Why it is wrong to highlight ‘Asian Grooming Gangs’
Categories: Latest News
Thursday November 08 2018
In October 2018, Home Secretary Sajid Javid tweeted about “sick, Asian paedophiles” in response to the news of 20 men arrested in Huddersfield as part of a grooming gang targeting young girls. Talk of the problem of ‘Asian Grooming gangs’ echoes Sarah Champion’s statements that “Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploring white girls“. Recent reports have also linked Asian men to grooming, such as Quilliam’s recent research which found that 84% of grooming gang assaults since 2005 were by Asian men. Is this a specific issue that needs to be addressed within British Muslim communities?
The actions of these men are undeniably reprehensible but highlighting their ethnic background causes a problem. It perpetuates a stereotype of Asian (and Muslim) men as linked to child grooming. This is highly problematic for three reasons: firstly, it seems to be an irrelevant factor, as there is no direct link between ethnicity and sexual assaults; secondly, any links that have been made have been disproved; and thirdly, such language legitimises and fuels hate crime in the UK. Most importantly, we don’t help victims by perpetuating Islamophobic tropes but rather add to the hostile environment faced by Muslims and other minorities in Britain.
Firstly, it is wrong to highlight ‘Asian grooming gangs’ because their ethnicity has been shown to be unimportant. Research has shown that the ethnic origin of the perpetrators is largely unimportant in determining whether a person will look to engage in grooming activities. In fact, the most defining characteristic of that almost all of those involved in grooming gangs were men. As such, it makes more sense to see such problems through a lens that criticises misogyny and patriarchy in British society, rather than problematising Muslims or Asians.
Use of the term creates an idea that Muslim or Asian men are inherently more likely to attack women and are, as such, a threat to society. This replicates Orientalist tropes that recast non-Western men as irrational, violent and barbaric, whilst framing White women as innocent, powerless and at the mercy of dangerous ‘foreign’ attackers. Such tropes are replicated and amplified by far-right populists and have been used to vilify and attack a variety of Muslim communities – from British Muslim women on the street to Syrian refugees in asylum centres.
Secondly, whilst there is some evidence that has been released that there is some link between Asian men and grooming assaults, this is, at best, confused, and at worst, unreliable and unverifiable. Some studies have shown Asian men as being overrepresented in grooming cases. In 2012, the Children’s Commissioner found 1,514 instances of child grooming in the UK. Of these, 545 (36%) were carried out by those of White ethnic origin and 415 (27.4%) of Asian origin – of which 35 (2%) were of Pakistani heritage. Some studies have shown that, whilst Asian men are over represented amongst those prosecuted of child grooming, White men are over represented in other offences, such as lone attacks or other forms of grooming and exploitation, with White offenders more likely to carry out child abuse alone. Whilst Asians are generally over represented amongst those who carry out sexual abuse which targets “a victim, or victims, based on their vulnerability”, those who carried out sexual assault due to “a longstanding sexual interest in children” are largely White. Other data releases have shown that, relative to the general population, Asians were actually underrepresented (at 4%) among the roughly 6,200 defendants prosecuted in 2015/16 for sexual offences flagged as related to child abuse. As such, the data shows a mixed picture.
Furthermore, Quilliam’s oft-cited report which found that 84% of grooming gangs were carried out by Asian men has been since described as “flawed from beginning to end”, “laced with contradictions, misrepresentations and blatant fabrications” and “hastily thrown together, with paragraphs copied and pasted into multiple sections“. Dr. Ella Cockbain recently released a searing academic critique of the work, describing it as “a case study in bad science” which makes broad, sweeping statements based on a tiny sub-sample of case studies. She also highlighted that, despite asking for clarification, Quilliam had refused to respond to the clear problems with the work, nor to the fact that it had been used to “distort understanding, influence decisions & fuel hate”.
Finally, the use of the term ‘Asian Grooming Gangs’ promotes and enables Islamophobia, not just in word but in action. Conceptualising Pakistani Muslim men as paedophiles based on inaccurate information and negative stereotyping is inherently Islamophobic, creating prejudice, aversion, hostility and hatred towards Muslim. Whilst the term ‘Asian grooming gangs’ doesn’t refer to Islam itself, it is often used as a means of attacking Muslims. Furthermore, Islamophobia has a strongly racialised element, with many cases of Asians being involved in recorded Islamophobic attacks despite not being Muslim.
Muslims already face increasingly levels of violence and intimidation. Recent ComRes research commissioned by MEND clearly suggested that Muslims were seen as are more likely than any other religious group to suffer discrimination. This is in line with recent hate crime figures published by the Home Office for 2017/18 that showed over half (52%) of all religious hate crime offences were targeted against Muslims. As such, paining Muslim or Asian communities as inherently more likely to engage in grooming attacks has damaging long-term consequences and risks driving hate crime and right-wing attacks in British Muslim and minority communities.
Sajid Javid’s highlighting of grooming gangs as an ‘Asian’ and Quilliam’s problematic report are just a few examples in a long line of politicians, journalists and think tanks who have used the issue to create alarmism around minorities – with such statements “fuelling toxic debate and hurting victims”, often for personal gain. Not only is the association between Asian-Muslims and child assault false, it has long-term impacts on some of the most vulnerable in society. Stereotyping does nothing to safeguard those in need – all it does is make victims more vulnerable, society more fractious and threatens British minorities. We should avoid such language and call out those who engage in it.