Sarah Champion | analysis
To change attitudes will risk offence
Forced to resign for speaking an uncomfortable truth, Sarah Champion has fallen victim to the same liberal squeamishness that for years allowed street-grooming sex crimes against young white girls to flourish unchecked.
It is more than six years since The Times first accused national child-protection authorities of failing to tackle a hidden crime pattern in which gangs of men were feeding alcohol and drugs to children, often from troubled backgrounds, before subjecting them to sexual abuse.
On its front page, this newspaper wrote in January 2011 that in the relatively few cases investigated by police and brought to trial — our research identified 17 prosecutions from 13 towns and cities — the vast majority of the 56 convicted offenders were of Pakistani origin. To suggest that men from a minority ethnic community were significantly over-represented was incendiary, as was the immediate response of the former Labour home secretary Jack Straw. He said that some young Pakistani men in his Blackburn constituency viewed white girls as “easy meat”. Mr Straw was widely condemned for the remark.
It is true that the vast majority of child sex crimes in the UK are committed by white men. That applies to abuse online, in families, in institutions and sex crimes in which the victims are boys. Most such offenders, however, act alone.
When it comes to the group exploitation of teenage girls, that the pattern was indeed very different has been confirmed by an explosion in the number of prosecutions across England since 2011, including Rochdale, Rotherham and Oxford.
For at least three decades, the targeting of vulnerable white teenagers for sex planted such deep roots among a subsection of men, largely from one minority ethnic community, that it became almost normalised group behaviour.
Today, girls are still routinely shared among groups of friends, relatives and work colleagues who view them as worthless. Overwhelmingly, those committing such crimes are Muslim, predominantly of Pakistani heritage. The Times has called in vain for detailed research to understand why.
Were it ever commissioned, such work should address varying cultural and religious attitudes towards the age of consent and the still widespread impermissibility, within many conservative Muslim communities, of teenagers forming casual boyfriend-girlfriend relationships.
There is at play here a confusion of cultural and religious attitudes that fuels a twisted, street Islam in which conduct unthinkable with a fellow Muslim somehow becomes permissible with a non-Muslim girl.
How do we begin to change such attitudes if we dare not discuss them for fear of causing offence?
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