It was blind prejudice – not “political correctness” – that failed Rotherham’s abused children

daily mail cowards headline

“1,400 victims of the PC brigade” screamed The Sun’s headline on Wednesday – conscripting Rotherham’s sexually-exploited children for its longstanding campaign against “political correctness”. “Social workers and police feared racism claims – so did nothing”, declaimed the Mail. So far, so predictable; but soon far-right broadsheets joined the far-right tabloids. The report on the abuse “keeps coming back to the terror of saying the wrong thing”, intoned Tory MEP Daniel Hannan. The problem is that “everything is seen through the prism of … what we erroneously call “anti-racism”” (staff are taught that “everything – everything – should be seen through the prism of race”) but is in reality an all-powerful totalitarian movement:

““Anti-racism” has for a long time been the most powerful card in the Leftist deck, trumping everything else: free contract, free association, free speech. It has been elevated as the supreme goal of public policy.

“In the face of such evil, who is the racist now?” clamoured one Telegraph headline, following this odd non sequitur by praising a UKIP MEP, heavily emphasising Islam, casually referencing ISIS, and concluding: “To avoid rocking the multicultural boat, they fed 1,400 children to the sharks.” Self-professed progressive Dan Hodges concluded that

“race did not just provide a motivational element in these horrific crimes. It was also a major contributing factor in the perpetrators’ ability to get away with their abuse on such a scale for such a long period of time. … time and again the racial element of their crimes directly or indirectly obstructed efforts to prevent them. … The attackers had a cloak. Savile’s was fame. In Rotherham it was race.”

Not to be out-done, the BBC decided to tar the entire local Pakistani community, one anchor asking a Muslim spokesperson:

“My question was about the perpetrators, and I’m just asking about the culture in the Pakistani community in Rotherham that led to this appalling crime.

In the Independent, Yasmin Alibhai Brown took things to another planet, decreeing that:

“White experts and officers have for too long been reluctant to confront serious offences committed by black and Asian people. … So, instead of saving children who were being gang raped, drugged, assaulted, threatened and terrorised, they chose to protect rapists, abusers, traffickers and drug dealers.”

What exactly is the evidence for all this? Helpfully, Alexis Jay’s report on child sexual exploitation in Rotherham includes an entire chapter on racial issues. As you may or may not be surprised to learn, its conclusions are less stark, and less hysterical, than those of the Powellite far-right (and liberal) media.

Here’s the chapter’s second sentence:

“Within the Council, we found no evidence of children’s social care staff being influenced by concerns about the ethnic origins of suspected perpetrators when dealing with individual child protection cases”.

For instance:

Frontline staff did not report personal experience of attempts to influence their practice or decision making because of ethnic issues.” (11.9)

Thus:

The Inquiry team was confident that ethnic issues did not influence professional decision-making in individual cases.” (11.8)

The report also preemptively scotches the racist demonology of Asian men “preying” on white girls:

“As has been stated many times before, there is no simple link between race and child sexual exploitation, and across the UK the greatest numbers of perpetrators of CSE are white men.” (11.2)

“The Deputy Children’s Commissioner’s report reached a similar conclusion to the Muslim Women’s Network research, stating ‘one of these myths was that only white girls are victims of sexual exploitation by Asian or Muslim males, as if these men only abuse outside of their own community, driven by hatred and contempt for white females. This belief flies in the face of evidence that shows that those who violate children are most likely to target those who are closest to them and most easily accessible.’” (11.16)

Compare this with the Telegraph’s Allison Pearon:

“The Rotherham scandal seems temporarily to have silenced those who insist, every time a child-grooming case is exposed, that most paedophiles are white.”

Or the Independent’s Alibhai Brown:

“The perpetrators are not paedophiles in the normal sense of the word. Racial and cultural odium as much as ugly lust and power drives them to abuse. … I partly blame their families and communities. … Within some British Asian circles, the West is considered degenerate and immoral. So it’s OK to take their girls and ruin them further.”

Besides this, the chapter notes allegations of racial bias in favour of Asian men on the part of the police (“it is believed” [11.5]; “Several people interviewed expressed the general view that” [11.7]), but points out that these were unsubstantiated. In 2006, for instance, a report found 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.” (11.6)

Hodges’ Telegraph blog cuts out that crucial last line, citing this string of “beliefs” and “views” as if it vindicated his entire account.

 

So where has the press’s version come from? Not completely out of nowhere, in fact. There was sensitivity about ethnicity from those working on child abuse:

“Those who had involvement in [work on child sexual exploitation] were acutely aware of [racial] issues and recalled a general nervousness in the earlier years about discussing them, for fear of being thought racist.” (11.9)

One manager at a local child protection service

“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 [child sexual exploitation] cases, they were advised by their managers to be cautious about referring to the ethnicity of the perpetrators.” (11.7)

As noted above, though, this did not influence the work of frontline staff.

On the Council, the report’s conclusions are more damning. In its chapter “The Role of Elected Members and Senior Officers of the Council”, it states:

“There are reports that senior [council] staff conveyed that sexual exploitation and the ethnicity of perpetrators should be played down. This seemed to be reinforced by the Police.”

