Rotherham, 1400 and more cases of abuse documented over a period of 16 years. The victims were children, mostly in care, mostly white. The perpetrators predominantly of Pakistani heritage. This is not the first of its kind; we witnessed the same heinous cases in Rochdale and Oxford and it has been reported that more are coming forward.
I have taken my time in writing this blog so that I could do so as rationally as possible. When I first read the Rotherham report I was furious and sickened by the treatment of the victims at the hands of not only the groomers but also by the authorities who were supposed to be protecting them. Time and time again the report details how the police failed to protect the young girls.
The report even states that "the police had responded reluctantly to missing person reports, as a 'waste of time'. Some young women had been threatened with arrest for wasting police time."
The authors add: "The young women concerned were often seen by the Police as being deviant or promiscuous. The adult men with whom they were found were not questioned"
Further on in the report it states that police officers deliberately did not take on cases as they did not want to increase their workload. Imagine that; imagine being a young girl abused and the very people you are told will help you close their doors on you, and, worse still, blame you for the abuse.
Many victims have come forward claiming that they told the police that they had been abused but their pleas for help were ignored. Yet Shaun Wright defiantly denies knowing the scale of the problem! Maybe he didn't know the scale of the problem because his staff couldn't be bothered to file it all down as it meant they would have had to do some work.
These accounts give us a harrowing perspective of the scale of the problem. How do we safeguard young vulnerable girls from those who want to exploit them? How do we inform the public to recognise a child who is being groomed? What use is all of this if the authorities are not going to help bring perpetrators to justice?
In the report Alexis Jay does point out that the South Yorkshire police force has since radically changed and are now more hands on, working with local support groups and children's services. But what about those who have been neglected by the system?
Not seeking ways to restore justice
My concern is that we are spending so much time discussing who we should blame and not seeking ways to restore justice. It is not only to restore justice but to allow the communities in Rotherham to regain trust in the authorities that are put in place to protect them. I believe that this is crucial. If the trust is not there, if the men who exploited the girls are not punished, then this cycle of abuse will continue. It has been allowed to continue for too long - this should have been stamped out after what happened in Oxford and Rochdale, but clearly lessons have not been learnt.
Another factor of blame has been directed towards the ethnicity of the groomers. The majority of them are of Pakistani heritage, we all saw the headlines. Many commentators and bloggers have come out in defence of the Pakistani community, stating it is unfair to scapegoat an entire community due to the actions of a minority. The same thing over and over again.
I agree it is wrong to focus on the ethnicity of the abusers; these men do not see colour when they look for vulnerable girls to prey on, they just see girls they can exploit. Yes, it is known that the majority of victims who came forward were white, resulting in comments such as "they prey on our girls" etc etc, but the fact is there were Asian victims. Not many will come forward, you just need to read Ruzwana Bashir's story to find out why. My point in telling you this is to shatter the illusion that Pakistani men ONLY abuse white girls. Trust me, it's not only white girls.
Asian girls won't come forward because:
a) they are scared and in many cases they do not have the family support system which means they lack a safe space
b) they know they will be blamed, and receive comments such as "you asked for it" or "thats what happens when you wear jeans and no dupatta"
c) the consequences of it going public, the "community" will find out, people will spread rumours, lack of future marital proposals, family name tarnished, honour, respect, blah blah blah
By some twisted logic, if an Asian girl speaks of her abuse, she is the one who is ostracised, she is the one who is named a whore and she is the one who has brought dishonour. I have spoken to a handful of women who have survived sexual abuse and all their stories end the same way; they are told to stay quiet about it and if they don't, the family ostracises them.
And then you wonder why these sick, perverted men keep on grooming?! It is because they KNOW this will happen, hence why they take photos and videos of the abuse, so they can blackmail the girl into silence. This is also documented in the Rotherham report.
The community is in a sense helping the groomers. By perpetuating this culture of silence and shame, the same cycle just keeps on spinning.
Time to talk to our daughters
So how do we stop this? We need to take a stand, as active citizens. If we see anything suspicious or anything that just looks wrong we need to let the authorities know. We need to talk to our daughters. GIVE THEM A SAFE SPACE. Forget what your neighbour or your cousin or what your grandad thinks, this is about the mental and physical wellbeing of YOUR CHILD.
