"Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls," said U.K. Labour MP Sarah Champion (Rotherham). "There. I have said it. Does it make me racist?"
In the eyes of many, the answer seemed to be "yes."
As a result of these words in an article in The Sun last year, she was forced to resign her post as Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities and has been recently given extra police protection in response to threats.
Her comments refer to the so-called "grooming gangs," (or more accurately, child-rape gangs), which have been responsible for what's been described as the 'industrial scale' abuse of children up and down the U.K., and for which the SouthYorkshire town of Rotherham, in particular, has sadly become infamous.
For years, Sarah Champion has addressed sexual offending — particularly, offenses against children — with admirable success.
She's helped bring about changes in the legal definition of child grooming, which made it easier to prosecute offenders. She recently convened a cross-party group on child sexual exploitation; the group's inquiries led to a letter from Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, which revealed that officials were conducting research into the "characteristics of offenders, victims and the wider context of abuse; all of which have critical bearing on the effective targeting of prevention activity."
Given that this specific type of gang-based sexual offending occurs within groups frequently involved in other criminal activity, operating in linked networks with members often already known to each other (some, indeed, are relatives), it seems particularly relevant to investigate offenders' backgrounds.
As soon as the existence of this type of crime became widely known in 2011, the question of the background of the perpetrators was a central but highly contentious issue. Some claimed that the perpetrators' ethnic identity inhibited many from speaking up for fear of accusations of "racism."
The media began a long dalliance with generalizations and euphemisms, with gangs often described as "Asian." Unseemly rows appeared in the media and online about which ethnic group abused children the most.
Yet the evidence mounted. And in December 2017, the anti-extremist Muslim think tank Quilliam published a report, which concluded that about 84 percent of those convicted of this particular type of child sex offense were of "South Asian" background (although a mix of other ethnicities is also involved). In particular, most were of Muslim Pakistani background; Maajid Nawaz of Quilliam has emphasized this in a defense of Champion.
Nazir Afzal, the Chief Crown Prosecutor for the North of England who pushed for the prosecution of some of the offenders, has likewise noted the disproportionate involvement of 'Asian and Pakistani men' and called on communities to do more.
So, what happened when Sarah Champion mentioned ethnic background? She has a long-standing record of working to combat a wide variety of sexual offending, against children, against adults, in the home, and with trafficking victims. Yet a local charity, Just Yorkshire, (which aims to promote "racial justice, civil liberties and human rights," and which receives funding from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation), declared her guilty of "industrial scale racism."
It is reported that threats to her came from far-left and "community" groups, with an implied link to Just Yorkshire, although such links are always hard to prove. In March, the charity issued their own research, arguing that it showed British Pakistanis felt "scapegoated, dehumanized and potentially criminalized" by Champion, who acted "like a neo-fascist murderer," Yet, Champion herself now needs protection.
Not all British Pakistanis, however, feel threatened by Champion. Maajid Nawaz doesn't seem to be. Nor does Sajid Javid. Nor does the self-described "part-Pakistani" Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, who defended Champion against charges of racism; although stating that Champion 'should, in [her] view, have expressed herself more moderately'.
The county of Yorkshire has a reputation for straight-talking. But when it comes to organized, criminal-networked gangs of men viciously raping thousands of British girls, it seems it's necessary to whisper discreetly.
There is a bleak irony in how easily the charge of 'racism' mars reputations. For Sarah Champion has recognized that how victims are viewed greatly affects the pursuit of justice.
Sixteen pieces of U.K. legislation referred to "child prostitutes"; Champion successfully campaigned to get this wording removed. Regarding girls as "child prostitutes" inclined some professionals to consider that girls were making a "lifestyle choice".
Some girls were told that they were the ones making trouble; some girls have been arrested and charged for offenses, while their rapists were ignored. Victims were regarded with "contempt." Meanwhile, abusers issued threats to girls to keep quiet.
And now one of the victims' champions, Sarah, is herself being regarded by some with contempt, issued with threats, told to "stop causing trouble." At least, unlike most of the thousands of victims, she is now getting police protection.
Paula Boddington is a Senior Research Fellow at Cardiff University and a contributor to the Legal Project, a division of the Middle East Forum.