Twenty men were tried this week for running a child grooming and prostitution gang in the northern England town of Huddersfield. The BBC reported earlier today that the men were convicted of more than 120 offences against 15 girls, flanking the report with headshots of each gang member involved. The men were British Asians, mostly of Pakistani origin.
At Leeds Crown Court, the ringleader, Amere Singh Dhaliwal, 35, was jailed for life with a minimum of 18 years.
Other members of the gang were jailed for between five and 18 year and details of the men’s convictions and sentences can only now be published after reporting restrictions on a series of trials were partially lifted.
The cases are the latest in a series of high profile prosecutions in northern English towns and cities for child sexual exploitation (CSE) involving British Asian men of mostly Pakistani heritage.
Is child sexual exploitation a cultural phenomena?
Just a few days earlier, Pakistan saw the execution of Imran Ali in for the abuse and murder of at least eight minor girls in Kasur, Pakistan including 6 year old Zainab Ansari. And while it is an important symbol in the turning tides of child abuse domestically, the Pakistani origin of the Huddersfield grooming gang seems to play easily into the long withstanding narrative in the UK of the dangerous Asian immigrant.
Of particular influence is the the 2014 independent report from another Northern English town of Rotherham, which revealed the alarming scale of abuse, grooming and trafficking of 1,400 girls by predominantly Asian men over a 16-year period. This report overlapped with the BBC Channel 4 release of “Pakistan’s Hidden Shame” a documentary highlighting Pakistan’s problem with pedophilia, and together with the Rotherham report spotlighting an uncomfortable link between race and CSE.
The long standing focus on grooming gangs in the media has left many convinced that South Asian heritage is inherently to blame, leaving a community of over 1 million British Pakistanis type-casted as contributing their hegemonic masculinity to broader society.
Researchers in the field have acknowledged racial trends in certain types of child sexual exploitation but are weary of making reductionist statements on the link between race and CSE. A more credible link, said one senior source, are Asian men’s occupations. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said the demography of certain areas and the makeup of the night-time economy explained the over-representation of Asian offenders.
The source said: “Young vulnerable girls migrate to the night-time economy, where they come across taxi drivers and people working in takeaways, who are more likely to be Asian. It is better to focus on the professions of offenders, not their race or religion.”
While Asian men, including Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Indians, are convicted in a disproportionate 75% of child grooming gang cases in the UK, the focus of CSE as being an Asian problem seems to lie in contradiction to key sources and researchers in the field.
What the research says
In an interview with the Telegraph, Simon Bailey of the National Police Chief Councils’ (NPCC) described online child abuse as “one of the greatest threats” to society, and reports have shown that the vast majority of CSE originates from white males as perpetrators.
Statistics show that 90% of child sexual abusers in the UK are, in fact, white males conducting activity through the internet and acting alone.
The Quilliam Foundation found that the demographic background of those who exploit youngsters in a paedophile ring was different to those who act in grooming gangs, and The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center (CEOP), elaborates that offenders targeting children as a result of a specific sexual interest in children (roughly equivalent of paedophile ring) where exclusively white.
Further statistics reveal group grooming as only a small part of the larger sexual abuse threat facing Britain’s children.
According to UCL researchers, just 8% of child sex offenders knowingly met another offender prior to conviction and only 5% committed an offence with another person.
One study also revealed an over‐reporting of cases of South Asian men as perpetrators of grooming and sexual exploitation of white girls, stating that this phenomenon “overlooked broader statistics and socioeconomic factors such as poverty and neglect, which often lie at the root of sexual exploitation.” The report stressed that national conclusions about ethnicity cannot be drawn from the data, because much of the data came from a limited number of geographic areas.