Concerns rising as town faces unprecedented Islamophobia
“When news broke of Jimmy Saville’s paedophilic crimes, the media didn’t say or suspect that anyone working for the BBC in the 1960s and 70’s who was white and of a certain age were grooming children.”
“The increased sexualisation of youngsters through explicit music videos and sexting, selfies and Instagram may be fuelling child sex abuse.”– MP Ann Coffey
Muslims in Rochdale, for the first time, have collectively spoken out against the rise of Islamophobia and discrimination against them, post the grooming scandal involving Asian men sexually exploiting young girls.
In 2012, nine men of Pakistani descent were convicted and sent to prison for grooming underage white girls for sex. Most of the men convicted for these heinous crimes were taxi drivers.
Ever since this came to the limelight, taxi drivers have felt the brunt of the backlash, suffering verbal abuse, intimidation, physical man-handling and severe beatings from people who now view all Pakistani taxi drivers in a similar light.
Challenging the narrative on grooming
A high-profile press conference organised by Rochdale’s local businessmen, taxi driver associations, community leaders, bloggers, rights activists and victims, aimed to challenge this narrative and to highlight the grievances of Rochdale’s Muslim Community on the issue.
“Irresponsible comments from senior local and national politicians are aiding the negative portrayal of the Muslim community.
“Time and time again some politicians and the mainstream media have attempted to equate issues such as grooming and the Muslim community at large as one and the same.
“This has meant that casual xenophobia towards Muslims has now become an acceptable norm,” said event organiser Kassim Javed.
‘Ethnicising’ the problem
The Rochdale case has now come to epitomise the wider phenomenon of localised grooming in the eyes of many people.
Repeated references of sexual exploitation have made Rochdale synonymous with grooming with the primary culprits being loosely associated with the Muslim community.
This is despite revelations of high-profile cases in the last year, including the towns former famous MP, Cyrill Smith, who was involved in sexually exploiting vulnerable children as well as national celebrity figures like Jimmy Saville and Max Clifford, who similarly engaged in vile acts of pedophilia.
This selective approach has concerned many in the town.
“When news broke of Jimmy Saville’s paedophilic crimes, the media didn’t say or suspect that anyone working for the BBC in the 1960s and 70’s who was white and of a certain age were grooming children.
“But now by association, any Muslim who works as a taxi driver or a takeaway in the night in Rochdale, is suspected of being a sexual groomer,” highlighted IT Professional and co-organiser, Mohammed Waseem.
Rise in physical violence
Suleman Ahmad from the ‘Rochdale Association for Private hire Taxi drivers’ said: “From racist attitudes to violence the situation is unprecedented. Islam is being portrayed negatively.
“This has resulted in not only the community feeling vilified but potentially lead to breakdown in social cohesion in Society.”
Qayyum Khan, one of the oldest taxi drivers in Rochdale said: “People are blaming us for grooming. I was even wrongly accused of grooming and was taken to the police station and shown pictures to identify girls.
“I continuously said that I was innocent and didn’t know any of the girls. I was eventually cleared. It’s been over six months, but my taxi badge has still not been reinstated”.
Shazad, a local taxi driver was worried about the repercussions taxi drivers are now facing. “On average one or two drivers will get a kicking (beating) once a month,” he said.
“Media and politicians are deflecting debate from the serious and endemic social
problems Britain is facing. Instead juxtaposing these issues to a minority.
“We need to be proactive in arranging dialogue and discussion on these issues. These are not just Muslims issues,” says Mohammed Waseem.
Details remain unclear to the failures of social services and the police’s role in dealing with the scandal.
Many of the victims informed the police about what was happening to them. No attention was paid and they were simply ignored.
The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee report titled ‘Child sexual exploitation and the response to localised grooming’ was quick to highlight this.
“We believe that there are still places in the UK where victims of child sexual exploitation are being failed by statutory agencies. The police, social services and the Crown Prosecution Service must all bear responsibility for the way in which vulnerable children have been left unprotected by the system,” said the report.
Event organisers believed that the problem is a wider societal issue that is simply being swept under the carpet.
According to the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, Interim report, ‘I thought I was the only one. The only one in the world’, published in November 2012, it found: “At least 16,500 children were identified as being at risk of child sexual exploitation during one year and 2,409 children were confirmed as victims of sexual exploitation in gangs and groups although it warned that the scale of abuse was likely to be much larger”.
About 60% of calls to ‘Child Line’ which relate to grooming relate to on-line grooming; 40% involve face-to-face interactions.
According to the NSPCC nearly a quarter (24.1%) of young adults experienced sexual abuse (including contact and noncontact), by an adult or a peer during childhood.
The accessibility of pornography and changes in sexual attitudes and expectations has led to new social phenomenon, which blurs the lines between fantasy and reality.
Many end up falling prey to sexual predators looking for opportunities to sexually exploit naïve and vulnerable children.
A report released by Ann Coffey MP says child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a “real and on-going problem that has become a new social norm”. She said: “My observations will make painful reading for those who hoped that Rochdale was an isolated case. This is a real and on going problem.
“The increased sexualisation of youngsters through explicit music videos and sexting, selfies and Instagram may be fuelling child sex abuse,” Coffey suggested in the report.
She said these had “changed expectations of sexual entitlement, and with it a confused understanding of what constitutes consent.”
The cases of abuse seem to be continuing. Greater Manchester Police received 2,286 pieces of intelligence relating to child sexual exploitation in the nine months between March 2013 and January 2014.
There are currently 260 on-going police investigations into child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester, highlighting the severity and magnitude of the problem being faced.
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