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Rochdale: far right attempts to exploit tragedy of abuse
Paul Gerrard and Mike Forster
The conviction of nine Rochdale men on 10 May for child sex offences has been seized upon by far-right groups. The racist British National Party (BNP) organised regular provocative demonstrations both at the Crown Court in Liverpool and in Heywood, a small town in Rochdale, where the offences were committed and where violence and vandalism against Asian taxi drivers has prevented many from working. Now the English Defence League (EDL) has joined in with plans for a demonstration in Rochdale in June.
BNP leader Nick Griffin is an MEP for the North West and clearly sees this as a chance to revive the flagging fortunes of the BNP, who have no councillors in Rochdale and lost their last seats in Burnley this month. His ham-fisted intervention at the trial, tweeting the verdict before it was announced, nearly caused a mistrial and is now being used by one of the defendants as the basis for an appeal.
These were vile crimes committed against dozens of vulnerable girls and deserve to be punished. But the hysteria in the press about the ethnic background of the men involved has allowed the far right to fan the flames of racism, while obscuring important issues about the police, the legal and care systems.
Tory politicians have reinforced this. Tim Loughton, the Children's Minister, claims the case "raises troubling questions about the attitude of the perpetrators, all but one of whom were from Pakistani backgrounds, towards white girls". Baroness Warsi poured more fuel on the fire with her claim that "there is a small minority of Pakistani men who believe that white girls are fair game".
The outstanding fact is that 95% of sex offenders on the Greater Manchester register are white. Similarly, West Yorkshire police figures show that 47 out of 53 arrests for grooming offences in the last three years were of white people. Yet the white ethnicity of the perpetrators is never commented on.
Care system scandal
As Nazir Afzal, the recently appointed North West regional head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) put it: "It's not race that defines (the perpetrators). It's their attitude to women and young girls that defines them. It's about men wanting to exert their power over young women."
None of the men convicted had been born or educated in this country, and they came from regions where reactionary, feudal views about women are commonly held. Of course the vast majority of Asian men vehemently dissociate themselves from such views.
A major aspect of the scandal is how young and vulnerable girls from dysfunctional families, many of them in care or on the fringes of it, were exposed to sexual predators of whatever ethnic background. Having been horrifically abused they were abandoned by the legal and care systems.
In video footage shown in court a police officer is seen yawning loudly as a young woman breaks down in tears while recounting the abuse she suffered. Physical evidence was ignored; the CPS failed to prosecute for years while the abuse and the identity of the abusers were known. The CPS has admitted that of the 17,000 reported cases of sexual offences involving children aged under 16 years only 4,000 went to trial last year.
The care system itself puts young women at risk. According to Anne-Marie Carrie of children's charity Barnardo's a recent study found that sexual exploitation was an issue of concern for almost two thirds of girls in residential care, and that half of them only became at risk of such abuse after they entered care.
One victim in this case, originally from Essex, was placed in care at age 12, and from 2008 had three placements in privately run children's homes across the UK before ending up in Rochdale. All the homes were run by the Continuum group and her 'care' cost Essex county council £250,000 per year. She was the sole resident of a home employing six staff yet she ran away 19 times in three months for periods up to two weeks.
Staff were unqualified for residential social work according to an Ofsted report in February 2010, yet nothing had been done to improve staff training a year later. Continuum made a tidy operating profit of £2.7 million on a turnover of £29.2 million according to its recent accounts.
Labour is hopelessly divided over this case, with local Labour MP Stefan Danczuk falling into the racist trap by simply blaming a 'sub-culture of Asian men' for the exploitation. And of course Labour does not oppose privatisation and Labour councils have made vicious cuts to services across the board.
This case is only the tip of the iceberg. Sex abuse is endemic in a society which promotes inequality at every level. The agencies put in place to safeguard the most vulnerable stand condemned.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission has launched yet another inquiry into the Manchester Police who have retrospectively apologised and said things would be done differently now. Expect another hand-wringing whitewash.
The trade union movement in Greater Manchester and nationally must take the initiative with a campaign opposing cuts and privatisation in social care, and for socialist measures which promote education, youth facilities and supportive care with fully trained staff which could undercut the far right.