The Home Office's report into the characteristics of group-based child sexual exploitation was keenly awaited by victims of grooming gangs. Sadly, for many of these people, it has left them disappointed.
When Sajid Javid commissioned the review he promised there would be ‘no no-go areas of inquiry’. His successor as Home Secretary, Priti Patel, says in the report itself that ‘victims and survivors of these abhorrent crimes have told me how they were let down by the state in the name of political correctness. What happened to these children remains one of the biggest stains on our country’s conscience.’
But victims I’ve spoken to suggest political correctness remains an issue. The report, they say, obfuscates what motivated these gangs, at least in part by avoiding an honest discussion about race and religion.
One such victim of a Rotherham grooming gang, who, as the survivor of sexual abuse has asked not to be named, told me that she holds no enmity towards her abusers. She is articulate, forthright, and, at times jovial, despite recently being hounded off social media by far-left wing activists for fearlessly expressing her opinions. But she cannot hide her disappointment at the Home Office report, suggesting that it fails to recognise the motivations of some offenders, including those who targeted her.
As a teenager, she was raped dozens of times. Often, those attacking her would racially abuse her too. ‘These are profoundly racist crimes', she told me, 'which often include aspects of religious abuse and spiritual abuse’. She is adamant the Home Office should not attempt to obscure this aspect of the criminality which took place; it is, after all, what she and other victims were forced to endure.
Another Rotherham survivor I spoke to, who also asked not to be named, is equally disappointed. She told me the Home Office report was ‘disgraceful’. She said it’s important to have a discussion about the over representation of men of Pakistani ethnicity in high-profile grooming gangs in order to prevent child sexual exploitation in the future. ‘We deserve the truth and the facts,’ she said. Yet for this woman, disappointment is a familiar feeling. Only last month, she received an apology from prisons minister Lucy Frazer, because she was not told when her abuser was moved to an open prison. Once again, she feels let down.
Although it is hard not to see the Home Office report as a failure, it does, however, go some way towards reaching the truth about these crimes, even if not far enough. It explores various motivating factors amongst offenders, which more generally include financial gain, status, misogyny, and sexual gratification. Notably, the report describes how a process of ‘othering’ victims – because they are outside of the offenders’ community – ‘may be an enabling factor for offenders’.
But despite the foreword stating that the report was prompted by well-reported cases like Rochdale and Rotherham, the authors fail to be more specific about what form this ‘othering’ might have taken. Here, it could perhaps have borrowed some of the bravery of judge Gerald Clifton, who, on sentencing men in Rochdale, said:
‘Some of you acted as you did to satiate your lust, some of you to make money, all of you treated them as though they were worthless and beyond respect...I believe that one of the factors that led to that was that they were not of your community or religion.’
A report that wished to do a service to the victims of these grooming gangs would have tried harder to explore this politically toxic, but vital, theme. Did the authors shove religious motivations under the carpet, for fear of causing offence? If so, it’s all part of a predictable pattern of cowardice.
Fear of damaging ‘community relations’ was highlighted in the Jay report into Rotherham. More recently, a probe into the failings of Greater Manchester Police (GMP) revealed an investigation was shelved at least partly because of 'many sensitive community issues'. The GMP inquiry found children were being picked up from care homes by paedophiles ‘in plain sight’ of officials.
For victims of these grooming gangs, this Home Office report might be a missed opportunity, but, thankfully, it isn't the final word. A debate on the grooming gang petition – which calls for the publication of research on the characteristics of grooming gang offenders – has been scheduled for 18 January in Westminster Hall.
This is a chance for victims to have their voices heard via their MPs, so the government is better informed about the factors motivating group-based child sexual exploitation. Our elected leaders must not shy away from discussing culture and religion, to both help build on existing perpetrator profiles for law enforcement agencies, and better inform public policy moving forwards. The Home Secretary is right when she describes this as ‘one of the biggest stains on our country’s conscience’ – and that’s why victims of these vile offenders cannot be let down again.