On-street grooming

In tackling child grooming, we must understand the social and cultural dynamics that are contributing towards it. This requires contextualization, ownership and the initiation of honest conversation

The grooming of young girls is a problem with a rising profile
Ghaffar Hussain
On 9 December 2011 15:45

The sexual exploitation of young people, for either money or gratification, takes place in all communities and abusers come from a wide range of ethnic and religious backgrounds.

However, a new pattern of abuse, referred to as ‘on-street grooming’, has emerged in recent years. In these cases, the abusers seem to be mainly British-Pakistani men with the victims being young white girls.

The modus operandi of the abusers is to drive around in flashy cars, pick up young adolescent girls who are hanging around and offer them cigarettes, alcohol, and the promise of a good time. Once some trust has been built and a relationship established, sexual abuse begins.

Victims are often passed between friends and in some cases cash is exchanged. Many of the young girls involved do go along voluntarily up to a certain stage, but are often trapped in a cycle of abuse before they can suspect anything sinister.

This is a pattern of abuse that I often heard about, growing up in the Midlands, and sometimes witnessed grooming taking place in its early stages. A family friend was even approached recently and offered sex with a young girl in exchange for a small amount of cash. It is something that has been known about for quite a while, but has only received prominence in recent months after a number of high profile convictions.

Of particular interest to political commentators have been the religious backgrounds of the abusers. This point has not been missed by the far-right either, and extremist organisations such as the BNP have incorporated this into their increasingly Muslim-centric propaganda.

They have sought to present sexual abuse of non-Muslim girls by Muslim men, as a practice inspired and encouraged by Islam itself.    

This worrying phenomenon has also been explored in a number of recent, hard-hitting TV programmes. The BBC aired one a few days ago called ‘Groomed for Sex’ presented by Adil Ray, this followed a Channel Four production, which aired a few weeks ago, called ‘Britain’s Sex Gangs’ presented by Tazeen Ahmad. Both programmes touched upon the socio-cultural context within which such abusers operate and the different factors that shape their mentality.

In Islam, any kind of sexual activity before marriage is strictly forbidden. Therefore, no one can claim that this type of sexual abuse is encouraged or sanctioned by the Islamic faith.  In fact, even being alone with a member of the opposite sex, whom one is not related to, is frowned upon by conservative Muslims.

However, the cultural environment in which these men are raised was pointed to by a number of the interviewees in the aforementioned programmes.

Common in all cases has been the fact that the abusers come from well-established and close-knit British-Pakistani communities originating from Azad Kashmir. In these family orientated communities, old traditions are maintained and virtues such as hard work, loyalty and social responsibility are promoted. 

However, segregation between the sexes is also enforced from an early age; sex itself is seen as a taboo topic and never discussed at home and women are often expected to behave in a subservient fashion. At the same time, the young men are also exposed to a highly sexualised popular culture where women are objectified.

So blame can be attributed to culture and with culture being informed, at least partially, by religion, some would argue that religion isn’t entirely blame free either. However, we must remember that we are largely talking about a very British-based phenomenon and only a tiny minority of men raised in these conditions are turning to the sexual abuse of minors. Other factors must also be considered.

A dysfunctional and macho British-Pakistani sub-culture has developed in many post-industrial northern towns and cities in this country. Young men feeling disconnected from mainstream society and their parents’ generation develop their own underground social scene, their own lingo, and their own values and norms.

This scene seeks to amalgamate rural Pakistani values and western street gang culture. It is inherently anti-establishment, insular and operates in a covert manner.

It is this coming together of a sexually restrictive cultural environment with modern criminal street culture, glamorised in hip-hop music, which helps shape the mindset of the abusers. These are the kind of people that wouldn’t feel comfortable meeting women of their own age group in normal settings. They simply don’t have the social skills or manners to engage with members of the opposite sex in that way.

They also have a certain image within their family circles to maintain so they can’t openly date women. Parental pressure to enter into an arranged marriage with a suitable girl from a village in rural Pakistan is also applied and often acquiesced to. Once they start living with these imported brides, they realise they have very little in common and communication and intimacy can be a struggle.

The sexual exploitation of much younger and more vulnerable girls is thus viewed as a means to sexual gratification and status amongst the peer group. The adopted deviant sub-culture glamorises such behavior and encourages a carefree attitude towards such abuse, with very little thought paid to the victims.  

To tackle this issue we must firstly understand the social and cultural dynamics that are contributing towards it. This requires contextualization, ownership and the initiation of an honest conversation.

Recent history has taught us that we are not particularly good at these things, especially the honest conversation part when it comes to problems that exist in cultures different to our own.

But most importantly, we need to think about how we can provide support to existing victims and prevent young girls being abused in this way in the future.

Ghaffar Hussain is a leading independent counter-extremism expert 

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