1. The Events
Welcome to Rotherham, England, a manufacturing town near Sheffield. Right now the town is famous for a reason it would not have chosen: The Rotherham Report: In this town of 250,000 inhabitants at least 1400 young girls were sexually groomed, raped, gang-raped and pimped over a period of sixteen years while many of the authorities responsible for protecting the girls did nothing or actively suppressed information about the wide-spread abuse.
Fourteen hundred is probably a low estimate of the extent of this abuse. But even that number turns out to mean one new victim every few days over that time period. Professor Alexis Jay, the author of the report, quotes several examples of the abuse these girls faced and the responses of the police and the local politicians to earlier reports on the same problem:
At least 1,400 children were subjected to appalling sexual exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013, a report has found.
Children as young as 11 were raped by multiple perpetrators, abducted, trafficked to other cities in England, beaten and intimidated, it said.
The inquiry team found examples of "children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone".
Failures by those charged with protecting children happened despite three reports between 2002 and 2006 which both the council and police were aware of, and "which could not have been clearer in the description of the situation in Rotherham".
Prof Jay said the first of these reports was "effectively suppressed" because senior officers did not believe the data. The other two were ignored, she said.
The inquiry team found that in the early-2000s when a group of professionals attempted to monitor a number of children believed to be at risk, "managers gave little help or support to their efforts".
The report revealed some people at a senior level in the police and children's social care thought the extent of the problem was being "exaggerated".
What accounts for the way these children (mostly girls (1)) were failed by the society?
These were broken girls to begin with, most of them, often coming from homes with mental illness, drug abuse and other problems, frequently taken into care by the social services. These were the kind of girls who traditionally are not allowed to have a childhood. These were the kind of girls who act out, who believe the grooming for sex to be love, the love they so desperately seek for. These were the kind of girls the police sometimes regarded as adults, fully able to consent to sex with strangers. And these were often the kind of girls that social workers despair over: Difficult cases, refusing help, refusing to name their torturers for fear of further violence to them or their families or because the tainted "love" they received was taken as real love and affection or because they had been beaten and dulled into slave-like submission.
But in the Rotherham case these were also white girls and their descriptions of the perpetrators of the abuse singled out men of Asian origin. Hence the second proffered explanation for the societal failure here has to do with the fear of being accused of racism(2) and the fear of hurting community relations between different races:
The majority of those behind the abuse were described as Asian, while the victims were young white girls.To understand the reference to the failure of "engaging with the town's Pakistani-heritage community" can be difficult for an outsider. My reading suggests that the two communities were viewed as two separate worlds and that the "ambassadors" from the Pakistani community were old men, imams and wealthy businessmen. They were the ones who appear to have interpreted that community to the rest of Rotherham and they were the ones who were deemed the proper representatives of that community. Several articles address the sexual abuse of Pakistani girls in Rotherham and elsewhere and point out that the women in that community were not able to get their voices heard.
Yet the report found that councillors failed to engage with the town's Pakistani-heritage community during the inquiry period.
Some councillors were said to have hoped the issue would "go away", thinking it was a "one-off problem".
The report said several staff members were afraid they would be labelled racist if they identified the race of the perpetrators, while others said they were instructed by their managers not to do so.
Several councillors interviewed believed highlighting the race element would "give oxygen" to racist ideas and threaten community cohesion.
What this means is that we don't know the number of Pakistani victims in Rotherham. But whites are the majority group in that town and thus would be most of the victims of any group of sexual abusers. In short, the alleged perpetrators didn't have to "target" white girls for their victims to mostly consist of white girls.
2. The Role Of Ethnicity
That leaves the alleged perpetrators, their race and religion. Many of the summaries of the cases described the men as "of Asian origin," but the report gives us more precise information. The vast majority were of Pakistani/Kashmiri origin, at least one was Afghan and in the more recent years of abuse a few were Slovak Romas. As the total Pakistani community in Rotherham is estimated to consist of 8000 individuals (or 3.1% of all people in the town), it is almost impossible to regard the ethnic origins of the alleged perpetrators as a random drawing from the general male population of Rotherham.
