Dr Rosalind Beck’s is a doctor of Criminology and Conservative Party member in South Wales.
The Labour MP Sarah Champion today bravely moves the debate forward in her campaign to prioritise the safety of young girls, even if this does mean she then has to face accusations of racism.
Of course Jack Straw also faced opprobrium for daring to say in 2011:
“… there is a specific problem which involves Pakistani heritage men… who target vulnerable young white girls.”
I remember it was quite shocking at the time that someone would dare to speak the unspeakable. We are now six years on and it’s like déjà vu.
Naming the problem is a crucial first stage, but it doesn’t do much in and of itself.
As is stated in the Times article:
“It is one thing to recognise a crime model. Understanding why it has planted such deep roots is a different challenge altogether.”
My concern is that, as we all know, this phenomenon will not be unique to the areas where the prosecutions have taken place. It will be going on in all cities and towns across the country. Where is the national police campaign to identify and immediately stamp out this abominable treatment of girls, some younger than 13? (Although, frankly, as the famous American feminist, Andrea Dworkin, said, these crimes don’t suddenly become more palatable when a girl’s 16th birthday arrives.)
What was most important in the interview with Champion today was her point that we must find out what motivates these men if we are to stop them.
As Champion says:
“I want to know why and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for that research… There are hundreds of perpetrators of the same crime behind bars now for this type of offence. Is it about sex? Power? Viewing these children as a money-making commodity? Is it cultural attitudes towards women and girls?
“We don’t know and we need to know, because otherwise we’re just waiting for the next town to come along and all you can do is pick up the pieces of young girls who’ve already been abused and had their lives shattered. The police need to understand so that they can stop it.”
I would like to suggest one way forward in this endeavour to find out the causes of this behaviour.
Various avenues need to be urgently addressed, such as studying cultural attitudes and their manifestation in Pakistan – it seems likely that this crime model has been imported. The sexual abuse of children and women happens everywhere and, as Champion points out is perpetrated primarily by white men, but we need to understand if the patterns we have seen in Rotherham, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Rochdale and Oxford are common patterns of behaviour in Pakistan.
We also need to examine how long this has been a feature of life in the UK? How many decades does this go back? Understanding this will lead to more informed policy decision-making.
There is an additional less obvious approach however; an approach which I successfully used in my own study (as part of my Masters in Criminology) of victims of sexual violence over two decades ago; it’s a simple approach and methodology: namely to ask the victims.
I believe that if as many of the victims who are willing to be interviewed, were approached and took part in in-depth interviews – not necessarily having to include any detail about the awful, distressing things which had been done to them – using them as expert informants, then this would firstly enlighten us greatly and secondly it would empower the victims.
When I conducted my study into victims of exposing, it was not unusual for the interviewee to say that they enjoyed being interviewed, even though they were talking about very distressing events (which were trivialised by society at the time). I found that victims were far better candidates for explaining what was at the root of these behaviours as they were on the receiving end and would often have puzzled over this for years afterwards, thinking what was the motivation behind it.
Indeed, Scotland Yard at the time contacted me for a copy of the thesis as they had a policy to start taking these things seriously – I never found out what they did or didn’t do with the research.
In terms of motivations of perpetrators in my study, some women felt this was done by the man in order to ‘see fear in my eyes.’ Others felt it was a kind of precursor to rape, a way of saying: ‘I can do this, so I could rape and even murder you here and now if I wanted to.’
Interviewing the victims of the grooming gangs is likely to yield more reliable information than interviewing the perpetrators would. For instance a perpetrator might well say that it was about money, as this would make them look less like a sexual predator. This is a problem with interviewing sex offenders.
Sarah Champion is right though that the right kind of research needs to be done urgently; just as the police identification of the existence of this crime model in their own areas must be addressed by all police forces without delay. It is dreadful to think of the girls currently going through this, with no-one to turn to.
Finally, Champion is to be applauded for her view that politicians should collaborate on this – contrary to the comments made by the MP Laura Pidcock that she couldn’t conceive of having a Tory as a friend, the elected and paid servants of the public must take up the gauntlet thrown by Sarah Champion and crack on with this important work.