Why we still can't shake the harmful myth of 'Asian grooming gangs'

Why we still can't shake the harmful myth of 'Asian grooming gangs'
Comment: The Home Office has finally admitted most child grooming gangs are made up of white men, but for British Muslims the damage has already been done, writes Aniqah Choudhri.
5 min read
22 Jan, 2021
'The Home Office report came too late and too quiet' writes Choudhri [Getty]
If you are a British Muslim on social media, it is likely you will be asked to account for "Asian grooming gangs".

Apart from terrorism, one of the biggest issues I've been asked to make apologies for is Asian or Muslim sexual predators. I've experienced this numerous times and I've seen others subjected to it, too. The myth that grooming and sexual predator gangs in the UK are mostly made up of South Asian and Muslim men is now deeply entrenched in the mainstream media, despite actually being a myth promoted by the far-right. 

Last month, a report was released by the Home Office that stated the majority of child sexual abuse gangs in Britain were made up of white men. It speaks volumes that after years of hearing accusations of the contrary, even I was surprised to see this in black and white.

The report also states that law enforcement data on ethnicity is "vulnerable to bias," and that because ethnicity is assigned by police officers rather than the offenders themselves, there were cases where the ethnicity was classed wrongly as Asian despite the individual being white British or Afghan. The report also mentioned that ethnicity data is not regularly or consistently collected.

After reading the findings of this report, you may ask why the idea exists that British Asians - specifically British Pakistanis - are mostly responsible for sexual grooming gangs. I believe there are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, as I mentioned, this is a myth spread by the far-right, for the same reasons they tend to spread any harmful propaganda against minorities.

This is a myth spread by the far-right

Secondly, the deeply rooted Islamophobia in the UK media made for a fertile setting for such a myth to become entrenched. And thirdly, it's worth looking at which sex abuse rings have been given public scrutiny in the last decade or so. 

One particularly high profile example was the Rotherham sex abuse ring. It was a horrifying case that saw a group of men sexually abuse teenage girls over a 16-year period. The reports of this case deeply shocked the country, leading to pain and anger and the understandable question - how had these men got away with it for so long? 

The answer a senior police officer in the Rotherham grooming gangs case gave to one of the victims' father was fear of increasing racial tensions. More specifically he said, "With it being Asians we can't afford for this to be coming out." He also referred to the abuse as "Paki shagging".

This excuse was picked up by various national newspapers and is like pouring oil on a fire when it comes to racism and Islamophobia. According to this theory, the fear of being seen as racist is apparently why the police are unable to stop grooming gangs and sex offenders.

We already know from the report that most grooming gangs are not, in fact, made up of Asian men, which puts a substantial hole in this theory. There is also the rather obvious fact that "fear of increasing racial tensions," doesn't seem like an issue when it comes to any other area of policing, so why this in particular? 

Far from deterring the police from making an arrest, Black and Asian people have long been aware that institutional racism runs deep in the policing of the UK. Even during the pandemic in 2020, police were twice as likely to fine BAME men for breaking lockdown rules, than their white counterparts.

Official figures show that 
Black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police, and the Black Lives Matter movement that swept cities all over the UK last summer drew attention to the racial profiling, violence and over-policing that Black people and other ethnic minorities face. 

The excuse that sexual predators of Asian heritage are not stopped because of the police's need to be seen as "not racist" is not only manipulative, but it is also cruel to the people who least deserve it - the victims. 

In 2019, figures showed that only 1.7 percent of reported rapes were prosecuted in England and Wales - a shockingly low number, especially considering it only accounts for the rapes that were reported. People trying to report sexual assault have often been met with methods of deterrent and gaslighting.

When we look at these figures and the fact that most sexual grooming gangs are not in fact made up of Asians and Muslims, it is hard to see how these statistics might improve in future.

It is hard to see how these statistics might improve in future

The Home Office report came too late and too quiet.

For those who have become convinced over the years that most sexual predators are Asians and Muslims, and that anti-racism movements are why the police are failing to tackle them, it won't make much difference. This has worrying implications not just for the people who will be hurt by the racial prejudice, but for the future victims of sexual predators who will have no guarantee of better treatment from the criminal justice system than those who have already been let down.

Aniqah is a freelance journalist based in Manchester. Her work has appeared in The Independent, gal-dem and Exeunt Magazine. She also writes fiction and poetry and has been published in several anthologies.

Follow her on Twitter: @aniqahc 

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.