High-profile grooming case exposes the bleak reality of some young women’s lives, says Judith Orr
Nine men from Rochdale in the north west of England were jailed last week after being found guilty of sexually exploiting young girls.
Media headlines concentrated on the fact that most of the men were Pakistani and their victims white.
BNP Nazi Nick Griffin tried to capitalise on outrage at the crimes.
And the racist English Defence League announced it will march in Rochdale next month.
But the moral panic about race hides the real scandal—the reality of the lives of the women in the case and how the system failed them.
One 15 year old girl first reported the abuse in 2008, when she was arrested for causing a nuisance outside a kebab shop.
She told police she was having sex with older men in return for vodka, phone cards and food.
She even handed over underwear with DNA traces from a 59 year old man who was one of those convicted last week.
But lawyers decided that no jury would believe her. This is not unusual.
The Crown Prosecution Service calculates that of 17,000 reported sexual offences involving children under 16 last year, just under a quarter went to trial.
Sexual exploitation often involves young women who have suffered abuse. All the women in the Rochdale case were in or around the care system.
Bea Kay is a GMB union steward in children’s social care in Sheffield, training those who work with young people on issues of grooming and sexual exploitation.
She told Socialist Worker, “The support for young people today is pitiful. Vulnerable young people often feel worthless.
“An older man or group of men who pay attention to them and give them ‘gifts’, however trivial, can make them feel valued.”
Sex has become a valuable currency in our society—and for some women it may be their only currency.
This means that young, vulnerable people can be drawn into exploitative relationships.
And the already fragile safety net for those damaged by neglect and abuse is now threatened by cuts.
Rochdale Unison union rep Sam O’Brien spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity. He said, “We face cuts of £125 million. This will affect the most vulnerable in an already deprived town.”
So-called “street grooming” is not a specific criminal offence. But the term is almost always used to refer to crimes committed by Asian men.
This is similar to the way that the term “mugging” was coined in the 1970s to target black people as criminals.
The media’s focus on race and “street grooming” could divert attention from other forms of abuse.
Tony Staunton has decades of experience of working with children and families.
He said, “Sexual abuse and grooming is not a new problem and it will not be solved by seeing it as an issue in one culture or racial group.
“The majority of child abuse takes place within families and goes undetected. Young people are being failed by society.”
The media has whipped up a panic about gangs of Asian men in the wake of the Rochdale case.