Race, grooming and the ‘Other’

An undercurrent of hostility pervades the treatment of British ethnic minority communities by media and public discourses. They are often scrutinised and ‘Othered’, their sense of belonging constantly undermined. The Brexit debate prior to the referendum was dominated by immigration, stoking a climate of hatred, most notably exemplified by the UKIP ‘breaking point’ poster campaign which had disconcerting similarity with Nazi era posters. This vilification of minority communities gives fuel to right-wing and xenophobic sentiments that have swept across Britain and Europe since the ‘war on terror.’ The government has reported that 78% of hate crimes were racially motivated in 2016-2017, a 27% increase from the previous year.

It is within this context that we have witnessed prominent media reports of British-Asian men, mainly British-Pakistani men, grooming vulnerable white girls in gangs. This has taken placed in Rochdale, Rotherham, and Oxford, and most recently, in Newcastle, that have resulted in subsequent convictions including life sentences. There has been public debate regarding this phenomenon and attempts to produce research determining what role race plays, and whether there is an overrepresentation of British-Pakistani men who perpetrate these crimes. This article looks at how these cases are framed in the media and public discourses, in light of the #MeToo campaign, and argues for a nuanced perspective regarding the race angle.

In 2012, Simon Danczuk, Labour MP for Rochdale, said that ethnicity ‘is a factor’ in on street grooming talking to BBC Radio 4. He expressed similar sentiments to BBC Radio 5 live that a small minority of Asian men have a ‘completely unacceptable’ view of young white girls. Judge Clinton’s verdict at the Rochdale case would support this analysis, who claimed white girls were targeted because they were not part of the perpetrators ‘community or religion.’ In the Mail on Sunday, Nazir Afzal acknowledged race as a factor, but pronounced ‘misogyny’ as fuelling the growth of grooming gangs, asking ‘Will my Asian community NOW end the vile misogyny behind the latest child sex gang scandal?’

Others have placed this phenomenon in a wider context. Keith Vaz MP, at the time chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, stated that the root causes of the abuse of young girls needed to be addressed but that investigations must not focus on the ethnic origin, religion or geographical location of those involved. In the recent case in Newcastle, Judge Penny Moreland said victims were not targeted ‘because of their race, but because they were young, impressionable, naive and vulnerable.’ Jeremy Corbyn echoed this view in an interview with the BBC in summer 2016, saying that the ‘the problem is the crime is committed against women from any community’ and that ‘much crime is committed by white people’. Of course, an entire community cannot be at fault, according to Corbyn’s view.

Constructing a phenomenon of ‘grooming’ gangs, the evidence does point towards perpetrators who come mainly from a particular ethnic group. In 2013, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection command (CEOP) found that that 75% of group abusers are from Asian backgrounds. Most recently, a report by Qulliam found there was an overrepresentation of South Asian men in group-based child sexual exploitation crime. Avoiding political correctness and recognising this phenomenon as a discrete ‘sub-culture’ within the British-Pakistani community could help to gain intelligence and insight into potential cases of grooming, so that more vulnerable women and girls can be protected. As such, more ethnographic research should be done on the root causes of this abuse. Nazir Afzal, former Chief Crown Prosecutor, argues that ‘ultraconservatism’ has swept across South Asia in which men can get away with anything and women have become second-class citizens.

Whilst media reports and research highlight a pattern of abuse, we must critically examine this ‘evidence’. The crimes here are being constructed around identities of race, rather than say misogyny, so they are being treated by a race angle. Any purported sub-culture in a community ought to be situated in a wider context in media and public discourses, recognising the prevalence of sexual violence towards women and girls that pervades everyday life in the workplace, on campuses, at sports clubs, and in this case, on the streets. Without reference to that wider context of sexual violence, the visibility of race in the media renders a whole minority community ‘othered’ and stigmatised. Last summer, Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham, argued vociferously in the Sun that “British-Pakistani men ARE raping and exploiting white girls…and it’s time we faced up to it”, implicating every single British-Pakistani man, though she later distanced herself from such rhetoric. Earlier, Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation went as far to say that grooming was “a significant problem for the British Pakistani community.”

