Rotherham is my home town. I was there today and watched the Sky News helicopter hover overhead. What we’ve learned from this is horrifying.
But the media are running with the race angle (or, the wrong race angle), thereby smothering other important issues.
The report finds no evidence that the lack of action was down to fear of being thought of as racist, though it notes this perception. Nor does the report provide any support for the racist/xenophobic narrative that white girls were targeted by Asian/Muslim men because of some inherent hatred or contempt of the latter by the former in a kind of deliberate campaign or religious/cultural war.
There was a downplaying of the ethnicity of the perpetrators, which contributed to the invisibility and denial of abuse within the “Asian” communities (already underreported – but it’s clear that Asian girls were also victims, as you would expect) and the perception that abuse was a whites-only problem. Pakistani-background and other women’s groups in the town complained about that, and the tendency for the authorities to communicate via male-dominated religious/community structures. That’s serious in itself, but it’s not the ethnicity angle the media are presenting. “Political correctness” did not prevent the offenders being brought to justice; nobody said, “better not pursue this in case someone thinks I’m racist” or “Asian men are off-limits”. The report is clear that the inquiry found no individual cases which were affected by such considerations. But the policy of downplaying ethnicity in order to avoid inflaming community tensions (misjudged because, well, we’re there anyway now) had the effect of maintaining the conspiracy of silence about the abuse of Asian girls (abuse victims usually know their victims, so if you’ve got “Asian gangs” “targeting” “vulnerable white girls”, you better also look closer to home). That’s the real race angle, but it’s not the headline the media want, which is “anti-racism let child abusers go free”.
What we’re not hearing so much about, because it’s not as comfortable for the media to talk about as “political correctness” is the fact that the (mainly white, of course) police often regarded the victims as willing participants – as effectively prostitutes (and of course we know how misogynists regard prostitutes). That they were underage appears not to have been significant. The police often refused to take action, or indeed the report records occasions when it was the victims (or those trying to help them) who were punished. Of course, the worst of the British media have been complicit in this stereotyping of young girls (let alone actual prostitutes) too: look at the coverage of any attacks on prostitutes or other “undeserving” women or girls – they “asked for it” is still a common trope. We shouldn’t let them get away with that while whipping up a race war.
The report is also clear that some agencies/professionals did a lot to draw attention to the seriousness of the problem. But they were not believed, or dismissed as troublemakers, or the seriousness was diminished and held not to be a priority. In addition to underresourcing, there were lots of other managerial and leadership problems. The extent of sexual exploitation of young girls was regarded as an exaggeration or as just a question of the girls being “out of control”.
What Rotherham needs is for the right heads to roll and proper strategies being put in place. What it doesn’t need is the pseudo-narrative about “political correctness” to bolster a racist strategy of tension, while leaving unremarked the remarkable consilience of perceptions about the girls in question between offenders and police and other authorities.