Halifax’s community fighting back to prevent child grooming

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The west central Halifax community is fighting back to protect children and people becoming victims of grooming and sexual exploitation.

The Calderdale Safeguarding Children Board has published its findings into the case of a girl, referred to as Jeanette, who was the subject of child sex exploitation by a group of 17 men.

Barry Raynes, director of Reconstruct, carried out the independent review on behalf of the board.

He described the work and views of the communtiy when he sat down with focus groups with residents in Halifax.

“Althoughh there is no consensus amongst the men and women in the focus groups that British Pakistani men are more likely to abuse children in the way this report describes compared to other men, they do take the protection of all children seriously and have a good understanding of the risks that children take when they are out of their homes late at night.

“They have told me that there is much greater awareness of the dangers of abuse of male power, and consequently a greater determination to tackle, discuss and report issues of domestic violence.”

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A local group “TAG” (Together Against Grooming) has been set up by local Asian people to “work with others to respond to the issue of sexual exploitation of children and vulnerable young people”.

Their website makes it clear that there is no Islamic or cultural justification for abuse of women or children but they have come together: “in response to a number of recent cases where the perpetrators have mainly been from an Asian/Muslim background”.

The group of volunteers has written and presented many training sessions to churches, mosques and neighbourhood groups and all Calderdale’s youth workers to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation.

Between June – October 2015, more than 1,000 taxi drivers (most of whom are British Pakistani) attended compulsory training run by Calderdale council to raise awareness about child sexual exploitation and to encourage them to report suspicious activity. This has resulted in a number of referrals to police and children’s social care from taxi drivers.

Mr Raynes added: “The British Asian Pakistani community in Halifax increasingly accept that there are individuals within their community who pose a risk to children.

“British Asians are leading the way in Calderdale in raising awareness of the danger to children from child sexual exploitation amongst all members of the population.

“Institutions, (by which I mean organisations rather than buildings) where men are able to dominate, place children at risk.

“The group who abused Jeanette were just such an institution: male dominated, untouchable (so they thought), some of them outside the law because of their drug dealing activities, threatening to the law abiding people around them – they created for themselves all the ingredients we know are needed to abuse children.

“All they then had to do was find vulnerable children to abuse. It may well be that it is this male dominance that is the real problem – not the racial and cultural background of the men involved.

Men and women of the west central Halifax community described the response of the community as one of shock and disbelief after the news of the grooming allegations.

“They said that initially some people in the community didn’t want to talk about it, found it hard to believe and were embarrassed, but that others have appropriately used the case as an opportunity to build upon the rising awareness in the community of the dangers of male power,” said Mr Raynes.

“The women in particular made distinctions between generations, believing that the older generation found it harder to believe that there may be a problem regarding the attitudes of young men in their community.

“They also stated that they believed that female voices don’t get heard much within the community.

“They believed that it was harder for British Asian girls of Pakistani heritage to come forward with disclosures about abuse because of their fear their family’s standing may be damaged.

“This review gave considerable thought to the issue of culture in child sexual exploitation cases and identified that, according to many recent reports and prosecutions, there may be a link between the cultural background of some British Asian men of Pakistani heritage and a type of child sexual exploitation known as “localised grooming”.

“Nevertheless, the review recognised that there were similar power dynamics in this case to other institutional abuse cases where the background of the men was not predominately Asian, and concluded that - though culture may have a part to play - gender is a consistent and predominant factor in almost all cases of child sexual exploitation and child sexual abuse.

“There was debate within the panel relating to whether or not the author should limit his observations to this case or should consider wider cultural issues. Whilst this issue remained unresolved there was unanimous agreement amongst panel members that this review did not have the resources or remit to consider more general questions about the cultural identity of perpetrators of abuse in any depth.”

The report is now making a national recommendation that there be further academic research into the cultural identity of perpetrators of localised grooming, and suggests that gender power, bridging and bonding, criminality, male attitudes towards women and openness about sex and relationships be areas that research should consider.