Note what this does not say: that sexual exploitation was played down simply because of the perpetrators’ ethnicity. In fact, it concludes that the “reasons for this are not clear”. In deep denial about their scope and nature, the council appears not to have believed – perhaps not to have wanted to believe – the reports it was receiving, and police advice to the council was itself sometimes dismissive. The report found that:

“The terms used by many people we spoke to about how those in authority (members and some officers) dealt with [child sexual exploitation] were ‘sweeping it under the carpet’, ‘turning a blind eye’ and ‘keeping a lid on it’. One person said of the past ‘the people above just didn’t want to know’.” (13.52)

Alongside this, racial tension was a factor at play in the failure to publicise the issue:

“Several councillors interviewed believed that by opening up these issues they could be ‘giving oxygen’ to racist perspectives that might in turn attract extremist political groups and threaten community cohesion. To some extent this concern was valid, with the apparent targeting of the town by groups such as the English Defence League.” (11.12)

Some councillors also pressured social-service managers on separate issues:

“… 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.” (11.8)

These attempts to apply pressure were unsuccessful.

The report’s evidence on ethnicity, then, while notable, is largely circumstantial. It provides no “smoking gun” on the role of “political correctness”, presenting no evidence that racial sensitivity was either a necessary or sufficient cause of the failure to address these crimes. Nor does it demonstrate that these crimes were themselves racially motivated.

 

If there is no substantive evidence that inverse racism stayed the hand of the police (or social workers), a more compelling explanation falls into the reader’s lap in chapter eight. There were, we learn, “many historic cases where the operational response of the Police fell far short of what could be expected”; the report offers no explanation, but notes:

“The Police had excellent procedures from 1998, but in practice these appear to have been widely disregarded. Certainly there is evidence that police officers on the ground in the 1990s and well beyond displayed attitudes that conveyed a lack of understanding of the problem of [child sexual exploitation] and the nature of grooming. We have already seen that children as young as 11 were deemed to be having consensual sexual intercourse when in fact they were being raped and abused by adults.” (8.1)

In the report’s Summary, Jay observes:

“At an operational level, the Police gave no priority to [child sexual exploitation], regarding many child victims with contempt and failing to act on their abuse as a crime.

One man described

“how the Police refused to intervene when young girls who were thought to be victims of [child sexual exploitation] were being beaten up and abused by perpetrators. According to him, the attitude of the Police at that time seemed to be that they were all ‘undesirables’ and the young women were not worthy of police protection.” (8.2)

Examples abound, some horrifying.

“Two of the adults received police cautions after admitting to the Police that they had intercourse with Child A. … the CID representative argued against the category of sexual abuse being used because he thought that Child A had been ‘100% consensual in every incident’.” (5.21)

“In two of the cases we read, fathers tracked down their daughters and tried to remove them from houses where they were being abused, only to be arrested themselves when police were called to the scene. In a small number of cases (which have already received media attention) the victims were arrested for offences such as breach of the peace or being drunk and disorderly, with no action taken against the perpetrators of rape and sexual assault against children.” (5.9)

“Police and children’s social care were ineffective and seemed to blame the child. … An initial assessment accurately described the risks to Child D but appeared to blame her for ‘placing herself at risk of sexual exploitation and danger’.” (5.24)

“Prior to 2007, it was exceptional to find a risk assessment in the case files, and minutes of Strategy meetings suggested that children’s social care and the Police adopted an approach of minimal intervention.” (6.27)

So how do the police account for their dire record?

“… the Police would cite the requirements of the CPS and their unwillingness to charge alleged perpetrators as the main reason so few prosecutions were pursued. In 2003, an SSI inspection noted that when Police had investigated and referred a case to the CPS, it had taken them nine months to decide not to proceed with the case.” (8.28)

Is there any evidence that police and CPS prejudice had a decisive effect? There is not only evidence but, if the report is to be believed, abundant evidence:

“A list of stereotypical behaviours previously thought to undermine the credibility of young victims was included [in recently revised Crown Prosecution Service guidelines] to dispel the associated myths when bringing a prosecution. These included:

  • The victim invited sex by the way they dressed or acted
  • The victim used alcohol or drugs and was therefore sexually available
  • The victim didn’t scream, fight or protest so they must have been consenting
  • The victim didn’t complain immediately, so it can’t have been a sexual assault
  • The victim is in a relationship with the alleged offender and is therefore a willing partner
  • A victim should remember events consistently
  • Children can consent to their own sexual exploitation
  • [Child sexual exploitation] is only a problem in certain ethnic/cultural communities
  • Only girls and young women are victims of child sexual abuse
  • Children from BME backgrounds are not abused
  • There will be physical evidence of abuse.

All of the above elements have been referred to at some point in historic files we read, usually as reasons given by the Police or the CPS for not pursuing suspected perpetrators.” (8.36-8.37)

Jay identifies various reasons for the appalling outcomes in Rotherham. Needless to say, most of the report has nothing to do with ethnicity, but describes institutional shortcomings and bureaucratic failure. Organisations struggled to work effectively together, engaged in turf wars, made mistakes in reorganising themselves, and failed to check that their training and guidance were being implemented. The number of missing documents repeatedly referenced in the report hints at an official cover-up after the event. Budget cuts and funding constraints run through the report like a black thread (they too get their own chapter): child protection staff were clearly overwhelmed by the extent of the complex, difficult, resource-intensive work they were required to do, with local government cuts soon to hit them – and councils across the country – like a tonne of bricks. The headline “1,400 victims of public funding squeeze” might be less ideologically amenable to Rupert Murdoch, but would be no less accurate.

No “smoking gun” is more glaring in the report, though, than prejudice on the part of the police and Crown Prosecution Service when dealing with the victims of rape, and in their abject failure to prosecute perpetrators. Judging by the available evidence, it was above all blind prejudice – not “politically correct” hypersensitivity to racism – that failed Rotherham’s abused children.

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