Day two of the Rotherham scandal—or rather the fallout from the latest report on it—and there’s a marked, obvious change in the coverage of it from the last time the subject surfaced. It may be the sheer scale of the thing —1,400 girls, and counting—and the horror of the cruelties perpetrated on the victims, but I don’t think that anyone is now trying to evade the reality of the thing: that the perpetrators were overwhelmingly men of Pakistani Muslim background and the victims white. But that, I think, is squarely down Alexis Jay’s report, which made the point not only that the rapists and abusers were from one ethnic and religious group and the victims from another, but that this was the main reason why council workers, social workers and police sat on the evidence rather than acting on it. Had it been your normal circle of paedophiles, I don’t think it would have taken 16 years to acknowledge the problem and act on it, do you?
On the previous occasion the BBC went with the issue the news bulletin was invariably followed by a little lecture from the correspondent, or a statement from a children’s charity, to the effect that child abuse was a problem for all communities and that it would be quite quite wrong to stigmatise any one ethnic or religious group for something that affects the whole of society. The first court case involving Muslim/Asian men preying on white girls that I remember the BBC reporting on—it may have been Oxfordshire rather than Rotherham—was conspicuous for the fact that the ethnicity and religion of the rapists was barely mentioned. Funny, I thought, after hearing the names read out; there’s a common denominator here. But analysis came there none.
And that was part of the problem. If the glaringly obvious feature of abuse on this extraordinary scale—and I’m trying really hard to avoid nouns like ‘epidemic’—was out of bounds as a subject, then plainly addressing the cause of the abuse was going to be impossible. Jack