We need to share information with each other so, if your daughter has been approached, let everyone else know, name and shame the dishonourable individual who is seeking to exploit your girls!!! A strong message needs to be sent out to those who groom that the PAKISTANI COMMUNITY WILL NOT TOLERATE ANY SICK MAN EXPLOITING ANY GIRL OF ANY COLOUR.
We need to remove the blame from the victim and direct it towards those who abuse and who are complicit in abuse. Make no mistake: if you are silent, if you make excuses for those who abuse, you are just as guilty.
We need to destroy this culture whereby any woman who has survived abuse is ostracised. We need to shatter the idea that she is not worthy to marry, or not a good influence for young girls. All the survivors of abuse I know are strong minded, brave and fearless women. I want my daughter to be around them so she can see, despite all odds, they have never given up. Are these women not great role models? Can we not use their examples to help others? Can we not use them to send a message out to the abusers, that WE WILL STAND BY THESE WOMEN!
I agree that we cannot scapegoat the Pakistani community, there is a lot of work being done on a grassroots level to prevent such abuse with organisations like CAASE and TAG (both based in Bradford) but more can be done from home. Whether we like it or not, we have a strong culture where men are treated as superiors to women. You just need to look at a traditional family with three sisters and one brother. Men are brought up as kings, with their dishes cleaned, beds made, clothes ironed and shoes polished from the day they are born to the day they die.
The servitude begins with the mother and the unfortunate sisters and then passes on to the wife and the subsequent daughters. If a man goes out until the early hours its fine, but all hell breaks loose if a woman is to do the same. If a man has an affair, the wife is blamed for being too fat or unattractive and she has to just deal with it, but if she was to do the same she would be divorced and penniless.
I know so many cases where young lads have got married to a girl their parents wanted them to marry but then kept "a girl on the side" to keep themselves happy, and I know cases where the "mistress" has eventually had enough and confronted the wife and the former is blamed - not the actual man who spun a web of lies and deceit.
This double life syndrome is part and parcel of the groomer's mentality. They have been brought up in an environment where their behaviour has been excused, they have been married off as a solution rather then actually tackling the problem, which is an absolute disregard and lack of respect for women. But let me ask you this: how can you expect a man to respect a woman when all his life all he has ever seen is women doing everything for him?! If all his life he has been tended to, treated differently and told it is "his right" to be sexually pleased in marriage, then, really, what do you expect? There is a clear conflict between duty and autonomy, for example young Pakistanis who come from traditional families are raised to serve the expectations of the extended family network, however at school and elsewhere they are taught to express themselves, to be independent.
As they grow older this conflict grows stronger, how do they appease the family without sacrificing their individuality? How do they conform to duty whilst pursuing self-interest? This is where you get men who are committing adultery, who are marrying women from the sub-continent but still dating other women etc etc. It is essentially a massive identity crisis which needs a book to explain, not a blog post.
We need a revolution in thought. We need strong male role models like Nazir Afsal to change this mindset. We need fathers with daughters to take ownership, if girls see their fathers helping with chores or interacting lovingly with the mother they will have certain expectations of men. If we bring our sons up to have respect for their mothers and their sisters and the women they interact with, they will not treat a woman as an object whose only purpose is to serve him.
What I find particularly tragic about this case is that the prevention is not just education or strong role models, we need a fundamental change in the way women are perceived and treated. They cannot be seen as objects of honour or shame. They cannot be bargaining tools used to play politics via the means of marriage. They cannot be treated as slaves of the house.
This change will come, the tide is already turning with my generation, but we need support. Not from the self-appointed community leaders but those who care about the community, who care about the lasting traumatic effects sexual exploitation can have on a woman, how that trauma can be passed onto her children.
I believe the cure is at home, if the groomers continue to groom, and no doubt they will try, then it is on your shoulders to educate and safeguard your daughters. If you don't, nobody else will, be it your uncle or your neighbour. The dishonour in abuse does not lie with the victim but those who are complicit in the act. Silencing a victim is just as bad as abusing her.
Sabbiyah Pervez is a 25-year-old mother, who advocates social change. The article was taken from her personal blog, which you can read here.