“Lost” Girls Are Not Sex Objects – Whatever Their Race: Part II

In light of several interesting comments to my previous post on the Rochdale “grooming” case, I decided a follow-up piece was in order.

Much of the furore surrounding the case has been with respect to race and its alleged role in the attack, specifically: does the “Asian” (Pakistani and thereby Muslim) origin of the attackers play a role in the crime? As stated previously, sexual abuse occurs across all ethnic/racial, socioeconomic and religious groups.  Worldwide, women and girls (in particular) comprise 80% of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked annually; the majority (79%) are trafficked for sexual exploitation.  With respect to sex crimes across the UK, there are 8,106 male sex offenders in prisons across England and Wales.  Of this group, 81.9 percent are White; 9.9 percent are Black/Black British; 5.6 percent are Asian/Asian British; and 2.2 percent are other/mixed (the Asian/Asian British includes sub-groupings of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladesh and Other Asian).

The arrest of the group in Rochdale has heightened racial sensitivities, with several British Muslim communities receiving an increase in hate mail and abusive phone calls.  The authors of the first independent academic analysis into child sex trafficking within the UK, which focused on two police investigations in the North and the Midlands, warn of the dangers of racial stereotyping amid claims of a widespread problem of Pakistani men exploiting underage white girls.  The head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (Ceop), Peter Davies announced the Centre will be investigating “on-street” grooming, leading to abuse and exploitation.  Ceop said its findings would be made public within three to six months time, and MMW will be sure to cover it in due course.

It is increasingly apparent that certain religious and socio-cultural factors may have contributed to the abuse – much of it is explicitly stated in the article on Imam Karmani and why the cloud of taboo and scandal associated with sex needs to dissipate in order to change the cultural mindset and expectations of young British Pakistanis. According to a report on “Black and Minority Sex Offenders,” socio-cultural constraints in discussing sex also contribute to the under reporting of sexual abuse in black and minority ethnic (BME) families.  South Asian communities in particular have drawn attention to the potency of certain concepts – such as izzat (honour/respect), haya (modesty) and sharam (shame/embarassment) – as inhibitors of talking about sexual matters.  The report also cites conflict between religious norms around not talking about about criminal offences and the Prison Service’s need/duty to assess the risk that offenders may pose on release from prison.

Additionally, it is not impossible to consider that “Asian” communities in Great Britain are joining the ranks of other “groups” (immigrant or otherwise) dabbling in crime and depravity.  If the documentary on Dutch-Moroccan lover boys is an indicator of such occurrences outside GB, there are potentially similar incidences underway in other parts of North America and Europe.

Another point to consider is with respect how some Muslim women are not “protected” within their own households.  Using the example of the Bradford/Mirpur community, Sarah Khan comments on the similarities between the women assaulted and mistreated by the Rochdale gang and parallels their abuse to those women who have suffered at the hands of spouses and extended family members living in conservative, tight-knit communities with some semblance of a joint-family system whereby decisions relating to women’s choices in marriage, education are often relegated to elders.

“The culture of the conservative Kashmiri/Mirpuri community has at its root a deep seated misogyny with the aim of controlling every aspect of a woman’s life and reducing her into subservience.”

She is not entirely incorrect in her assumption – cases of spousal abuse and other incidences of violence against women do occur across British Muslim communities.  While there is a dearth of statistics on violence against women in British Muslim communities specifically, one in four women in the UK experiences domestic violence, and the fact that two women each week are killed in this country by a former partner is clearly indicative of how domestic violence as misogyny exists in all communities and societies.  Another indicator of the existence of domestic violence is Karma Nirvana, a charity that operates nationally, supporting victims and survivors of forced marriages and honour-based violence.  The centre has set up a help line and is purported to field approximately 500 calls a month!

What is worth mentioning also is that, coupled with incidences of abuses, is a general rise in educated, empowered single Muslim women across much of the UK.  According to the “Equality and Human Rights Commission’s How Fair is Britain?”  report, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women in Britain are more likely to be employed as professionals than their male counterparts. This trend in particular is reaching heights whereby educated women are unable to find potential spouses, be it because there’s a general unavailability of  “good”  Muslim men or a lack of Muslim men with open minds about having educated spouses wanting to achieve the forever-tenuous work/life balance.  Incidences of violence against women exist within all communities, as do criminal elements, all of which are further compounded by a slowing world economy and increasing unemployment rates among immigrant communities in the west.

Moreover, the article by Sarah Khan (“After Rochdale,” linked above) made me a (for lack of a better word) somewhat introspective.  While it is difficult to sift through media reports on Islamophobia, it is equally difficult not to take into account challenges faced by Muslims today.  It is equally important to defend a women’s right to veil, as it is to address of violence committed against Muslim (and non-Muslim) women in the name of Islam.  While we as Muslims try to suppress the stereotype of women as victims, we should also be able to address the fractured relationships amongst Muslim denominations in addition to addressing human rights violations committed against fellow Muslims.

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