Can the BME/Muslim VCS sector afford to stay silent in the face of racialisation of grooming & child sexual exploitation?

By Saqib Deshmukh, V4CE Development Officer

Over the last year the dominating narrative to do with child sexual exploitation has centred on Pakistani/Muslim communities. The cases in Rochdale, Oxford and other areas have caught the public eye and despite there being clear differences in these cases have created a set of racially driven stereotypes that have not been helpful to our communities and in many cases have been downright dangerous.
 
 
What has been the role of the BME/faith sector during this time? With a few notable exceptions around the country our response has been lukewarm. Whilst national organisations such as NSPCC, Children’s Society and  Barnados  (hardly radical leaning organisations)  are lining up to criticize the police and the authorities in Oxfordshire and their roles  scrutinised in other cases, the BME/faith sector on this part of the debate have largely been silent. The question we need to be asking ourselves is -  has  our silence been brought and if we have lost our ability to critique and call out the authorities for their part in this failure of all our children, young people and their communities; then what exactly is our role?   
 
"Victims are being stigmatised and discouraged from reporting their horrific abuse because of a system which is ponderous, accusatory and further traumatises them" 
Andy Dipper, from Oxford Community Against Trafficking
 
At a time when groups are under attack a certain amount of defensiveness is natural, but last week the Muslim Council of Britain issued a Khutbah (sermon) to 500 mosques which served as a simplistic condemnation of the acts committed rather than challenging the role of the police/social services in failing in their statutory duties to prevent the abuse happening and lack of intervention. Where were the authorities in Oxford for 8 years as these men continued to abuse these children? Why are we as a sector continuing to align ourselves to processes and procedures that have failed and in a wider context why we are then paying for services that do not work for us?
 
The issue of faith and ethnicity has been highlighted to empathise when the perpetrators have been Asian or Muslim and the victims where white but in the current trial taking place after Operation Ribbon in High Wycombe the victims have been Asian and this has not been highlighted. Indeed the emphasis has been placed on our communities through the Independent Advisory Groups (IAG) meeting s and the convening of a public meeting for local women at the local university. For any real dissent and challenge we have to look at the criticisms raised by WAR/Black women’s Rape Action Project and groups such as the Freedom without Fear platform regarding the lack of scrutiny & overview.
 
"What about the police officers and social workers whose refusal to act enabled these rapes?  Will they be prosecuted for aiding and abetting rape?  Were they involved in other ways? Police and social services allowed these rapes to go on for years, and even threatened to arrest some of the girls when they reported."
Black women’s Rape Action Project/Women Against Rape
 
Those of us working in the sector particularly around children and young people issues and around faith need to be careful we do not further fuel narratives that foster and pinpoint blame and culpability solely at the door of the Pakistani community. As Joseph Harker has written so eloquently about in the last year we need to ensure a level of critique and challenge to the assumptions are being made. Though proposing that if the perpetrators were white they would be treated differently is perhaps not enough in this instance, even as in the case of Saville, Hall and co this is patently true. At a deeper level we need to examine and interrogate those decision making processes that took place and those who made decisions to intervene and not to intervene. If VCS community groups were sitting at the table in an advisory role – what were our actions? Did we reinforce the culture of disbelief and hide behind a position of denial and turn a blind eye to what was happening on our own doorsteps? Or by apologising so profusely have we then lost the ability to question the narratives that are being presented. Will those officers in positions of authority whose job it is to protect vulnerable children and young people be held accountable for their actions? The way our current partnerships are setup largely absolves those in power of their responsibilities and gives them institutional cover.
 
If there is a lesson for us in the sector is about reviewing our role in partnerships and whether we can adopt critical positions that offer alternative narratives and ripostes to the scenarios are being painted in front of us. This kind of  methodology will not only ensure that that we establish accountability but we move the discourse away from marginalised groups of men in marginalised communities to the world of multi-agency partnerships and to the authorities/agencies  that hide behind these.  It will ensure that we get to grips with child sexual exploitation in a strategic and meaningful way to prevent it ever happening again.
 
Pic credits:
Black women’s Rape Action Project
Women Against Rape