Who is allowed to be part of the #MeToo movement? I ask because on Friday five men were found guilty of horrific sexual crimes against eight girls and yet the case hasn’t trended on Twitter. There have been no hashtags. The girls’ suffering hasn’t been widely talked about. There have been very few declarations of solidarity from feminists. There’s pretty much been silence.
It isn’t hard to see why. The problem for the mostly middle-class, well-connected feminists who make up the #MeToo movement is that this case involved both the wrong kind of victim and the wrong kind of perpetrator.
The victims were working-class girls, under the age of 16, some of them quite troubled — a far cry from the actresses, businesswomen and lobby journalists whose experiences of harassment have dominated the #MeToo narrative so far.
And the perpetrators were Muslim men. They were Muslim men who the judge described as ‘cunning and determined’ sexual predators. And surely no one wants to risk stirring up Islamophobic sentiment by drawing attention to a Muslim gang engaged in incredibly abusive behaviour?
So let’s brush it aside. Let’s hope it fades away. We can’t have inconvenient working-class victims of a Muslim grooming gang disturbing the #MeToo narrative or the multicultural script.
This is the story of the latest convictions secured in Operation Stovewood, the huge investigation into the sexual exploitation and abuse of girls and young women in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013.
The five men found guilty on Friday had committed various horrendous crimes: rape, indecent assault, and child abduction. They had plied the girls with drink and drugs and used them as ‘sexual objects’, in the words of Judge Michael Slater who oversaw the case at Sheffield Crown Court. The girls had been horribly dehumanised. ‘They took my childhood away’, one of the victims said.
Strikingly, the judge didn’t only condemn the men – he also criticised the authorities in Rotherham. He said they had at best been ‘totally ineffectual’ and at worst ‘wholly indifferent’ to the abuse of girls by Muslim gangs. He said he was ‘quite satisfied’ that the ‘relevant authorities’ in Rotherham knew girls were being targeted for sexual exploitation. And their failure to do anything about it is a ‘lamentable state of affairs’.
This ought to be a huge talking point. There have been similar scandals in other parts of the country, in Telford, Rochdale, Oxfordshire and elsewhere. In each case gangs of men from largely Muslim backgrounds abused and exploited young women from mostly white working-class backgrounds. And often there is evidence that the authorities were conscious of what was happening but took little action against it. They were worried about being seen to demonise Muslims and possibly contributing to what they view as a culture of Islamophobia.
Boiled down, this really means that they considered it more important to protect Muslims from criticism than to protect working-class girls from sexual abuse. So concerned were some officials with preserving the ideology of multiculturalism, with batting aside any difficult discussion about a growing sense of separatism and even hostility between certain communities in the UK, that they did not take strong action against the widespread exploitation of young women.
Even now, discussion about Muslim grooming gangs is shushed. Anyone who raises it will be branded an Islamophobe, a racist and maybe even a fascist. Look what happened to the Labour MP for Rotherham, Sarah Champion, when she wrote about the problem of largely Pakistani gangs abusing white girls. She was demonised by Corbynistas. She was forced out of Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet. The message was clear: talk about this issue and you will be punished.
This is such a censorious and dim-witted approach to a very serious problem. First, it neglects the girls who suffered, turning them essentially into second-class victims whose abuse is an embarrassment, something best forgotten.
And secondly, it plays into the hands of hard-right elements who politicise the issue of Muslim grooming gangs. It actually empowers these troublesome political groups who will say: ‘Only we are brave enough to talk about this problem.’ And of course they talk about it for very cynical reasons — in order to promote a view of all Muslim men as predatory, and all Muslims as a problem.
What strange times we live in. A politician placing his hand on a middle-class journalist’s knee can dominate the news for weeks, while a gang of predatory men abducting and raping working-class girls gets a tiny write-up on page ten of your newspaper. This says something so disturbing to the victims in Rotherham and elsewhere: ‘You don’t matter. Preventing difficult discussion about cultural tensions in 21st-century Britain is far more important than your experiences of abuse.’