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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.‎

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