‘South Asian’ vs ‘Pakistani’ vs ‘Muslim’ Grooming Gangs: Why specific identification is key
By Muna Adil
New research by Quilliam, authored by Haras Rafiq and myself, on the link between grooming gangs and offender ethnicity has found that 84% of child sexual exploitation offenders who operate in gangs or groups are ‘Asian’. This is in sharp contrast to only 7% Asians in the total UK population.
A critical hurdle in any research conducted into offender ethnicity will find a major roadblock in the form of a severe lack of information available from official records. Offender profiles lack detailed entries and there is little to no specific information on ethnicity.
It may seem inconsequential and irrelevant for crime agencies to note down specifics on race, ethnicity, or nationality, but the emerging pattern of race representation and its clear significance in the specific crime of grooming gangs calls for a renewed approach.
In order to hone in to identify the specific demographic involved in these crimes and, consequently, be able to more accurately identify and analyse the reasons behind the demographic’s prominence, police and crime agencies must be more diligent in recording offender details.
Preliminary data has already shown that racial and cultural contexts influence offenders who operate in grooming gangs. Qualitative data has shown that case after case of this crime is perpetrated by men of Pakistani origin.
In order to understand the psyche of these offenders, it is necessary to consider the cultural roots of their dysfunctional view of women, relationships, and sex.
An observable feature of these grooming gangs that can be traced back to cultural norms concerns the age of the victims. While the disparity between the ages of the abusers and the victims is extreme in the UK context, Pakistani law is still struggling with the court of public opinion when it comes to banning child marriage.
Only last year, a move to ban child marriages in Pakistan was withdrawn after it was met with robust resistance from religious outfits, in particular, the CII, who dubbed the bill as “anti-Islamic” and “blasphemous”, forcing the female politician who introduced the bill to back down. The proposed legislation recommended raising the minimum age of marriage for women to 18-years-old (currently 16) and advised harsher sentencing to those engaging in marriage with a minor.
The CII unanimously rejected the proposal on “purely religious grounds”. Chairman Mohammad Khan Sheerani said: “Parliament cannot create legislation that is against the teachings of the Holy Quran or Sunnah.” In May 2014, the council emphasised its ruling that girls as young as nine-years-old were eligible for marriage if “the signs of puberty are visible.”
This acceptance of child marriage stems from the selective reading of hadith literature in which is it is assumed that the Prophet Muhammad’s widow Aisha was just six years old when she was betrothed to the Prophet, and nine-years-old when the marriage was consummated. This belief is founded on a saying attributed to Aisha herself. Other Muslims cast doubt on the veracity of the hadith as it is in conflict with several other historical accounts suggesting that this report is inaccurate. But for those who wish to pursue their twisted perversions, this unconfirmed account is enough to justify their behaviour. Sadly, this understanding of the hadith has been preached so consistently that it is now prevalent among Sunni Muslims, and widely accepted as accurate.
Yet these fundamentalist approaches aren’t just being taught in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, but right here on British soil. In January 2013, Nottingham Crown Court saw the disturbing case of Adil Rashid who was spared jail after he raped a 13-year-old girl because he claimed that his Islamic education had left him “ignorant of British law”. Rashid admitted he had sex with the girl, saying he had been “tempted by her” after they met online. The 18-year-old attended a taxpayer-funded madrassah in Birmingham, where boys and girls were taught in segregated classes. Rashid said he was taught that “women are no more worthy than a lollipop that has been dropped on the ground”. This is an argument that is often touted in favour of the veil, where preachers will ask whether you would prefer a wrapped lollipop or an unwrapped one, the suggestion being that an uncovered woman has already been soiled and is unworthy of respect.
When it comes to the general treatment of women, it is undeniable that women’s rights have, both formally and informally, been repeatedly violated in Pakistan.According to leading women’s rights organization in Pakistan, Aurat Foundation, out of a total of 8,000 cases of violence against women in 2010, 928 were rape cases. The actual figure is projected to be much higher, as a large majority of cases go unreported due to socio-cultural norms regarding honour and family prestige. Out of the cases that do make it to court, only 3% land a conviction.
More recently, in 2016, a bill titled the ‘Women’s Protection Act’ made a meagre attempt to help women who may be stuck in abusive relationships by proposing to provide them with legal protection from domestic, psychological, and sexual violence, setting up an emergency helpline, and pledging to establish more women’s shelters. Although this seemingly uncontroversial bill had promised nothing but the bare minimum for these abuse victims, it still managed to attract a great deal of negative attention and criticism from official bodies and the general public alike.
The CII claimed the bill was “un-Islamic,” while FazlurRehman, the chief of one of Pakistan’s largest religious political parties, the Jamiat-i-Ulema Islam, claimed that this law “makes a man insecure” and that it “is an attempt to make Pakistan a Western colony again.”
These are prime examples of how both the formal and informal systems of justice in Pakistan create an oppressive, impenetrable structure in order to maintain social stability by silencing women and sustaining a misogynistic utopia which prefers to see women as commodities instead of human beings, whose sexuality and sexual behaviour is inextricably and necessarily linked to the honour of their family, community, and country.
A Home Affairs Select Committee report into localised grooming claimed that “The vast majority of convicted child-sex offenders in the UK are single White men.” The report went on to say in passing that there seems to be a “widespread perception” that the majority of perpetrators are of Asian heritage, yet it concludes that “there is no simple link between race and child sexual exploitation.”
Indeed there is no “simple link” between ethnicity and grooming gangs, but rather a deep, complicated relationship that British Pakistani men share with their adoptive homeland.
While the concern that specifics on race might act as fuel for the agendas of extreme political elements and bigots to abuse, we owe it to these young victims of sexual abuse to pursue every avenue that might hold the possibility of an explanation and resolution.
And while it is key that the data doesn’t get hijacked by bigots, our choice in conducting this research was between speaking some harsh truths or maintaining silence over the systematic rape of young girls – I know what I would choose one hundred times over.
By Muna Adil, Researcher, Quilliam International and co-author of our new report ‘Group Based Child Sexual Exploitation – Dissecting Grooming Gangs.’