Muslim community in 'denial' about grooming rings, says Jack Straw
PUBLISHED September 27, 2012
He said that the scandal, exposed by the trial of nine Asian men jailed for grooming and sexual abuse of white girls in Heywood and RochdaleRochdale, raised a problem which had to be "faced and addressed" within some communities in northern cities.
He was speaking after a damning report into the handling of abuse allegations in Rochdale by social workers, police and the Crown Prosecution Service which highlighted a catalogue of failing and "missed opportunities".
The study, by the Rochdale Borough Safeguarding Children's Board, found that social workers repeatedly failed to take action in response to complaints from under-age girls who had fallen into the grip of a paedophile ring.
Rather than being treated as victims, they were viewed as "problematic" and "wilfull" and thought to be "making their own choices".
Yesterday lawyers for several of the victims disclosed that they are planning to bring legal action against social services for the failure to protect them.
Another lawyer disclosed that he is preparing a case involving alleged abuse of one girl in seven separate cities stretching across the North West of England but also as far away as Wolverhampton.
The alleged abuse follows a similar pattern: involving grooming rings dominated by men from Pakistani backgrounds, who are often taxi drivers, picking up girls and taking them to flats for sex with several men.
Mr Straw, whose Blackburn and Darwen constituency in Lancashire has a large Asian population, has angered some sections of the Muslim community in the past by calling for women to remove veils which cover their faces.
Last year he also warned that white girls are sometimes treated as "easy meat" for some young Asian men who are "fizzing and popping with testosterone" but had no "outlet" within their own community.
Speaking after the publication of the report yesterday, he dismissed claims that the problems uncovered by the Rochdale report affected all communities.
"There is an issue of ethnicity here which can't be ignored," he told BBC Radio 4.
"It is true to say … that overall if you go into the sex offenders wings of prisons there are proportionally more white offenders than Asian offenders or black and we have got to deal with that separately.
"But it is also correct that in terms of group grooming there is an ethnic dimension which typically is of Asian men on white girls.
"And that is an issue which has to be faced and addressed within the Asian community about what's going on there.
"That kind of leads to a sense of denial by them that all this is going on.
"These are small communities so people will have a rough idea that people are abusing white girls in this way.
"That has to be dealt with there as well as obviously with much more effective police and social services action."
Mohammed Shafiq, the Muslim commentator and chief executive of the Rochdale-based Ramadhan Foundation, said that his comments could be seen as "hypocritical" because Mr Straw had been in government himself for many years.
But he added: "I think that an element of what he said is right - there are some people in my community, the Pakistani community, the elders, who think that the best thing to do is just ignore it and assume it all a BNP and EDL conspiracy.
"I think that is really dangerous, it gives oxygen to the far right."
A spokesman for the Network of Sikh Organisations added that it was not accurate to describe the grooming rings as an "Asian" problem.
"It is something tat the leaders of the Muslim community, the Pakistani community, need to address," he said.
The report centres on the case of one girl called "Suzie" who was given sexual health advice rather than being treated as a child at risk.
While a failure by social services to pass on vital information actively "hindered" police investigations, the police response to complaints was also "poor".
It discloses that a total of 79 children or young people were eventually judged to be at risk of sexual exploitation.
The report came as information released under the Freedom of Information Act disclosed that an NHS team working with young people in the area made 83 separate referrals to social services over six years involving girls they thought were either being sexually exploited or at risk. There were also 44 referrals to the police.
Jonathan Bridge, a solicitor at Farleys, representing one victim of abuse, said: "It is clear that a blind eye was turned to what was going on; children and their parents repeatedly looked to Rochdale Social Services and the police for help, but were ignored.
"The reasons for this remain unclear, but there is shocking inference that social services made a judgement about these children, adopting an attitude that they were making a 'choice' to live this lifestyle."
He added:"I think there is a lot more that has gone on in other areas, possibly also in Rochdale."
Jim Taylor, chief executive of Rochdale Borough Council, said: "This review highlights that all agencies did not work together adequately and it is very clear that, in the past, council services missed opportunities to offer assistance. I deeply regret this.
"The council accepts the findings of this review which has shown deficiencies in our children's social care service, and in parts, an unacceptable level of support.
"There was more that could, and should have been done to protect the victims when allegations first came to light."