In short, something made this particular group of men in Rotherham more likely to sexually abuse young girls.(3)
These are some of the theories trying to explain what that "something" might have been:
Was it the ethnic origin (mostly Pakistani) or religion (Islam) of the alleged perpetrators in a direct way, as something based on greater misogyny, more restrictive views about how "good women" should behave and more likely interpretations of quite young children as fair game for sexual exploitation? Greater misogyny, that is, than the one exhibited by the mainstream culture, and even more liberal interpretations of how young girls are fully capable of consent than some in the Rotherham police seemed to have?(4)
Or was the sexual exploitation based on a kind of racism, the desire to damage the "women of the enemy?"
Finally, could it be the case that if, indeed, the authorities ignored child sexual exploitation by Pakistanis, due to fear of being otherwise accused of racism, the perpetrators would know about this and expand their activities because they were safe?(5)
These are all hinted at in the various pieces I have read, sometimes supported as explanations, sometimes refuted or pushed aside in favor of a different explanation.
Among the alternative explanations is the fact that the "night economy": takeaway/takeout places, taxicabs etc. are largely staffed by minorities and it is in that night-time economy that young girls are most at risk, most easily isolated and captured and most vulnerable. Thus, criminals among those working at night would find committing organized sexual exploitation easier.
Likewise, poorer social classes are more likely to commit (and/or are caught committing) the kinds of crimes the Rotherham report describes. If the average Pakistani in Rotherham is poorer than the average white person, that could be the reason for some of the greater prevalence of alleged Pakistani perpetrators.
Finally, it is possible that the ethnicity of the perpetrators here is a fluke finding. If a large organized gang was guilty of most of the exploitation the report covers, the findings could reflect nothing more than the outreach and harm committed by that gang. If criminals, like birds, flock together with others of the same ethnicity, then a criminal gang started by a Pakistani would mostly hire more Pakistanis.
What could evidence tell us about all these theories? Current evidence cannot prove or disprove the assertion that fear of being accused of racism affected those whose job it was to protect vulnerable children from sexual exploitation, because all the references in the report to that possibility are verbal comments by various unnamed individuals, including some of the victims of sexual exploitation.
Neither do we have the kind of evidence which could tell us whether cultural differences in how women's proper roles are seen could affect the ethnic characteristics of who commits crimes such as child sexual exploitation.
Others have pointed out that the family shame concept within the Pakistani communities of Britain reduces the odds that a woman or a child or a man from that community would go to the police when sexually assaulted. Being a known victim of sexual exploitation can also affect a woman's marriage chances in that community. If values of these types are common, they could lull the perpetrators of child sexual exploitation into believing that they won't get caught even if they spread their nets outside their own community.
The same lack of evidence applies to any race-based motivations on behalf of the alleged perpetrators. But as I mentioned above, that most of the Rotherham victims were young white girls may not have to be explained because whites are the numerical majority in Rotherham.
What do wider UK crime statistics tell us about the ethnic group membership of those accused or sentenced for sexual crimes?
Nazir Afzal, the Crown Prosecution Service’s lead on child sexual abuse and violence against women and girls, refers to general crime statistics on sexual crime:
His role means he has oversight of all child sex abuse cases in England and Wales. “So I know that the vast majority of offenders are British white male,” he says, setting the number at somewhere between 80 and 90%. “We have come across cases all over the country and the ethnicity of the perpetrators varies depending on where you are … It is not the abusers’ race that defines them. It is their attitude to women that defines them.”
My research supports this general conclusion with some reservations.
In 2011, 87.1% of Britons were regarded as white and a total of 7% as Asians. In the same year, the percentages of whites among those cautioned(6), prosecuted and sentenced for sexual crimes were 87.8%, 78.0% and 80.9% respectively, whereas the corresponding figures for Asians were 6.1%, 9.7% and 8.7% respectively.
These general statistics do not show large differences between the two ethnic groups. But they are statistics about all sexual violence, not about child sexual exploitation.
