Tim Dieppe comments on the recent parliamentary debate on grooming gangs
MPs debated the subject of grooming gangs on Wednesday 3 February in response to a government e-petition asking the government to release its research into the characteristics of grooming gangs which attracted over 130,000 signatures.
The ‘disappointing’ grooming gang report
The government initially refused to release the research, claiming it was not in the public interest. Then, after pressure from the petitions committee, the government finally released a report in December. As I commented at the time, the report was disappointing, claiming that there is inadequate data to properly assess the characteristics of these gangs.
Religion not considered
Although the government promised to “leave no stone unturned” in its research, it is now clear that certain areas were avoided. A written question from Lord Pearson specifically asked whether religious characteristics could be considered. The answer was: “We are not excluding any characteristics from our consideration.” However, the report failed to mention ‘religion’ at all. Not even to state that there was no evidence relating to religion, or that it was considered irrelevant.
When subsequently questioned about whether any evidence was considered on the use of Islamic teachings for the justification of sexual exploitation, the government claimed that:
“While the External Reference Group considered and discussed the available evidence for the cultural drivers of offending as well as the use of cultural factors as a justification for offending, this evidence did not make specific reference to Islamic teaching.”
As I have noted before, Judge Gerald Clifton, who sentenced perpetrators in Rochdale, said that a motivating factor was that the girls “were not part of your community or religion.” Several victims have related that perpetrators claimed that their actions were allowed in the Qur’an. Some were given Asian names, and some told to read the Qur’an. One victim ‘Sarah’, for example, was forced into two Islamic marriages, forced to wear Islamic robes, and made to learn the Qur’an in Arabic. Did the government turn a blind eye to all this evidence? Why wasn’t it considered?
The debate was led by Petitions Committee member Tom Hunt MP. In all, 19 MPs contributed, but because of time considerations, speeches were limited to only four minutes each. It was good to see so much interest in the subject and a number of passionate speeches. It is clear that this is a subject that MPs are well aware of and which they have received correspondence about from their constituents.
The scale of the problem
Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham, spoke about the scale of the problem. She said that 1,569 survivors have been identified in Rotherham, and 261 designated suspects over a 16-year period. To date there have been only 20 convictions in court, with four awaiting trial. She said she knows survivors who are 70 years old! Chris Clarkson MP pointed out that “these crimes are actually still ongoing and are very often unseen.”
Tom Hunt began by criticising the report. He said he had spoken to some of the victims and that “Many of them do feel that the report does not go far enough.” He said, “I would support them in saying that I do believe further action should be taken.”
He spoke powerfully on the racist aspect of these crimes:
“We look at the role of racism and how many of the victims of this appalling crime feel as though there is concern from certain individuals that they would be branded a racist or called out for being a racist if they spoke the truths as they know them to be on some of these matters. Actually, the view of a lot of these victims, who more often than not are white working-class girls—our girls—is that they were on occasion specifically targeted because of the fact that they were white, because of their western-ness, and because of the fact that they were not Asian. That is how they feel. I would encourage those who disagree with how they feel to have a discussion with them, because that is how they feel. Therefore, the information and data about the ethnic background of those who have been found guilty of these crimes is necessary if we are to gain a profound understanding of this appalling crime, learn the lessons, and ensure that it never happens again. If we do believe that this kind of racism towards white girls is a driver here—if we do believe that it is the case—and that it is an aggravating factor, then we need to address it, and we need a report that addresses it and gets under the skin of the issue in a way that it has not so far.”
Sammy Woodhouse is a survivor of grooming gang exploitation who went public with her story which helped to expose the issue with articles in The Times by Andrew Norfolk. She has written a book about her experience, “Just a Child”. When Sammy was 15, her abuser’s house was raided by the police while they were having sex. Sammy quickly hid under the bed and put her knickers on. Incredibly, Sammy was arrested and charged with possession of an offensive weapon, while her abuser was left alone (pages 133-134 of her book).
Stephanie Peacock MP explained that:
“Survivors such as Sammy are forced to commit crimes by their adult abusers and are often convicted of their crimes. Those criminal convictions stay with them for life. They are forced to disclose them to their employers and on insurance applications, and they are even prevented from attending their parent-teacher associations. That cannot be right and it must be stopped. Child exploitation is an abuse of power used to coerce and deceive. Survivors should not be punished for crimes they committed because of their exploitation.”
She then called for the government to enact Sammy’s law:
“I am today asking the Government to introduce Sammy’s law, so that victims of child sexual exploitation can have their criminal records automatically reviewed and the crimes associated with their grooming removed. The High Court has already ruled that it is unfair to force survivors to disclose criminal records linked to their grooming, arguing that the link between past offence and present risk is non-existent or extremely tenuous.
“This change in the law should be basic common sense. It would end the unfair victim blaming and re-traumatisation of victims and survivors. I urge the Government to act today.”
Sammy’s law was also supported in the speeches of Tracy Brabin MP, Alexander Stafford MP, and Jess Phillips MP. This would be a welcome move towards justice for the victims but is not something that will help prevent the continuance of these crimes.
Jess Phillips also raised the issue of rapists, such as Sammy’s abuser, being allowed, and even encouraged to seek access to children born of rape.
A specific sexual offence
Tim Loughton MP dispelled the myth that the victims are all from working class areas, or poor estates. “I met survivors of CSE from the families of doctors and lawyers and from middle-class backgrounds and heard their deeply harrowing accounts,” he said.
He highlighted the specific issue with British Pakistani grooming gangs:
“I appreciate that most of those convicted for CSE are middle-aged white men, many acting alone, but the phenomenon of organised British Pakistani grooming gangs is a specific and dangerous criminal activity, and it needs to be called out for what it is and tackled in a very specific way.”
He also called for a specific sexual offence of grooming gangs:
“If we are really to get to grips with the issue of grooming gangs, surely we need to delineate it as a specific sexual offence distinct from other forms of sexual offence.”
He called for the government’s research to be published in full:
“When the former Home Secretary launched the original inquiry, he intended it as a comprehensive and definitive report on child grooming, published in full, so why has this research and report become a no-go area? We owe it to the victims and the survivors to publish in full.”
Meanwhile, the gangs continue
It was good to see MPs engaged with this issue, and some excellent speeches. Clearly many MPs are frustrated and embarrassed by the lack of action from the government. Some MPs were brave enough to speak plainly without submitting to political correctness on this issue. Others were not. There has been a massive societal failure here, aided by the politically correct ideology which refuses to accept that race or religion can play a part in these crimes. As I have said before, we have been sacrificing girls to political correctness. Sadly, there are not clear signs of this ending anytime soon.