The English town of Rotherham has been in the news. Between 1997 and 2013, at least 1,400 school-age girls were “groomed” for prostitution—a process that begins with seduction and ends with confinement, trafficking, and serial rape. The girls were white. The groomers were older men of Pakistani origin, except for a few Afghans and Roma.
This in a town of some 250,000 people. And that figure of 1,400 is “conservative.” It’s hard to avoid concluding that many of Rotherham’s white families have been affected, perhaps one in ten.
Grooming may have even left a dent in the census data. In Western countries, boys outnumber girls at birth, and this gender gap gradually shrinks through the higher mortality of boys until it is gone by the age of 20. This trend holds true in Rotherham up to the 15-19 age group, at which point the gender gap strangely widens. There seem to be around 500 girls unaccounted for. Evidently, this figure would capture only the final “confinement” stage of grooming and would exclude earlier stages when the girl is voluntarily living with her Pakistani boyfriend (Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, 2013, p.5. Figure 1.5).
What do the academics have to say?
Not much. British academia has either ignored the issue or cast aspersions on anyone who brings it up, as seen in this paper:
The implications of the current fixation with grooming and ‘Asian sex gangs’ are examined and shown to further a political agendum and legitimise thinly veiled racism, ultimately doing victims a disservice.(Cockbain, 2013)
Cockbain cites two official studies to show that this fixation has no scientific basis:
Widespread concern around grooming resulted in two large-scale government studies: the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre’s (CEOP) assessment of ‘localised grooming’, and the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England’s (OCCE) study on ‘child sexual exploitation in gangs and groups’.
[...] Like The Times, CEOP focused on community-based CSE, specifically excluding familial, peer-on-peer, professional or primarily online abuse. Unlike The Times, CEOP removed limitations on victims’ age and gender and covered both solo and group offenders. Of the 31 per cent (N = 753) of suspects for whom race was known, 49 per cent (N = 367) were white and 46 per cent (N = 346) Asian. Meanwhile, the OCCE included all forms of CSE in England, both online and offline, but was restricted to offenders acting in groups of two or more, the exclusion of solo offenders seriously undermining its claim to provide the ‘most thorough and comprehensive collection of information’ on CSE to date. The statistics presented in the report are often confused and incoherent, exacerbating methodological shortcomings and understandable data deficiencies. What can be disentangled is that only a minority of submissions to the call for evidence included any information on suspects. Of a total of 1,514 suspects thus identified, race data were available for 84 per cent (N = 1266). For those suspects where race was known, 43 per cent (N = 545) were white and 33 per cent (N = 415) Asian.
Almost half the suspects were homegrown whites? That figure seems far removed from the picture one gets in the British press. It also seems far removed from the picture one gets in a Dutch study of Amsterdam “lover boys”:
The young men were all between 21 and 24 years of age. Some of them were the children of Moroccan and Turkish guest labourers who had come to the Netherlands in the 1970s. Others had migrated at a young age with their parents from Surinam or Curacao, or were born in the Netherlands. (Van San and Bovenkerk, 2013)
Is seduction for profit more of a white boy thing in the UK than in the Netherlands? Or is the difference due to some bias in data gathering? The second explanation is suggested by the incompleteness of the British data. Only 31% of the CEOP files had information on the suspect’s race, and only a minority of the CSE files had any information at all on the suspect.
This incompleteness can be traced to two biases in data gathering, which, curiously enough, reflected a desire to avoid “bias”:
1. Fear of harming community relations
First, there was a fear that evidence of Asian sex gangs, if publicized, could damage community relations and hinder investigative work:
For example, ever since projects for sexually exploited children were first opened by Barnardo’s there have been reports of Asian gangs at work. This information was, very sensibly, not publicised by Barnardo’s because they knew that their workers depend on the goodwill and support of the local population — also largely Asian — to gather information about the girls so they can help them. Publicly highlighting the racial profile of the perpetrators would inevitably turn the community against them. (Linehan, 2011)
Cockbain (2013) similarly evokes a fear of “fuelling racist rhetoric, distorting policy and practice and exacerbating community tensions.”