Statistics on that are harder to acquire. A New York Times article on the Rotherham case notes:
It has highlighted another uncomfortable dimension of the issue, that of race relations in Britain. The victims identified in the report were all white, while the perpetrators were mostly of Pakistani heritage, many of them working in nighttime industries like taxi driving and takeout restaurants. The same was true in recent prosecutions in Oxford, in southern England, and the northern towns of Oldham and Rochdale, where nine men of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Afghan origin were given long prison sentences in 2012 for abusing up to 47 girls. Investigators in Scotland have reportedly uncovered a similar pattern of abuse.On the other hand, Nazir Afzal suggests that stories about white perpetrators of child sexual exploitation may not be covered by the media to the same extent stories about minority perpetrators are:
He notes that the amount of media attention devoted to child sex abuse cases is inconsistent. He led the legal teams that reopened and successfully prosecuted the Rochdale grooming case in 2012, over the abuse of 47 girls by a group of Asian men. “A few weeks after the Rochdale case, we dealt with a case of 10 white men in North Yorkshire who had been abusing young girls, and they were all convicted and they got long sentences. It didn’t get the level of coverage,” he says.
Earlier reports on child grooming and sexual exploitation found Britons of Asian ethnicity over-represented among the perpetrators:
A 2011 study by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre looked at the 2,379 potential offenders caught grooming girls since 2008. Of 940 suspects whose race could be identified, 26% were Asian, 38% were white and 32% were recorded as unknown. Asians are roughly 7% of the population.This could be because Asians are over-represented in the night-time economy. Child sexual exploitation could be an area of crime dominated by men of Asian origin, even if sexual violence in general is not. For that to match the overall statistics on the perpetrators of sexual crimes some other types of sexual violence should then be considerably less among Britons of Asian origin or considerably under-reported to the authorities.
A report for the children's commissioner in 2012 found there were 1,514 perpetrators. Of these, 545 were white, 415 were Asian and 244 were black. The ethnicity of 21% of perpetrators was not recorded. Attempts to analyse the Asian figure further runs into problems. Just 35 of the 415 Asians are recorded as having Pakistani heritage and thus highly likely to be Muslim, and only five are recorded as being from a Bangladeshi background. The heritage of 366 of the Asian group is not stated in those figures.
3. The Report And What It Tells Us
You can download the whole report here. I have read it. If you decide to do so, prepare for anger and grief. (My apologies for the many direct quotes below. It was hard to convey the flavor of the report without them.)
The media summaries of the report are not wrong, but certain aspects of the report have not received the attention they deserve (or if they have received it I couldn't find those summaries).
First, though the report does not universally condemn all authorities involved in these cases, it points out many more failures than successes.
The problems the report reveals at the top of various hierarchies are rage-inducing: An earlier report on the same problems was received with great wrath and disbelief by the police, the local politicians seemed to have helped by sweeping everything under the carpet, and those in charge of caring for certain children ( "looked after children") failed in protecting their charges.
The residential care homes for children, for example, were known to be possible hunting grounds for the predators (p.53):
From the mid-1990s there were concerns about children’s homes being targeted for the purposes of child sexual exploitation. From the residential case files we read, it is clear that for a long period thereafter some local residential units were overwhelmed by the problem of child sexual exploitation. Children who were exploited before they became looked after continued to be exploited, and were often at even greater risk of harm. Other children became exposed to sexual exploitation for the first time whilst they were looked after in children’s homes. There were examples of an exploited child acting as the conduit for perpetrators to gain access to other looked after children.
Thus, a child taken into care was not necessarily protected from the abusers, but even children who were "looked after children" for other reasons got introduced to the predators in the group home through other children. This is why the following snippet from the report (p. 105) is so very horrifying:
The Police carried out an audit of 87 files in 2005, which resulted in them proposing that large numbers of girls be removed from the Sexual Exploitation Forum monitoring process. Risky Business challenged the factual accuracy and completeness of some of the information in the audit, raising serious concerns about many of the girls involved, where it was recommended they be removed from monitoring. The Police reason for removing several girls from monitoring was they were pregnant or had given birth. All looked after children were removed from the list. Several of the cases removed from monitoring were read by the Inquiry and we found Risky Business concerns to be valid. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Police, supported by children's social care, were intent on reducing the number of names on Forum monitoring for CSE.Bolds are mine. CSE stands for Child Sexual Exploitation. Risky Business is a Council service for young people on sexuality, drugs, alcohol, eating disorders, self-harm, eating disorders, parenting and budgeting.
