The Jay and Casey reports on the Rotherham sexual abuse scandal make grim and horrific reading. They describe a vicious pattern of rape, sexual abuse and blackmail of young white girls by men of mostly Pakistani origins; the manipulation of vulnerable and dysfunctional teenagers by corrupt sugar daddies without a trace of morality; the intimidation of the girls and sometimes their families by the criminal networks responsible; and the failure of local authorities, police, social services and local community leaders to recognize the scale of the problem and act on it.
All this amounts to an enormous social and institutional failure, which raises explosive issues that need to be looked and investigated honestly, carefully, intelligently, and without political opportunism.
Precisely for these reasons Nigel Farage is pretty much the last person you want to see turning up in Rotherham. Yet there he was yesterday, preparing for a ‘walkabout’ before a group of 40 anti-racist demonstrators penned him up in Ukip’s local office.
There are essentially two reasons why Nigel Farage even thinks about Rotherham. Firstly, because UKIP thinks it has its best chance there of taking a seat off Labour seat, and it believes that the Rotherham scandal well help its chances. And secondly, because Farage and his cohorts see the scandal as a test case of the supposedly privileged position in British society that Asian/Muslim ‘immigrants’ ( a category which in Farageland applies just as much to people who were born in the UK as it does to those who have just arrived here) enjoy at the expense of the ‘indigenous’ white majority.
This assumption has various corollaries, such as the idea that misguided and un-British notions of ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘political correctness’ have facilitated and confirmed this dominance. In an interview about the Charlie Hebdo murders on Fox News recently, Farage recently went further, arguing that the Rotherham sex abuse scandal was an example of the Muslim ‘no go zones’ that supposedly proliferate across Europe.
Behind all this is the unspoken narrative that reaches into the dankest swamps of the racist imagination, of ‘Muslim paedophiles’ and black/brown/yellow folk sexually enslaving and exploiting white women.
This is the rank pool that Farage is looking to stir, like the BNP and the EDL before him. This is why he insisted to a Channel 4 interviewer yesterday that ‘race is an issue’ in the Rotherham scandal, and suggested that the delay in bring the abuse would not have happened had ‘ a different race been involved.’
Well of course, that’s why Jimmy Savile and so many others where able to do what they did for decades while powerful institutions that knew all about it did nothing. That’s why the Catholic Church covered up for paedophile priests and bishops. It’s why Margaret Thatcher covered up for paedophiles in her own government and the civil service. It’s why Cyril Smith…you get the point.
Farage doesn’t get it however, because what concerns him isn’t the sexism and exploitative sexual opportunism that can be found in any patriarchal society, but the sole fact that the perpetrators are Asians or ‘immigrants’ and can be fitted into his broader narrative about the evil impact of immigration and multiculturalism on British society.
So given this agenda, it’s worth taking a closer look at how ‘race’ was an issue in the scandal. Firstly, there is no dispute that the majority of the perpetrators were of Pakistani origin, or that the majority of their victims were white girls. But it’s difficult to know what this tells us about ‘race.’
The Jay Report on the sexual exploitation of children in Rotherham states explicitly that ‘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.’ It reports incidents in which Pakistani-heritage girls were also targeted by Asian taxi drivers and older men outside their schools in Rotherham, who also manipulated and attempted to manipulate them for sex.
Professor Jay refers to these episode with reference to a report by the Deputy Children’s Commissioner, which denounced the myth that ‘ 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.’
Jay does suggest that there has been a ‘taboo’ in the local Asian community about discussing these crimes and criticizes ‘too much reliance by agencies on traditional community leaders such as elected members and Imams as being the primary conduit of communication with the Pakistani-heritage community’ – something that Pakistani-heritage women had themselves complained about.
As far as ‘race’ is concerned, the report does suggest that the ethnic origins of the perpetrators may have played a part in delaying a full investigation, because of the fear of some officials that the issue would ‘be exploited by the BNP and the EDL.’
The report describes how
‘ 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.’
The report found no evidence that frontline social care staff were influenced by these concerns, but it does highlight a ‘perception’ that ‘senior people’ in the Council and police were downplaying the ‘ethnic dimensions of CSE’, to the point when ‘frontline staff appeared to be confused as to what they were supposed to say and do and what would be interpreted as “racist”.’
The independent report by Louise Casey goes further, arguing that the local authority ‘ was and continues to be subject to institutionalised political correctness, affecting its decision-making on sensitive issues.’
At first sight this accusation of ‘political correctness’ does not entirely sit well with the culture of bullying and sexism which the report also identifies as an endemic problem in Rotherham Council, but Casey nevertheless insists that ‘ Staff perceived that there was only a small step between mentioning the ethnicity of perpetrators and being labelled a racist.’
Casey also points out that
‘ The background threat of the BNP (British National Party) or EDL ( English Defence League) exploiting the problems in Rotherham for their own divisive ends may have been a rationale for not talking about the “race issue” openly. But in fact this made it worse.’
Which leads her to conclude
‘ Rotherham’s suppression of these uncomfortable issues and its fear of being branded racist has done a disservice to the Pakistani heritage community as well as the wider community. It has prevented discussion and effective action to tackle the problem. This has allowed perpetrators to remain at large, has let victims down, and perversely, has alllowed the far right to try and exploit the situation.’
Quite right, and the Labour Council’s resignation didn’t come before time. But it isn’t only the ‘far right’ that wants to exploit the situation in Rotherham. Farage’s presence in the city has no other purpose except exploitation.
Both the Jay and the Casey reports include Rotherham council’s reticence to address the ethnic origins of the perpetrators as one of various obstacles to the investigation that include institutional failings in the police and support agencies that might have detected these crimes sooner, poor understanding of CSE (Child Sexual Exploitation), a lack of coordination between the different agencies involved and the absence of coherent managerial procedures and priorities within them.
So there is no doubt that Rotherham has a problem, but the Sage of Thanet is not the one to solve it, and whatever lessons can be learned from this dismal episode, none of them will come from him.