Do the crimes committed against young girls in Rochdale reflect a racial issue, or larger issues in our own society?

May 12, 2012 2:57 pm

Nine men have been imprisoned this week for their involvement in the exploitation and rape of young, underage girls in Rochdale and Oldham. If I rewrite that sentence to say that the men were British Pakistani, and that the girls were white, does this change our impression of what went on? Many are claiming in the aftermath of the trial and convictions that this is primarily an issue of race; an issue of why these men felt it was acceptable to treat white girls in this manner. There will always be those who commit disgusting and abhorrent crimes such as rape and paedophilia. A person’s inclination to commit these crimes is not a reflection of the colour of their skin, or their cultural background but of their own lack of morality and basic human compassion. Rapists come in all shapes, sizes and colours. It is an insult to the girls involved and to the other victims of crimes of this nature to be as reductive as to claim that it boils down to an issue of race. What it comes down to is not whether or not these men were programmed to believe that white girls are trash, that they are there to be used, because of their cultural background. The root of the problem lies in two distinct areas, the failure of the care system and the police to act on behalf of both justice and the best interests of these children, and culturally ingrained attitudes towards women in this country.

Many of these girls were in the care system, or from disadvantaged and disaffected families who did not provide these girls with adequate care. These girls were well below the age of 18, and yet they were not noticed if they went to stay away from home for weeks at a time. They were not asked where they were going and who they were meeting, because quite simply, nobody cared. When one of the victims bravely took her stained knickers as evidence to the police and tried to report what was happening to her and others, in an attempt to stop it all from happening, things actually got worse. Little wonder that this case managed to continue for so long. It seems that almost every responsible adult in these children’s lives failed them. This case was known about for many years, and yet these girls were failed by the police and the CPS, by their own parents and by the care system that was supposed to support them. One of the most striking quotes from a victim’s testimony is, in my opinion, that she liked the attention from the men at first because it made her ‘feel pretty’. The innocence that these young girls had that was taken away from them is almost breathtaking. They were offered cigarettes and alcohol yes, but also food, packets of crisps and takeaways. The giving of food implies the giving of care. The fact that these girls looked to such depraved men to give them food, and attention, and the sham of affection that they forced upon them, says something very disturbing not about the mental state of the men involved (for that is undeniable fact) but about the state of society. The fact remains that these children were left alone and scared, even after confiding in adults that were supposed to be responsible for their well being.
Attitudes towards women in this country are far less enlightened than we like to believe. As a result of this, women all over the country, no matter what ethnicity they are, are vulnerable to sexual attacks by men who see them as little more than sex objects. All too often news stories are reported of young women exploited by older men, members of their own families, people in positions of supposed trust and authority. Young girls are simply not being fed the notion in the national press, or on television, or in the magazines that they avidly pore over on buses, that they can be successful and functional members of society without being sexual objects at the same time. Yes, young boys are subject to pressures about appearance too, but it cannot be denied that the situation for young women is epidemic. Rape victims’ testimonies are sometimes questioned on the basis that they had been drinking, or wearing a short skirt, as if such behaviour means that they were unconsciously allowing themselves to be raped. I have lost track of the amount of inappropriate comments that I have had hurled in my direction by men, who seem to think it is acceptable to shout degrading comments after women that they see walking alone. Such behaviour is a low level intrusion of a woman’s feeling of safety, and is often shrugged off or regarded as just something that happens. However, this low level of intrusion is culturally acceptable (many men laugh if a woman dares to explain that such behaviour has made her feel uncomfortable and as a result is told that she should take it as a compliment) and allows the subjugation of women to seem more culturally acceptable. Until we as a society learn to treat women with more respect, this kind of crime will continue, often unreported. What’s even more terrifying is that the state of the care system and the response of the police that has been highlighted in this particular incidence means that there is an undeniable likelihood that all the members of this gang have not been brought to justice, and that all over the country similar rings may be targeting vulnerable girls who are being sidelined by a failing care system.

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