Get it? The Police deemed those who were "looked after children" to be no longer at risk for sexual abuse, even though the residential care homes were not necessarily safe places from the predators. And the idea that pregnancy or childbirth would automatically rescue a girl from danger is preposterous.
The Council failed the children, too. The report offers several reasons for that failure, including the pressure of economic concerns and the need to improve schools, but it also notes the organizational culture. It might have been difficult to make politicians pay attention to sexual child abuse, given the values demonstrated in this quote from the report (p. 114):
A succession of senior officers, past and present, male and female, who were interviewed for the Inquiry raised the negative culture as being an issue from 1997 to 2009. Their remarks and some of the less offensive quotations from a small number of senior officers and members are given below: 'The member barometer re sexual matters was skewed' 'It was a very grubby environment in which to work' 'A colleague was told she ought to wear shorter skirts to meetings and she'd get on better' 'A senior member said on four occasions in public places "you women are only fit for cooking, washing and darning" ‘ 'A senior member said I know what I'd like to do to you if I was ten years' younger’ 'A senior member asked me if I wore a mask while having sex.'Among the failures of the Rotherham police, the case of schools as yet another predator hunting ground is worth mentioning (pp. 103-104):
In 2001-2002, the Director of Education (2001-2005) was one of the first senior officers to raise concerns about CSE with the Police. The heads of three secondary schools had told her of their concerns about young girls being picked up at the school gates by taxi drivers and their suspicions were that this was for the purpose of abuse. Police watched the schools in unmarked cars for a period of time but the problem persisted. She described raising this three times with the Police at a senior level. On the last occasion she described how she was shown a map of the north of England overlaid with various crime networks including 'Drugs', 'Guns', and ' Murder'. She was told that the Police were only interested in putting resources into catching 'the ring leaders' who perpetrated these crimes. She was told that if they were caught, her local problems would cease.
The overall picture the report creates about those in power is that good people were frustrated in their attempts to get help to the children and that many other people either didn't believe in the extent of the problem or preferred to ignore it. But it's important to keep in mind here that Rotherham may not be an unusually bad case when it comes to policies against child sexual exploitation. If other towns dug deeper they might find similar or worse statistics.
Second, few if any of the published reports talk about the taxicab industry and its role in child sexual exploitation. Yet the report mentions taxis as a major risk factor (p. 71):
One of the common threads running through child sexual exploitation across England has been the prominent role of taxi drivers in being directly linked to children who were abused. This was the case in Rotherham from a very early stage, when residential care home heads met in the nineties to share intelligence about taxis and other cars which picked up girls from outside their units. In the early 2000s some secondary school heads were reporting girls being picked up at lunchtime at the school gates and being taken away to provide oral sex to men in the lunch break.
A diagram and backing papers supplied to the Police in 2001 by Risky Business linked alleged perpetrators with victims, taxi companies and individual drivers.
And (pp. 72-73):
The Safeguarding Unit convened Strategy meetings from time to time on allegations involving taxi drivers. We read some of the most serious, from 2010, and were struck by the sense of exasperation, even hopelessness, recorded as the professionals in attendance tried to find ways of disrupting the suspected activity. Strategy meetings about one specific taxi firm had been held on four occasions in a seven week period. The minutes of one meeting record a total of ten girls and young women, three of whom were involved in three separate incidents of alleged attempted abduction by taxi drivers. The seven other girls had alleged that they were being sexually exploited in exchange for free taxi rides and goods. Two of the girls involved were looked after children. The Licensing Enforcement Officer took the step of formally writing to the Police following the incidents of alleged attempted abductions by drivers, complaining about the Police failure to act.
In one incident, a driver accosted a 13-year-old girl. She refused to do what he asked and reported this to her parents who followed the taxi through the town, where they managed to identify the driver and dialled 999 for assistance. According to the Licensing Enforcement Officer, the Police did not attend until later and took no action. In his email to the Police he stated that 'a simple check would have revealed that the driver had been arrested a week previously in Bradford for a successful kidnapping of a lone female.' He concluded by acknowledging that police priorities were not the same as Licensing, but he 'should not be holding this together on his own'.One interview with local young people, both male and female, showed that the teens were well aware of the risks of taxis. Their parents told them to take buses late at night and not to get into a taxi alone. Consider this in comparison to the usual advice for girls and women after dark: Don't walk but take a taxi!
