosecutor who reopened the case, Nazir Afzal, is an Asian Muslim.

To express these concerns is not a mark of political correctness; it is about avoiding the stigmatisation of an entire community based on the crimes of a group of men who happen to be Asian. The more important question is why some people have been so keen to attribute a racial dimension to this crime and what that says about our assumptions of Asian men.

Historically, it was black men who were viewed as the antithesis of white femininity, or as sexually predatory on white innocence and beauty. We would be naive not to notice how the same rhetoric is playing out now about men who are Asian and Muslim.

Written by Myriam Francois

May 16, 2012 at 14:49

The Danger in Referring to ‘Asian’ Sex Gangs

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This piece was originally published over at the Huffington Post, here

‎”Asian gangs, schoolgirls and a sinister taboo” read the Daily Mail headline in November 2010, ‎‎”Muslim gang jailed for kidnapping and raping two girls as part of their Eid celebrations” states ‎another of its salacious headlines in April this year, while the typically more demure Telegraph ran ‎with “Asian grooming gangs, the uncomfortable issue”.

These headlines all refer to recent cases ‎involving sexually predatory gangs, the most recent of which, is the case of a group of men in Rochdale ‎found guilty of sexually abusing 47 vulnerable girls. The case has caused controversy as some ‎pundits claim the police failed to prosecute the men through fear they’d be branded racist. Former ‎MP Ann Cryer believes such fears meant that both the police and social services failed to act to ‎protect the girls and Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation urged the ‎police and the councils “not to be frightened to address this issue, there is a strong lesson that you ‎cannot ignore race or be over sensitive.”‎

The case has thrust the issue of race back into the spotlight just as the MET is being investigated for ‎mounting complaints about racism and as increasingly strident voices claim political correctness is ‎impeding an assessment of the role race plays in such crimes. Columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown ‎suggests as much as she writes she’s been “warned not to write” about such cases, for fear of ‎encouraging racism. “The rapists are all probably in one sense ‘good’ Muslims, praying and fasting ‎in the daytime, then prowling and preying at night”, she lambasted, ignoring as one commentator ‎pointed out that “the defendants in question are at most nominally Muslim”. Practising Muslims ‎certainly aren’t supposed to rape children.‎

Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee Keith Vaz claims that the issue has nothing to do with ‎race or being Asian. He cautioned of the dangers in singling out the Asian community and has advised prudence in using race-related terminology. ‎

The focus on isolating race as an explanatory variable in cases of sex-grooming ignores all other ‎factors and essentialises the identity of the culprits – it ignores why Asian men are over-‎represented in socio-economically poorer areas where street-grooming occurs and why white girls ‎are over-represented among vulnerable groups in such areas.‎

What’s more, plenty of sex-gangs are not Asian. Crime researchers Ella Cockbain and Helen Brayley ‎warned: “If on-street grooming continues to be reduced to the big Asian networks alone, a whole ‎host of other offenders will get overlooked.”

The sex slave trade in this country is sadly alive and ‎well and is not primarily Asian driven, and paedophiles are not overwhelmingly of Asian ethnic ‎backgrounds, suggesting any abhorrent link some may seek to make between race and inherent ‎sexually predatory behaviour is not born out by the facts.

Such a link is also reminiscent of racist ‎terminology used to refer to black gangs in the 1980s, particularly Jack Straw’s comment in January ‎last year relating to a separate case in Derby: “These young men are in a western society, in any ‎event, they act like any other young men, they’re fizzing and popping with testosterone, they ‎want some outlet for that…” His comment both singled the men out as ‘foreign’ by referring to ‎them as “in a western society”, rather than products of a society they were born and raised in, and ‎reduced their behaviour to physical urges, completely ignoring the dimension of power inherent ‎to rape, which is primarily a crime of violence, not sex. ‎

Some have referred to culturally specific terminology in order to claim that the view of some ‎women as worthless and thus open to abuse is restricted to certain communities. This ignores ‎power inequities based on gender manifest at every level of society and expressed through ‎different social and cultural idioms. Different terminology expresses a shared disdain for women, ‎inflected with culturally specific justifications: “sluts” “hoes” “gora” “skank” “cheap” “easy” – ‎sexism is not an ‘Asian’ issue, though it does of course affect Asians as it does everyone else – it is ‎sadly omnipresent, cross-culturally.‎

Those seeking to locate these crimes within some inherent Asian characteristic need to explain the ‎vast majority of law abiding Asian men, the diversity of Asian cultures, not culture and the fact the ‎Chief prosecutor who re-opened the case is himself an Asian Muslim, Nazir Afzal.‎

The treatment of this case is not about political correctness, it is about not stigmatising an entire ‎community based on a mis-identification of the explanatory variable in the crimes of this group of ‎men, who happen to be Asian.

Both the police and the judge appear to believe the race of the ‎victims and abusers was “coincidental”, so the real question is why as a society, we are seeking to ‎attribute a racial dimension to it and what that says about our unspoken racist assumptions ‎concerning Asian men.

Academic Vron Ware recounts that the black male has been historically ‎constructed as the antithesis of white femininity, sexually predatory upon white innocence and ‎beauty – we’d be naive not to notice the same rhetoric being played out now with Asian/Muslim ‎males…‎

Written by Myriam Francois

May 9, 2012 at 13:49