For the past few weeks I've been working my way steadily through a box set of The Wire, it having sat on my floor for at least four years, ever since I bought it shortly after the BBC had shown all 5 series back to back (I expect to get round to seeing what all the fuss is about Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones some time around 2018). I'm up to the final season, where McNulty, back on the booze and women and pissed off at the decision to shut down the operation against Marlo, "creates" a serial killer with the intention of getting the money taps turned back on by City Hall. Only until advised by Lester he can't even do that right, with neither the chiefs nor the media interested in his fictional slayer of homeless men.
Something highly similar went on with the reporting of the Asian sex gangs prosecuted over the last few years. Let's cut all the nonsense now and say the real reason why it was so many young, not even always teenage girls, predominately in care or vulnerable, were able to be exploited and abused for so long with so little done about it. It happened because almost no one, with the exception of a few of those in the system and the abusers themselves gave a damn about them. Whether they really were regarded as "white trash" by those abusers, when the closest the independent report by Alexis Jay (PDF) comes to describing any such direct insult from the men is one calling a 13-year-old a "white bitch" (pg. 140), is irrelevant when regardless of skin colour, these girls were treated as trash by everyone. They weren't important, and only are now as a grindstone for whichever political axe it is you want to sharpen.
Andrew Norfolk only got his story onto the front page of the Times in the first place by playing up (or rather, by his editors focussing on) the whole "political correctness" angle. Asian girls, black girls, white girls being abused by white men, black men, Asian men, who cares unless there's a celebrity or political figure among the latter or a good middle class kid gone off the rails among the former. Start saying nothing is being done though because everyone's too scared to admit it's predominantly Asian men abusing white girls, a problem within the Asian, if you want to be even more discriminatory the Muslim, community, and you've suddenly got a story the right-wing press is going to love.
And boy, do they. It doesn't matter either the report is for the most part just restating what we already knew. Both the Sun and the Mail scream this morning of the betrayals by the PC cowards/brigade. All but needless to say, the report itself doesn't so much as mention political correctness. What Alexis Jay does conclude comes in the six-page "Issues of Ethnicity" section of the report (pg. 91). She finds, predictably, that actual decision making was not affected by any fears of racism, with the "inquiry team confident ethnic issues did not influence professional decision-making in individual cases". There were however concerns expressed by some frontline staff as to whether their work could be interpreted as racist, and also awareness of, or a feeling of pressure from on high to play down the fact it was predominantly Asian men abusing white girls.
As Anna Raccoon writes, Rotherham isn't worse than any other instance of organised child sexual exploitation because the colour of the penises in this instance were brown rather than white. Jay goes on to comment on the research done by the UK Muslim Women's Network, which examined 35 cases and details almost exactly the same pattern of grooming and abuse as carried out in Rotherham, only in all these instances the victims were also Asian. The Home Affairs Select Committee heard evidence suggesting Asian victims were even less likely to come forward as they risked being ostracised by their own families and the whole community. As well as going against cultural norms, those in the community also feared the same retribution as visited or threatened against the victims if they went public with their concerns. With hindsight, Jay concludes, "it is clear that women and girls in the Pakistani community in Rotherham should have been encouraged and empowered by the authorities to speak out about perpetrators and their own experiences as victims of sexual exploitation, so often hidden from sight." Child abusers don't tend to select on the basis of skin colour; they do on the basis of how likely it is they are to get caught.
The problem wasn't with the council and culture at the most senior level being politically correct, rather that it was "bullying and macho" (pg. 101). As far back as 1998 the chief executive of the council said women officers weren't "readily accepted" by officers or members. One former senior officer described it as a "very grubby environment in which to work", while another said she was asked if she "wore a mask while having sex" (pg. 114). As late as October 2009 a senior officer not working in safeguarding is quoted as saying the town had "too many looked after children" and this accounted for a "significant part of the overspend". When the issue was raised by councillors, it was through mosques, while one senior office suggested some influential Pakistanti-heritage councillors had acted "as barriers" (pg. 93). "Traditional" channels of communication were used, and some councillors even demanded that social workers reveal where Pakistani-heritage women fleeing domestic violence were staying. The police meanwhile, whom the report describes as now having a "clear focus on prevention, protection, investigating and prosecuting the perpetrators" are described as in the early 2000s regarding the victims rather than the abusers as "undesirables" (pg. 69).
If there is a section of the report on shakier foundations, it's in the estimate of a potential 1,400 victims, the figure staring out from today's front pages. This isn't an estimate, rather an outright guess. Figures on caseloads were not collected, so the inquiry instead looked at case files, and lists of those known to children's social care (pg. 29). The inquiry read only 66 case files in total; it's unclear why it didn't read all those available to it, instead going for a random sample and drawing conclusions from that. As the section on victims also makes clear, not all of these are necessarily victims of grooming gangs; at least three of the cases are suggestive of abuse by individuals or within the family rather than groups of men working in concert (pgs. 41 and 42).
Undesirables. There in a single word is the case summed up and why for all the talk of "never again" it will happen again, as no doubt it's happening tonight. Demanding the sacking of the now police and crime commissioner for South Yorkshire isn't going to achieve anything, except leaving the taxpayer with the bill for a by-election where only around 10% will turn out. The right will play the political correctness angle for all it's worth, point fingers at Labour and its rotten boroughs in the north, make subtler noises about the failings of multiculturalism, while the left and those like me will say it's about social breakdown and an underclass ignored by everyone until something terrible on a grand scale happens or there's another outbreak of rioting. They're fit only for gawping at on Jeremy Kyle and Benefits Street, for being a reason to pare back the welfare state, and the occasional short-lived passing frenzy. Social workers will go on struggling with a risk assessment culture that can't be applied to such hard cases, underfunded and overworked. Undesirables will become victims, then undesirables once more.
Labels: child abuse, media analysis, media coverage, political correctness, politics, racism, Rotherham abuse scandal