Samira Ahmed notes the Talk to the (Male) Community Leaders approach to dealing with social tension and the dire consequences for non-leaders who have the bad luck to be also women.
Back in 2001, the London charity Southall Black Sisters, which has been campaigning against domestic violence since the 1970s, put me in touch with a social worker who had recently been transferred to Bradford. She told me how she had found herself the only woman at a post-riot “community relations” meeting where, she claimed, community leaders asked the police to pass any complaints of domestic violence from Pakistani women straight to them. They would “sort it” themselves. The worker said she challenged this, but felt that if she hadn’t been there the police would have agreed.
It is this attitude – a “bullying and macho” deal-making culture involving the local authority and the male, self-appointed leadership of the Pakistani Muslim community – that the Rotherham report pinpointed.
If you talk only to the men…you’re pretty likely to miss concerns peculiar to women. That’s especially true in a particularly patriarchal sort of “community,” which is also the type of “community” most likely to have only male “leaders.” Snake swallowing its tail, innit. It’s a patriarchal community so women often get bad treatment but the leaders are all men so nobody cares, neither inside the community nor outside it.
The victims weren’t only white girls, but the police and council focus on talking only to older male Muslims meant they weren’t aware of this. Women and girls living on their own were being targeted by Pakistani landlords and forced into sex with other men, afraid to report their abuse for fear of social stigma. The report found: “One of the local Pakistani women’s groups described how Pakistani-heritage girls were targeted by taxi drivers and on occasion by older men lying in wait outside school gates at dinner times and after school.”
Women and girls living on their own are seen as whores and thus fair game and thus of no concern to the police, apparently.
It’s worth also pointing out that many of those expressing righteous fury at the cover-up now were once outraged at the very idea that such things were going on in Britain. In 1997, Peter Kosminsky made the award-winning ITV drama No Child of Mine, about so-called “conveyor-belt” sexual grooming. He told me in 2012: “When we were researching No Child of Mine, the victims – those that had the guts to speak up – were viewed with scepticism, ignored or accused of making false allegations to discredit individuals against whom they had a grudge. The woman behind No Child of Mine was publicly branded a liar.”
So yes, the Rotherham scandal, as in Oxford and Rochdale, is about race. But look deeper and it’s really about wider attitudes by some men to women and girls. Or “slags”, as I notice in the search terms that people use everyday to find articles about these cases. And that might be the most uncomfortable truth.
It’s uncomfortable as all hell.