I have been trying to find something sensible to say about the recent spate of sex grooming cases here. The first convictions in such a case were reported here.
For those of you that haven’t heard of these cases, men, mostly in the Midlands, have been systematically plying very young girls with drink and drugs and then taking advantage of them sexually and selling them for sex to friends and relatives. There seem to be many such cases, but few culprits have been tried and convicted. There was another conviction of an individual this morning on similar offences, so perhaps investigations are becoming more successful.
Everyone has been trying hard not to say that there is some racial element involved here, mostly because white far right groups have been trying to incite violence against immigrant communities on the back of the scandal. But the fact is that almost all the men involved are Pakistanis (hence they are mostly found in the Midlands, a major Pakistani community) and almost all the girls involved are white. A separate issue is that most of the girls live in care homes or are otherwise under care and are therefore particularly vulnerable.
I listened to a chilling account on the radio yesterday by one of the girls involved. She was 13 when she decided to go into town one night ‘for a bit of fun’. A Pakistani man stopped in his car and asked her whether she’d like a lift. She agreed and, whilst he drove, she drank from a vodka mix drink he gave her. When he eventually stopped, not in the town centre, but at his house, she was drunk and went inside with him. He had sex with her and then took her home. From then on she found herself locked into a relationship with him and was frequently picked up and passed around others for sex.
This account was given in such a matter of fact voice that, at each stage, you felt like screaming ‘but why did you do it?’ There was no explanation. Of course these girls are the victims, but the men’s description of them as willing whores was not at all contradicted by this girl’s account or by others I have read. Yes, they present themselves as victims, and they were abused and the men were acting against the law, but at no time is there any rationale for what the girls did.
How has this state of affairs come about? One problem of course (if you accept the premise that there is a major Pakistani involvement) is the culture and practices of Pakistani Muslims, not only in their own country, but transported to UK by immigrants and maintained here by British born Pakistanis. There are frequent stories in the media concerning crimes committed by Pakistani families, often where daughters do not marry the man chosen by the father. One in today’s newspaper concerns a girl abducted by her family, despite being married, because she is expected to marry a cousin in Pakistan. She was apparently betrothed without her knowledge when she was 15. And it isn’t just the father that commits these acts; she was drugged by her sister and carried off by her mother and father. In another case, a young Pakistani bride was kept locked in the house by her father in law and subjected to sexual abuse. And there have been many worse cases where girls are murdered because they get involved with a man the father believes is unsuitable. It is shameful for Pakistani girls to be involved with an 'unsuitable' man. But the way to overcome that seems to be for Pakistani men to turn to a non-Pakistani for sex. That seems not to be shameful.
The point is that, although these crimes take place in Britain, none of those involved seem to think that they are in fact crimes. There is mixed comment from others in the community about whether such acts are normal in Pakistani culture, but anyway, plenty of members of the community believe they are. The men convicted in the sex grooming case made it quite clear they didn’t think that they had done anything wrong. And of course betrothals at a very early age (often to older men) help to sustain the thought that sex with young girls is OK.
What to do? Clearly there is a problem in the Pakistani community. I assume that not all Pakistani people believe such practices should be condoned. Yet, no one from the community came forward and reported the crimes to the authorities. Community leaders must be instructed to do more to get across to their communities that such practices are unacceptable in Britain, if not everywhere. But we should do more too. I am all for multiculturalism, but immigrants and their families (at the time of immigration – many members of these communities were of course born here, which is why community leaders have to take responsibility now) must be made to understand what the laws and culture of Britain are. Where there is a clash, the law of their chosen country (ie Britain) must prevail. I hope that increased success by the police in stamping on this activity will help to bring home to others that it is wrong. That is why working with community leaders must start now before others in the 'business' are pushed underground or deeper into the community.
But we must also do something about the victims and the potential victims. If children are in care, if the home is called a ‘care home’, then it is the Director's responsibility to ensure that care is applied. It just won’t do to allow young girls to go wandering off at night. There is some suggestion that the homes knew the girls were being picked up in cars outside. If this is true, the duty of care has certainly been lost somewhere and those responsible should be made to understand.
Care homes are currently the subject of an inquiry, following this recent case, and that is as it should be. But surely there is more to looking after young, vulnerable girls than just stopping them from going out at night. Any father of teen-aged girls knows how difficult that is and knows what it’s like sitting up waiting nervously for them to come home. But, before this moment, the girl will have been given a good deal of education and instruction and advice (probably scorned, but hopefully not forgotten). I can’t forget the calm way that girl described her experiences, as though they were inevitable, or maybe that there was nothing else to do of an evening, or (can it be) that she didn’t know what was happening. It is not clear to me that the care homes are offering anything like a parental duty of care, but nor do they seem to be providing education. There may be something we should be doing to prevent so many girls ending up in care like this, but meanwhile, simply sticking them in a home is not in itself a solution to their problems.
There are many angles at which we as a society should be ensuring education is applied, not only to young people, but also to those of different cultures and to those in positions of authority. But we seem to have failed to do so in every respect. The most horrific feature in all this is that so many people seemed to know what was going on – other Pakistanis, families, friends of the girls, shopkeepers and neighbours, care home staff. Yet no one seems to have cared quite enough to do anything about it. Maybe we should now make it clear that we care.