Grooming-gang victims are being let down – again

The UK's Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is shying away from difficult issues.

Hardeep Singh

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Topics Politics UK

In its own words, the UK’s Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) was ‘set up because of serious concerns that some organisations had failed and were continuing to fail to protect children from sexual abuse’. This includes the organisational failure to protect children from abuse at the hands of organised criminal networks, such as ‘grooming gangs’.

Yet some grooming-gang victims, and those championing their cause, have increasingly felt marginalised by the IICSA proceedings. It is as if the issue of grooming gangs, in which men of mainly Pakistani heritage prey on vulnerable, mainly working-class white girls, is seen as too contentious by the IICSA.

This certainly seems to be the view of Maggie Oliver, the former Greater Manchester Police detective who blew the whistle on GMP’s failure to investigate properly child sexual abuse at the hands of men of mainly Pakistani heritage in Rochdale in the 2000s. She complained that most of her written submission to the IICSA was deleted, despite her being a ‘core participant’. She called it ‘another cover-up’, claiming she was not permitted to speak in person, either.

Oliver is not alone. Grooming-gang victims have expressed concerns, too. Take, for example, the survivors of the Rotherham grooming gangs, where, once again, men of predominantly Pakistani heritage are estimated to have abused 1,400 vulnerable girls between 1997 and 2013. They, too, are said to feel marginalised, despite the IICSA claiming that ‘the experiences of victims and survivors are central to our task’. The same goes for the victims of similar grooming gangs, also mainly involving men of Pakistani heritage, in Rochdale, Oxford and Telford. As ‘Elizabeth’, a victim of abuse in Rotherham, told me, the IICSA ‘picking and choosing what to listen to, does not get the victims/survivors the truth and the justice they deserve’.

Elizabeth is right. The IICSA does seem to be ‘picking and choosing what to listen to’. Hence the cases of Rotherham and Rochdale have been marginalised by the IICSA, in favour of a focus on child sexual exploitation by organised networks in six random geographical areas — St Helens, Tower Hamlets, Swansea, Durham, Bristol and Warwickshire. The IICSA explained their reasoning to me as follows:

‘This is a forward-looking investigation into child sexual exploitation by organised networks. Instead of going over previous cases and reviews, we are examining whether lessons have been learned from them or if children are still at risk from sexual exploitation in 2020. As well as hearing national-level evidence, we are focusing on six different areas with a range of characteristics, in order to delve deeper into the key issues.’

But this does nothing to address the notorious institutional failings that allowed organised networks, such as the Rotherham grooming gang, to abuse predominantly white working-class girls. Indeed, despite this being a national inquiry to address the question of ‘what went wrong and why’, a review of the transcripts of IICSA’s two-week hearing into CSE by ‘organised networks’ hardly touches on the ethnicity of perpetrators and victims in high-profile cases.

Admittedly, some of the evidence submitted to the IICSA does at least point to the role ethnicity might be playing. Notably, Narinder Kaur Kooner OBE, of the Sikh Women’s Action Network, writes that ‘sadly there have been vigilante groups set up within the Sikh community that claim to deal with Pakistani grooming gangs targeting Sikh girls’. Kooner is brave to say this. Indeed, the exploitation of a Sikh girl above a restaurant in Leicester in 2013 triggered vigilante action for which seven Sikh men were jailed. Six men (with mainly Muslim names) who had exploited the girl were subsequently given prison sentences. Although issues of ethnic conflict are ugly, it is important to discuss them frankly and openly.

Meanwhile, despite being ignored by IICSA, Oliver has published her full statement on her own website. Here, she indicates why there may have been a historical reluctance to address the ethnicity of perpetrators. As she puts it, the police were reluctant to investigate child-sexual-exploitation crimes as they did not want to inflame community tensions. She writes:

‘I believe that a link to this might have been the July 2005 (‘7/7’) bombings in London, in which 52 people were killed by homegrown terrorists using explosive devices on public transport in the capital. Race relations were very fractious as a result, and there was hesitancy, I felt, from the police to take any steps that might inflame racial tensions – including investigating widespread abuse by predominantly Pakistani men.’

Has the IICSA, out of fear of inflaming community tensions, deliberately chosen to ignore the ethnic dimension to these cases of widespread child sexual exploitation?

If so, it wouldn’t be the first time. Maintaining community cohesion has indeed inhibited a frank and open debate on the background and motivation of the majority of those convicted in places like Rotherham and Rochdale. This is something previously highlighted in the Jay Report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham and echoed by the inquiry into the failings of GMP published earlier this year. I asked the IICSA about the absence of attention on the ethnic component to organised child sexual exploitation, to which it responded:

‘This investigation is focusing on “organised networks”. By this, we mean two or more individuals, whether identified or not, who are known to, or associated with, one another and are known to be involved in, or to facilitate, the sexual exploitation of children. It is not focusing on one particular ethnic group.’

But is it really possible to investigate the organised sexual exploitation of children without taking into account the ethnic make-up of the perpetrators and victims?

Oliver does not think so. ‘For me, I think it is always linked to the racial or the religious aspect of it’, she said on ITV panel show Loose Women. Oliver said we should not be afraid to acknowledge the role race and religion plays in child sexual abuse out of fear of the repercussions. ‘For me this is not a religious issue, it is not a racial issue’, she said. ‘This is about child protection. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s Jimmy Saville, if it’s the Catholic Church, if it’s the United Nations… it doesn’t matter, we have to protect children.’

Yet given the thoroughness of recent reports into the scale of abuse in the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church, it seems few are worried about upsetting Christian sensibilities. So why has the IICSA been so reluctant to conduct an in-depth nationwide review into the background and motivations of perpetrators in high-profile grooming-gang cases which have involved men of predominantly Pakistani heritage? And why have those prepared to speak on precisely these issues – people like Oliver herself and MP Sarah Champion MP – not been allowed to give oral evidence? After all, learning more about the profile and motivations of these evil predators is vital to our ability to combat them. For once, it would be good if the IICSA lived up to the platitude, ‘lessons will be learned’. At the moment, however, it seems determined not to learn any lessons at all.

Hardeep Singh is a writer based in London. Follow him on Twitter: @singhtwo2

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