The local Pakistani women were also aware of the danger of taxi drivers (p.94):
One of the local Pakistani women's groups described how Pakistani-heritage girls were targeted by taxi drivers and on occasion by older men lying in wait outside school gates at dinner times and after school. They also cited cases in Rotherham where Pakistani landlords had befriended Pakistani women and girls on their own for purposes of sex, then passed on their name to other men who had then contacted them for sex. The women and girls feared reporting such incidents to the Police because it would affect their future marriage prospects.But other than getting taxi licenses revoked not much seems to have been done about the role of the industry in child sexual exploitation. It could be that the bulk of exploitation was carried out by a close-knit criminal Pakistani gang with some connections to cabs. On the other hand, the report doesn't provide evidence on the alleged perpetrators, beyond their ethnic origin and the connection to the taxicab industry. It does mention, however, that some cab companies had government contracts to transport the most vulnerable of the "looked after children."
What is the connection between the alleged Pakistani perpetrators of the sexual abuse and the taxicab industry? What percentage of all taxicab companies in Rotherham are owned and/or staffed by Pakistanis?
Third, the outreach to the local Pakistani community by the authorities was patchy. For example (p. 94):
Both the Council and the Police used traditional channels of communication with the Pakistani-heritage community for many years on general issues of child protection. There seemed, from all accounts, to be very few, if any, specific discussions of CSE, though this was difficult to verify. These contacts were almost exclusively with men.On the other hand (p. 93):
Good work was done by officers in developing a protocol on child protection issues in the mosques in 2008. Each mosque appointed a designated person responsible for child protection, and training was provided for imams and others. The current chair of the Rotherham Council of Mosques had made strenuous efforts to widen representation on his Council to include women and demonstrated a strong personal commitment to dealing with child protection and CSE. He was disappointed not to have had any contact from the Safeguarding Board in the past, but was encouraged by recent discussions.But the two communities didn't interact enough. Were any of the concerns discussed in this and the earlier reports passed on to the officially approved representatives of the Pakistani community? Was child sexual exploitation within the Pakistani community reported to the police? The report suggests that neither of these took place, perhaps because of the attitude of seeing older powerful men as the spokespeople of the whole community, and thus seeing the interests of those powerful men as identical to the interests of their whole community.
These cases of child sexual exploitation should have been important topics for the communication between communities. From the report (p. 110)
In 2004-2005, a series of presentations on CSE were first made to councillors and then other relevant groups and agencies, led by the external manager of Risky Business, from Youth Services. The presentations were unambiguous about the nature and extent of the problem. They included the following information:This presentation was made to Council members and other individuals in powerful positions. As the report mentions, few could argue that they didn't know about the problem or the fact that Asian men were represented among the perpetrators in numbers far exceeding their population percentage in Rotherham.
. a) a description of CSE in Rotherham and its impact on children as young as12;
. b) the scale of the problem;
. c) the exercise of control through drugs, rape and physical force. In Rotherham, 55% of such children had used heroin at least once per week; 40% had been raped; 73% had sexual health problems; 33% had attempted suicide. Most had self harmed; and
. d) the section on perpetrators mentioned an Asian family involved with taxi firms, and identified 50 people, 45 of whom were Asian, 4 were white, and 1 African- Caribbean.
It is hard to judge to what extent the fear of accusations of racism or the fear of damage to community relationships affected the individuals responsible for the protection of vulnerable children, the Council or the police. The current report refers to an earlier report on this (pp. 92-93):
She also reported in 2006 that young people in Rotherham believed at that time that the Police dared not act against Asian youths for fear of allegations of racism. This perception was echoed at the present time by some young people we met during the Inquiry, but was not supported by specific examples.
Several people interviewed expressed the general view that ethnic considerations had influenced the policy response of the Council and the Police, rather than in individual cases. One example was given by the Risky Business project Manager (1997- 2012) who reported that she was told not to refer to the ethnic origins of perpetrators when carrying out training. Other staff in children’s social care said that when writing reports on CSE cases, they were advised by their managers to be cautious about referring to the ethnicity of the perpetrators.
