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There is no place for sexual abuse in civilised society. Baroness Warsi's comments over the weekend highlighted the excellent response from a number of different community organisations. However, having been largely silent on the issue for so long, to then come out prompted neither by a sense of political leadership nor civic duty, but due to prompting from her father no less; the belated response has been less than satisfactory and is potentially dangerous and reckless.
If we look at the national picture, we know that 93% of the perpetrators of paedophilia in the UK are white whilst demographically constituting 87% of the UK population; this is to be compared with Black and Asian perpetrators being responsible for 7% of national cases whilst they make up some 13% of the UK population (H.M. Prison Service 2007a report).
Now let's see how this compares to the local picture. The Guardian reports that the ethnic breakdown of West Yorkshire as follows: White British 81.55%, Mixed 1.81%, Asian / Asian British 10.21%, Black / Black British 1.90% and Chinese 0.46%. A recent FOI request relating to West Yorkshire reported that there were 53 grooming cases over the last 3 years. Of these, 5 were committed by Asians putting the issue approximately en par with the mix of the local community. However, white grooming cases accounted for 47 of the 53 cases which makes it disproportionately higher for the white community, compared to the local demographic mix.
This tells us a number of things; firstly, that it is utterly wrong to conflate the issue of grooming or paedophilia (or claim it it be a disproportionately big problem) with a specific minority community for reasons of ethnicity, race or religion and belief. If this is going to be done, as arbitrary as it might be and as loathe as one might be to want to accept it; the evidence indicates that the broader problem is overwhelmingly a white male one. Two weeks ago we waded through the commentary rebuking that it was a race issue. Worse still, it is now being touted as a religious one - both by bigots on the far right and the Chairman of the Conservative party.
There is no doubt that a spike in convictions of Asian men - either by targeted policing or a variation in criminal behaviour - does not mean there is a relation between religion and sexual criminality. To suggest this is the case, takes us back to the dangerous hate rhetoric of the 1930s directed at the Jewish populations of Europe. Let us remember that also at that time, Governments were complacent and naval gazing.
It is a damning indictment that it needs to be said that Islam condemns without reservation such criminality and any oppression of people in society. In fact, social justice is at the heart of the resurgent Islamic message. It is utterly a non sequitur to hold a faith responsible for the actions of misguided individuals, who have been acting in complete contradiction to the rules and core values of that faith.
The English Defence League are proposing to demonstrate in Rochdale on 9th June 2012 - citing in a promotional video that they are protesting against "Muslim Grooming Gangs" and that these crimes are "mostly religiously motivated". There could be nothing further from the truth. The Baroness has inadvertently and quite clumsily given her full support to the far right and Islamophobes who are looking to peddle misinformation and hate based on religion. The far right have for a number of weeks, already been suspected of posting on Twitter the home address and name of one of the convicted criminals. Arguably, a public order offence and incitement to violence.
Our political leaders have a responsibility to look at issues reasonably and to address the complex factors which go hand in hand with increased criminality: diminished socio economic standing, social deprivation, moral decline, child poverty, young people who are NEET, general low employment and low educational attainment, low aspiration and reduced social mobility. The black community in the US have long been unjustly labelled as "more likely to be criminal" whilst their accusers have also failed to look at the social indicators that lead to black crime.
Sexual crime is heinous. The UK is home to 122 adult rapes per day, in addition to 60 child rapes each and every day. We also have the unwelcome privilege of being the sex trafficking and teenage pregnancy capital of the world. Tell me we don't have a problem. Scape goating either the Asian community, or worse still, the Muslim community is both reckless and demeans the seriousness of these issues.
Unfortunately, it seems the Chairwoman of the Conservative Party is unable to think outside of her limited field of view; instead feeding into continuing Tory, right wing anti-Islam rhetoric and a xenophobic discourse which fuels the far right. Dangerously so.
post script - if the name was Wilders, Le Pen or Robinson perhaps those claims would have been seen in a different light. Sarkozyesque. Cynical.
The Evening Standard requested a response and this article was provided on 21st May 2012