Former Home Secretary Sajid Javidhas announced that he will lead a “No Holds Barred” think tank on child sexual abuse at the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), but that will mean treading a fine line between cultural pressure points and universal truths that lie at the heart of abuse.
Javid’s think tank on child sexual abuse – do we really need another – was announced in The Telegraph on 30 May, and included an account of what the exercise would involve, as well as some not-so subtle soundbites blaming lockdown for child abuse ahead of schools reopening in full the following day.
Among the list of items Javid’s think tank hopes to look at, is how gang-based exploitation within UK Pakistani communities evolved, and why, as he puts it, “a disproportionate number of people are from Asian heritage, particularly Pakistani heritage.”
Mr Javid is himself from Pakistan, so it makes sense for the government to wheel him out to spearhead this think tank. It’s harder to rail against someone calling out their own culture, even if you suspect that person may not actually think they are from that culture at all.
In danger of going down the Priti Patel rabbit hole – she was widely ridiculed for her tough stance on immigration, despite her own parents being immigrants – Javid has a fine line to tread if he wants to produce a report worth reading.
Having grown up around a lot of different communities, I had the privilege of being exposed to Pakistani culture. Like any community-based culture, it is warm, embracing and places a heavy emphasis on family and protecting your own.
But like all cultures, Pakistani customs, many of which are rooted in ‘popular Islam’, are not always so warm, and include ill-informed practices which label other cultural groups within Pakistan and non-Muslim demographics, as undesirable, and inferior.
The concept of religious superiority, exalting your own and pushing away the unfamiliar, can be seen in almost every monotheistic religion we have, from Catholicism to Judaism. It would not be right to suggest that Islam is alone in its self exaltation, but it would not be wrong to assume this way of thinking plays a part in child sexual abuse, either.
It is now well understood that the majority of child victims in places like Rotherham were young, white girls, and that Pakistani men have been disproportionately involved in developing the grooming gangs that exploited them.
A 2013 study by the Child Exploitation and Online Police Command (CEOP), found that 50% of offenders who targeted vulnerable children, like the girls in Rotherham, involved all-Asian groups, while 21% were white and the remaining 17% involved multi-ethnic groups.
Break down the data further, and CEOP figures tell us that 75% of recorded group abusers, who targeted victims based on their vulnerability, are Asian, despite Asians making up only 7.5% of the UK’s population.
In a culture where sexual expression is limited out of deference to a higher power, and your own children are considered sacred, men who want to exploit children will inevitably look outside of their immediate communities to carry out these crimes.
The same cannot be said of the white, male population in the UK.
The CEOP study found that 100% of men with a long-standing paedophilic interest who abuse children in the UK are white. These men also act in groups (paedophile rings), though they tend to be smaller than groups formed by Asian men, typically acting in pairs rather than groups of four.
However, the study doesn’t factor in organisations like the Paedophile Information Exchange, whose members were both male, and female, and most likely predominantly white.
Some statistics suggest that overall, the vast majority of child sex offenders in England and Wales are white males, who made up 98% of all defendants in 2015-16. White men also represented 85% of convicted child sex offenders and 86% of the general population in 2011.
So what could Sajid Javid’s report have to offer, on a subject already being handled by the nation’s child abuse inquiry, and a phenomenon that we know involves more than just culture and religious belief?
A progressive report, which sets idiosyncrasies within Pakistani culture, and other cultures too, against those universal truths about child sexual abuse, might make it an exercise worth undertaking.
Pakistani men who are inclined towards child sexual abuse may have an approach which differs from other groups, but the underlying motivations are no different to those held by all other child sexual abusers.
Understanding that cultural norms are not the incentive but the excuse to carry out abuse should be at the heart of Javid’s report.
And while we don’t hesitate to question the Catholic Church about how its vow of celibacy emboldens priests to abuse children or its confessional protects sexual predators, identifying cultural and religious practices which further abuse has to be done thoughtfully and with the acknowledgment that child abuse crosses every border and every boundary we know.
There is something else. If Javid plans to use this report to feed our Pakistani population to the far right in order to further his political career inside a very white, elitist, British government, the backlash would be significant. The British, already divided by a pandemic, police brutality and Brexit, won’t be able to take much more.
Javid’s inquiry will look at grooming gangs and online child sexual abuse. Another report, which Javid commissioned in 2018 into the “characteristics and contexts” of gangs abusing children which argued that ignoring issues such as ethnicity is more likely to fuel racist movements, is set to be published later this year.