HOPE not Hate have initiated a debate on grooming, here Liz Fekete, long-time anti-fascist campaigner responds.
‘We have known each other for a long time (as anti-fascists in the 1990s) and I approached your article ‘Grooming – an issue we cannot ignore’, with interest. Like you, I am very concerned at the way in which the far Right is using the issue of sexual abuse, exploitation and violence towards young girls in Rochdale and other northern towns to further the cause of racism and Islamophobia. (I am aware that more arrests are yet to come.) I write to you now in response to your call for an ‘open and honest discussion’.
Given the current climate, in which the far Right accuses the anti-racist lobby of imposing a conspiracy of silence about Muslim involvement in ‘on-street grooming’, I was quite surprised to see you similarly accuse the ‘left’ and anti-racists of being ‘too quick to try and silence any discussion’ and of turning a blind eye to the fact that the bulk of perpetrators of what you describe as ‘on-street grooming’ come from the British-Pakistani community. But what I really take issue with is your uncritical, and occasionally slanted, take on Ministry of Justice crime statistics.
There is, as you will know, a long history of racialising sex crimes in this country – Jews being associated with paedophilia in the 1930s, West Indians with pimping in the 1950s and now the focus has shifted to Muslim ‘groomers’. And statistics (just like attitude surveys) are not scientific and neutral but can be manipulated to suit an argument. The way you have broken down Ministry of Justice figures on convictions of sex offences as a whole (8 per cent of which were Asian) to isolate the specific offence of ‘on-street grooming’ so as to reveal a 28 per cent Asian conviction rate (which rises to a 45 per cent conviction rate three lines later in the article) filled me with dismay. It recalled for me the time in the 1980s when the media and the fascists were creating the spectre of the ‘black mugger’ and the Metropolitan police added to the moral panic by isolating ‘assault or threat of violence upon a person, especially with intent to rob’ from all street crime and then providing the ethnicity of the perpetrators. Then, young African-Caribbean men were being accused of racially-motivated attacks on ‘little white old ladies’ in much the same way as Muslims as a whole are accused of anti-white sex crimes. But would we have said, ‘yes the National Front has a point, young black men are muggers – it’s in Jamaican culture, to be violent. Look here are the stats.’ No, as anti-fascist/anti-racist educators, we tried to show how racialised moral panics were created and how statistics could be used to bolster them. Back then we also pointed to the links between ethnicised police statistics and institutionalised racism, via racial profiling in police operations. This is a link again made forcefully today in relation to the Rochdale cases by criminologists Ella Cockbain and Helen Brayley. They warn that the current obsession with ‘Asian sex gangs’, and the ‘Pakistani groomer’ could be used to justify racial profiling of the entire British-Pakistani community for the crimes of a tiny minority – something that would not only be abhorrent in and of itself, but would do nothing to help the victims of sex crimes, since a whole host of other offenders would go overlooked.
Not only have you turned away from the tradition we tried to establish, of questioning the use of police and government statistics to ‘prove’ an already racist point, but, forgive me, you seem to have engaged in some statistical conjuring yourself. For though you concede that the Ministry of Justice could not provide statistical evidence of the ethnicity of 38 per cent of on-street groomers, you ignore this rather salient fact to magic up your (sensationalist figure) of 45 per cent of all convicted ‘groomers’ being Asian. And then, in another leap you say the bulk of on-street groomers are from the British-Pakistani community (seemingly unaware that the category Asian in police and census statistics includes at least the whole of south Asia).
Of course I wholeheartedly support your call for more reflection, learning and action – at a grassroots level – to prevent on-street grooming and to challenge the power, privilege and patriarchal culture that allows men to treat girls as sexual commodities, but cannot concur when you isolate and ethnicise one group as though the only culture we should be concerned about is that of British Pakistanis. Power and culture always provide the context for violence towards and grooming of vulnerable girls (and boys) for sexual exploitation/prostitution. (Didn’t Jimmy Saville and his associates also commit their crimes in a cultural context, that defined by class, power and privilege?)
Yes, all communities – including the British Pakistani one – must examine the aspects of culture, class and power that allows for sexual abuse – and, yes, we should get behind the projects in the Asian community that you mention. But, paradoxically, focusing on the ethnicity of the abuser rather than the fate of the abused, actually militates against this. In these desperate times, when we face the biggest spending cuts since the 1920s, we would be foolish not to see that, as more and more families are rendered homeless and more and more youngsters are thrown on the scrapheap of unemployment, sexual abuse and the prostitution of powerless, discarded youngsters will grow. Instead of ethnicising crime, progressives and anti-fascists could be uniting to create a future for young people free from abuse. Children deserve a life rooted in dignity and respect where, when they go to the authorities to report their horrors, they are listened to, and action is taken.’
Yours in solidarity, Liz Fekete
Guardian news story: ‘The truth about ‘Asian sex gangs‘
Guardian comment: ‘This is how racism takes root‘