If grooming is framed in a wider context of entrenched sexual violence towards women and children, then the ‘problem’ is not unique to any one community. We live in a culture in which sexual violence seems to be the norm, as we have seen recently in report after report and in the #MeToo campaign which has taken social media by storm. Conversely to the group phenomenon in media discourse, sexual harassment, institutional sexual abuse and paedophilia by lone white abusers are not considered a problem in the ‘white community’, nor are ordinary white people made to feel accountable for it. These cases are not framed in reference to race because they are committed by members of a majority community. We are not seeing the same analysis about the nature of ‘white middle-class culture’ that led to the exploitation of young children by Jimmy Saville and the people who helped to cover him up at elite levels of society.

When crimes are committed by members of a minority community, a causal link is created between that crime and the race, and the whole community is implicated in it. Moreover, British Asians themselves choose to make themselves accountable for the crimes of these gangs with whom they have no actual connection. As Qulliam co-author Haras Rafiq states, “…We didn’t want there to be a pattern of people from our ethnic demographic carrying out these attacks. But unfortunately, we were proven wrong.” In stating ‘our ethnic demographic’, he implicitly makes himself accountable to the perpetrators.

To summarise, starting from 2012 in relation to Rochdale, it is fair to assume a trend or sub-culture of mainly Pakistani men grooming young white girls and at the same time recognise it as one manifestation of sexual violence which spans across ethnicity and class, right up to elite levels of society. There is no contradiction between the two. The consequence of not seeing this phenomenon in a wider context only serves to ‘other’ the British Pakistani or Asian community, helps people to feel ‘holier than thou’ and gives fuel to far-right groups. Responsibility for remedying the shocking culture of sexual violence and challenging the attitudes that objectify women lies with everyone, including the public institutions who failed to protect these vulnerable girls.

The intermeshing of crime around race in media and public discourses should have the objective of raising awareness and gaining intelligence about a style of crime so that knowing the pattern of abuse allows agencies to detect further abuse. What it achieves instead is that it ‘others’ Asian communities, and detracts from the crucial issue of misogyny and objectification of women. If media and public institutions are able to position such crimes in a wider context of the prevalence of sexual violence in Britain today, it allows institutions to refer to race in a meaningful way, in a way divorced from hostility or racism. The aim should not be to ‘other’ communities or pit them against one another but focus on the vulnerable women and children who are affected by this abuse and whose right it is to be safe from predatory sexual violence.


An ode to traditional relationships and marriage: A critique of modern dating

Over the last five years, traditional codes of modern dating and relationships have radically changed with the rise of digital apps such as the ubiquitous Tinder. Dating is no longer exclusive, with people from Generation X and Y choosing short-term dating, undefined relationships and casual arrangements to fulfil emotional and sexual needs. The traction and development of the terms ‘friends with benefits’, ‘intimate hook up’, ‘hook up’ and even an ‘almost relationship’ all reflect a changed landscape in modern dating, documented by popular websites such as Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and Elite Daily.

Are young people scared of making the same mistakes as their parents? Divorce could be a factor that discourages young people from wanting to commit to a long-term relationship or marriage. We know around 50% of marriages result in divorce. This may lead young people to feeling reluctant to make the same choices as their parents. Growing up around the struggles of divorced parents could be a source of childhood trauma that prevents young people from making strong romantic commitments.

Can such lifestyles facilitate true happiness? And is this shift to be welcomed for society? An abundance of choice can be too much of a good thing. Rather than a liberating phenomenon that allows young people to have ‘fun’ and exercise choice, as per western liberal values, a lifestyle that chooses undefined and casual relationships is a barrier to experiencing true intimacy. Modern dating creates a fragmented self, in which sexual and emotional needs are fulfilled from a range of partners.

Those who engage in short-term dating miss out on experiencing true intimacy with another. For most people, true happiness comes from experiencing intimacy. A committed and monogamous relationship has the potential to experience that. We can share innermost thoughts and be vulnerable, taking off those proverbial masks that we wear in society. But in an undefined or insecure relationship, it is difficult to take off those masks because there is greater emotional risk to bare our soul. That person may be gone tomorrow. Brene Brown’s work highlights the importance of vulnerability. She argues that vulnerability is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity, and it cultivates a purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual life.