All the senior officers we interviewed were asked whether ethnic considerations influenced their decision making. All were unequivocal that this did not happen. However, several of those involved in the operational management of services reported some attempts to pressurise them into changing their approach to some issues. This mainly affected the support given to Pakistani-heritage women fleeing domestic violence, where a small number of councillors had demanded that social workers reveal the whereabouts of these women or effect reconciliation rather than supporting the women to make up their own minds. The Inquiry team was confident that ethnic issues did not influence professional decision-making in individual cases.
Finally, it is crucial that we not forget the young girls who were sexually exploited. The chapter on outcomes (pp. 35-44) in the report makes for harrowing reading. It speaks of broken children, desperately seeking love and approval, of the grooming process which many of the victims did not recognize as grooming for sexual purposes, and of the violence which followed. Some of the girls were as young as eleven or twelve when their exploitation began. The outcomes are not good, to say the least (p. 43):
It is important to emphasise that even when agencies intervened appropriately to protect and support children and young people, the impact sexual exploitation had on them was absolutely devastating. Time and again we read in the files and other documents of children being violently raped, beaten, forced to perform sex acts in taxis and cars when they were being trafficked between towns, and serially abused by large numbers of men. Many children repeatedly self-harmed and some became suicidal. They suffered family breakdown and some became homeless. Several years after they had been abused, a disproportionate number were victims of domestic violence, had developed long-standing drug and alcohol addiction, and had parenting difficulties with their own children, resulting in child protection/children in need interventions. Some suffered post-traumatic stress and other emotional and psychological problems, often undiagnosed and untreated. Some experienced mental health problems.Lucy's story, published in the New York Times, tells about the grooming process and about what followed:
It started on the bumper cars in the children’s arcade of the local shopping mall. Lucy was 12, and a group of teenage boys, handsome and flirtatious, treated her and her friends to free rides and ice cream after school.
Over time, older men were introduced to the girls, while the boys faded away. Soon they were getting rides in real cars, and were offered vodka and marijuana. One man in particular, a Pakistani twice her age and the leader of the group, flattered her and bought her drinks and even a mobile phone. Lucy liked him.
The rapes started gradually, once a week, then every day: by the war memorial in Clifton Park, in an alley near the bus station, in countless taxis and, once, in an apartment where she was locked naked in a room and had to service half a dozen men lined up outside.
She obliged. How could she not? They knew where she lived. “If you don’t come back, we will rape your mother and make you watch,” they would say.
And it gets worse.
(1) Note that references to the report itself are given as page numbers in this post.
The report mentions boys among the victims (p.32) and discusses four case files. It also notes that in May 2014 the current caseload of those working on child sexual exploitation consisted of six male and forty-six female victims. I cannot tell from the report if the alleged perpetrators of child sexual exploitation against boys were also ethnically Pakistani or not or if multiple perpetrators worked together in those cases, too. The report notes that boys were also failed (p.32):
- The Inquiry team did a detailed analysis of four cases involving young boys. We reviewed one young teenager with the specialist team from the National Working Group Network. Several issues emerged from the latter case, including:
. a) the importance of making sure that judgments about child sexual exploitation are consistent and gender neutral, for example by asking if the same level of risk would be acceptable if the child was the opposite gender; ...
(2) For different opinions on race, racism and political correctness in this context, read here, here, here, here , here and here.
(3) There's one theoretical alternative to that which is that perhaps abuse victims did not report on abusers who were white, say, in the same proportions as the abuse happened. That seems very unlikely, but I'm noting it for the sake of completeness.
(4) The report states that some in the police regarded very young girls as voluntary and consenting participants in these atrocities, lacked the understanding of the impact of grooming and fear on them (p. 69) or even regarded the young girls as undesirables, not worth protecting. The report also stresses that many in the police did excellent work.
(5) There's a way to test this in theory, by looking at the arrest etc. rates for whites in the area for similar crimes.
(6) The percentages of men among those cautioned, prosecuted and found guilty categories were 96.7% , 98.2% and 99.0%. Cautions, in the British system, are
...issued by the police and aim to deal with low risk, low-level and mostly first-time offenders outside of the court system. In the case of sexual offense cautions are the only available out of court disposal. Guidance exists to help police forces and the CPS make their decision to issue a caution, and is clear that simple cautions should not normally be used for serious offences or persistent offenders.