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20 January 2020

In Manchester and Rotherham, cowardly authorities refused to crack down on rapists – why?

Nazir Afzal, the former chief prosecutor who brought the Rochdale grooming gang to justice, on why more women and girls had been left to suffer without being heard or helped.

By Nazir Afzal

As the chief prosecutor who led the teams that brought, among others, the so-called Rochdale grooming gang to justice in 2012 for the abuse of up to 47 young girls, I then led the national response on the way that we tackle all such localised grooming and child sexual abuse in England and Wales.

The past week’s reports that sexual abuse in both Manchester and Rotherham were poorly investigated by police and other agencies is not surprising. Neither is the fact that a fear of consequences from targeting many British Pakistani and South Asian abusers was partially behind it.

Yet it is still shocking.

I thought that professionals were supposed to act without fear or favour, but evidently many didn’t. Their resourcing and prioritising choice was to permit children to be raped rather than bringing the rapist to justice.

The authorities and communities appeared to have turned a blind eye to the abuse of their own children. The fact that there were no prosecutions of note was not a failure on the part of the victims, but on the part of the state. These men targeted them because the state didn’t care.

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Let’s contextualise this first. You are by far most likely to suffer child sexual abuse within the family. The next largest group of victims are online and then in institutions such as schools, places of worship, sports clubs, etc. Then the smallest group – but still several thousand – will suffer street grooming. Perpetrators of child sexual abuse are substantially white males, but disproportionately British Pakistani in street grooming.

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I do not care where they come from as long as they are stopped and brought to justice. I told parliament in 2012 that the ethnicity of the perpetrators was an issue, but not the issue.

The issue was how victims, invariably women and girls, were simply not believed because they came from troubled backgrounds or were involved in low-level criminality – which their abusers involved them in in the first place.

The problem that we identified in these cases was that prejudice in the form of questioning the credibility of the young girls prevented justice being delivered prior to our prosecution. In fact, I had to reverse a decision not to prosecute to even initiate the prosecution of this particular group of offenders.

If we don’t believe her, who will? If she has had a troubled life, then a refusal to act will subject her to a lifetime of abuse.

In truth, every law-abiding British Pakistani and South Asian community would have applauded the police for taking these rapists off our streets, but the cowardly authorities refused to do so. Their failures actually led to an increase in hate and racism because it gave ammunition to the far right. Worse though, they subjected hundreds of victims to harm because of their pathetic perception that race relations might be negatively impacted.

It was not the abuser’s race that defined them, but their attitude towards women and girls. They targeted young women and girls because of their availability and vulnerability, as a result of shortcomings on the part of those who should have safeguarded them. That does not, however, take away responsibility from these men for their criminality.

Rochdale, Oxford, Rotherham, Telford and other such towns and cities have rightly been in the public’s consciousness as a result of failing to protect their children. Vulnerability is universal and not confined to particular races. There is a collective and individual duty to report what you suspect.

This type of offending relies upon the silence of the majority in order for them to harm our children. They do not just select white girls – the ringleader of the Rochdale gang was subsequently convicted of raping a girl of his own ethnicity – but it beggars belief that others did not know what these grown men were doing with young girls in these circumstances.

These communities have woken up to the criminals in their midst. They recognise that they can do more to stop this offending. When I was initially criticised by some for giving racists a stick to beat minority communities with, I said that our communities should be carrying their own stick. It is shameful that the state was too scared to use its own stick.