Some may argue that young people – men in particular – have always engaged in casual relationships and ‘played the field’ before settling down. Committed relationships and marriage are, however, the bedrock of society and opportunities to develop character and evolve as human beings. It is the place in which we learn values such as sacrifice, trust, forgiveness and patience. If some people are choosing a lifestyle of undefined relationships well into their twenties before ‘settling down’ then they may not have the opportunity to develop these attributes and values until much later. What we may be witnessing is a shift, with the delaying of adult maturity until ones late twenties and thirties. This puts women in particular at a disadvantage for whom the biological clock starts ticking when they reach 30.

Being in a committed relationship, moreover, and overcoming its challenges is an antidote to self-centredness and narcissism, the latter of which is an upward trend in society. When we put up with another person’s fatal flaws, rather than moving on before things get ‘too serious’, we cultivate compassion and are more likely to have self-awareness of our own flaws. There is great danger that hookup culture fosters an individualistic society of people who are focused on gratifying their own desires and needs.

While some actively choose casual relationships, there are others, particularly women, who may prefer a monogamous relationship but are being forced to adapt to the new attitudes to exclusivity. In recent years, there has been a body of academic research looking at gender dynamics and hookup culture on American campuses, that highlights male students have the upper hand in hook up culture. This research documents peer pressure, safety concerns and unequal power dynamic between men and women.

The nexus and interplay between consumerism and digital media has also shaped the dating scene. Capitalist consumerism primes us psychologically to want choice. That sense of choice has been developed and proliferated by the rise of social media apps in the last ten years. Aside from the choosy mentality that affects finding that elusive man or woman, this sense of wanting a specific ‘thing’ affects all our product and lifestyle choices. We are primed to believe that we deserve to find that perfect person or product which may or may not exist, propelling us towards an eternal quest.

That nexus between consumerism and digital media also has a gender dynamic. A recent Vanity Fair’s article about the ‘dating apocalypse’ drew attention to the work of Professor David Buss who specializes in the evolution of human sexuality. Buss says that Apps like Tinder and OKCupid give the impression that there are thousands of millions of potential mates. Buss says, “One dimension of this is the impact it has on men’s psychology. When there is a surplus of women, or a perceived surplus of women, the whole mating system tends to shift towards short-term dating. Marriages become unstable. Divorces increase. Men don’t have to commit, so they pursue a short-term mating strategy. Men are making that shift, and women are forced to go along with it in order to mate at all.”

Finding a romantic partner has become an expression of consumerism. We want to mail order a person on a social media app, like we would a consumer product. With the pervasive narrative of choice, fostered by consumerism and digital apps, we make the mistake of thinking we can order attributes and characteristics of a perfect partner just as if we can select components that make up a new kitchen. We become hardwired to think of people as products.

Whilst dating apps have helped thousands of people to find love, the ugly side of social media dating is thinking that perfect carboard cut-out is available for all of us. Human beings do not work like that. We are not biodata. We are not a CV. We are the sum-total of our fears, fatal flaws, baggage, idiosyncrasies and aspirations. Our unique humanness.

And what of old fashioned values? In a consumerist identity, who we are is fashioned by our product and lifestyle choices. But what we choose to outwardly be – what we wear, what we listen to, what we buy, where we travel, what we look like – those are merely the outward form. What about the inner life? Trust, patience, kindness, and compassion, and other values are not revealed in the outward form, but they crucially shape whether someone will make a good life partner. In our narcissistic and selfie-fuelled culture, the outward form has been prioritised over the inward.

It is trite to say that dating has become an industry. With the prevalence of short term dating and changed attitudes to commitment, we are failing to achieve the peak of our human potential. Far too much angst, time and energy is being poured into short-term dating when we could be doing so much more for ourselves and society whilst in committed and loving relationships.

Just because many young people are choosing a short-term dating strategy does not necessarily mean they truly want that deep down. They may just unwillingly be caught up in the zeitgeist of our times. It seems that many young people do not seem to want to make that leap towards long-term commitment – either via marriage or a long-term relationship.

The Product

Lust has overcome them for
The Product

Eyes glazed over
Mouths moist with saliva
Towards it they move closer
Their bodies trembling

They cannot look you in the eye
As fingers caress cool metal
For no human can replace
The gazing into its virtual, empty world

When we were kids

When we were kids

We’d make shapes with our bodies

We’d hang upside down from sofas

And roll down hills getting grass on our clothes

We’d do cartwheels and forward rolls

Our bodies loose like raggy dolls

Twenty years on, it’s just a few shapes

That my body now makes