These fears seem to have shaped public policy, as confirmed by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham:
Several councillors interviewed believed that by opening up these issues they could be ‘giving oxygen’ to racist perspectives that might in turn attract extremist political groups and threaten community cohesion. To some extent this concern was valid, with the apparent targeting of the town by groups such as the English Defence League.(Jay, 2014, p. 93)
2. Fear of seeming racist
Another reason, cited in the Inquiry, was simply a fear of seeming racist:
Several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist; others remembered clear direction from their managers not to do so. (Jay, 2014, p. 2)
[...] there was a widespread perception that messages conveyed by some senior people in the Council and also the Police, were to ‘downplay’ the ethnic dimensions of CSE. Unsurprisingly, frontline staff appeared to be confused as to what they were supposed to say and do and what would be interpreted as ‘racist’. (Jay, 2014, p. 91)
She also reported in 2006 that young people in Rotherham believed at that time that the Police dared not act against Asian youths for fear of allegations of racism. This perception was echoed at the present time by some young people we met during the Inquiry, but was not supported by specific examples. (Jay, 2014, p. 92)
Those who had involvement in CSE were acutely aware of these [ethnic] issues and recalled a general nervousness in the earlier years about discussing them, for fear of being thought racist. (Jay, 2014, p. 93)
A systematic bias
Because of these fears of either harming community relations or seeming racist, there was a systematic bias toward underreporting of Pakistani involvement in grooming. This bias in data gathering led to a distorted view of reality among public officials:
Within social care, the scale and seriousness of the problem was underplayed by senior managers. At an operational level, the Police gave no priority to CSE, regarding many child victims with contempt and failing to act on their abuse as a crime. Further stark evidence came in 2002, 2003 and 2006 with three reports known to the Police and the Council, which could not have been clearer in their description of the situation in Rotherham. The first of these reports was effectively suppressed because some senior officers disbelieved the data it contained. This had led to suggestions of cover-up. The other two reports set out the links between child sexual exploitation and drugs, guns and criminality in the Borough. These reports were ignored and no action was taken to deal with the issues that were identified in them.
In the early 2000s, a small group of professionals from key agencies met and monitored large numbers of children known to be involved in CSE or at risk but their managers gave little help or support to their efforts. Some at a senior level in the Police and children’s social care continued to think the extent of the problem, as described by youth workers, was exaggerated, and seemed intent on reducing the official numbers of children categorised as CSE. (Jay, 2014, p.1)
In a BBC interview, a researcher described how an official reacted to one of the reports: “She said you must never refer to that again. You must never refer to Asian men. And her other response was to book me on a two-day ethnicity and diversity course to raise my awareness of ethnic issues” (Brooks-Pollock, 2014).
It makes sense that public officials had trouble believing the evidence being brought to their attention. After all, it ran counter to the findings of the authoritative CEOP and CSE studies. The situation is not unlike that of the old Soviet Union, where official statistics said one thing and reality quite another.
How could this have happened?
The answer is easy. We live in a society where “racism” is viewed as a major evil. Once this view had gained the full backing of moral authority, it was just a matter of time before everyone fell into line … and acted accordingly. The average social worker became reluctant to report evidence of sex crimes if the suspects were non-white and non-Christian. The average police officer became reluctant to lay charges or pursue them if already laid. The average politician became reluctant to bring the matter up in council or parliament.
The result? Underreporting on a massive scale. This all could happen in broad daylight and no one would see a thing.
This massive underreporting then distorted the findings of official reports, which in turn convinced people in authority that the whole thing had been greatly exaggerated, undoubtedly for mischievous purposes. There was thus growing pressure from above to root out racist politicians, racist police officers, and racist social workers …
Antiracism is self-validating. On the one hand, it leads people to dismiss evidence that may undermine its view of reality. On the other, it strengthens its view of reality by encouraging people to create supporting evidence. There is no conspiracy. There is only the madness of ideology.
Brooks-Pollock, T. (2014). Rotherham researcher ‘sent on diversity course’ after raising alarm, The Telegraph, September 2
Cockbain, E. (2013). Grooming and the ‘Asian sex gang predator’: the construction of a racial crime threat, Race & Class, 54, 22-32.
Linehan, T. (2011). Child sexual exploitation in the UK is all too common. But notions of gangs and grooming are a distraction and hinder our efforts to combat the problem.
Jay, A. (2014). Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham 1997-2013
Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council. (2013). Demographic Profile of Rotherham,
Van San, M. and F. Bovenkerk. (2013). Secret seducers. True tale of pimps in the red light district of Amsterdam, Crime, Law and Social Change, 60, 67-80.