Asian grooming: The truth is that these girls were worth more to them than to us
As what became known as the Asian grooming trial finally reached its sentencing stage this week, I found myself thinking back to the few days I had spent in the company of a half-dozen British-born Pakistanis. They were on the last leg of a tour, distributing aid from the UK-based charity Muslim Aid, in some very difficult parts of the world. The last lap saw them distributing warm clothing, household goods and small sums of money to recipients in some of Lebanon’s grim Palestinian refugee camps, and I had been invited along as a reporter.
It was a time when a shadow hung over some Muslim fund-raising, which was said to be a front for terrorism. Muslim Aid wanted to show the sort of work a legitimate charity was doing. Almost as interesting as the charity work I witnessed, however – for me – was some of the chat in the minibus between visits and around meal tables when the work was done. The aid workers were volunteers, taking time out from whatever they normally did. They were all men, in their late twenties or early thirties, and they saw contributing and working for charity as something a Muslim ought to do. They also had strong views about women.
I don’t want to suggest for a moment that any of my travelling companions would have got themselves involved in anything of the sort that was going on in Rochdale. On the contrary, I’m sure they would share the general disgust about the degraded goings-on in mini-cabs and the back rooms of takeaways. But what struck me was the dichotomy in their attitude to women. On the one hand, there were their wives (they had all married, or been married, relatively young by UK standards), their sisters and other Asian women of their acquaintance. These women were spoken of with enormous respect, almost to the point of being placed on pedestals, as a sort of ideal of femininity. A code of strict
On the other hand – and it was not, I felt, primarily a matter of Asian as against Western women – were those who, as they saw it, sold themselves cheaply, as exemplified by scantily dressed models in advertisements. They noticed each and every such hoarding we passed in Beirut, not with salacious or nudge-nudge wink-wink comments, but with distaste. ‘Why do they do that?’ they asked. ‘It’s undignified, demeaning and reduces them to objects.’
Naturally, my feminist hackles rose. If women can earn tidy sums from posing in swimwear, or lacy underwear or nothing at all, we would say, that is up to them. And if we want to go out in décolleté tops or short skirts – after dark even! – we should be able to do so without attracting unwelcome attention. It’s not a woman’s problem, we would say, but a man’s, if he can’t refrain from seeing temptation everywhere. This is where the slippery slope begins that ends in male judges accusing rape victims of “asking for it”.
But what you would see, if you were to look through the eyes of these young, male, British-born Pakistanis, is something a bit different. You would see women, mostly white women, debasing themselves for money, and betraying the ideal. You can object that this is wrong. You can argue that the entirely British education these young men received had failed to overcome whatever prejudices (they might say ‘values’) they had imbibed at home. But it was striking to me that these British-born, British-educated Asian men, still saw women almost as a separate species warranting huge respect – so long as they observed the rules.
This does not mean they have to wear the full burka or not take paid work, but it does presuppose certain modesty in dress and demeanour. There is a long way between thought and deed, but the philosophical distance is not so far between holding such rigid assumptions about “proper” comportment and regarding women who break this code as “fair game”.
When the judge said that the nine men convicted this week had treated the young women as “worthless”, though, he was not quite right. Yes, they saw the women as cheap and available – because of how they dressed, how they behaved, and perhaps simply where they were, on the streets, by themselves, outside a family framework. But they did not treat them as completely worthless. They were worth chatting up, worth flattering, worth giving presents to, worth – to put it crudely – having sex with.
Which made them, regrettably, scandalously, worth more – to themselves and to the men who used them – than they were to almost everyone else. For there is another issue here, and one that should be at least as uncomfortable as the Asian dimension for Rochdale and for British society in general. If these young women were treated as worthless by these Asian men of a certain age and disposition, they were nonetheless seen as worth a little perverted attention. They were not even worth that to those who were supposed to be responsible for them. How could it be that juveniles, below even the age of consent, were so poorly looked after, that they were regularly staying out, frequenting takeaways and mini-cab offices, putting themselves in danger, and no one took the slightest notice?
Most of the girls were apparently “in care. But what price a care system where young girls – one was just 13 – were disappearing, and reappearing, perhaps with gifts, and no one worried that something might be amiss? Even the police initially seemed reluctant to touch the case, which may reflect the potential difficulty for “community relations” when it turned out that the men were Asian and the girls white.
Those who deny there is a racial – or perhaps, more accurately, a cultural – aspect to these crimes are wrong. But the racial/cultural blame must be shared. It might be said that some Asian families prize their girls too highly – keeping them at home, dictating their dress and banning boyfriends. But in white Britain we value at least some of our girls too cheaply – these young women were worth less to those supposedly caring for them in our name than to the men who systematically abused them. That neglect is what made possible these crimes in Rochdale – and probably not just there.Tagged in: asian grooming, care home, feminism, Muslim Aid, rape, Rochdale
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