Misleading ‘grooming gangs’ narrative demonising Muslims

28th Feb 2020
Misleading ‘grooming gangs’ narrative demonising Muslims

Hamed Chapman

The misleading claim of ‘Muslim grooming gangs’ has become a dangerous media narrative around child exploitation that is harming community relations in the UK, according to a new report, Failing victims, fuelling hate: challenging the harms of the ‘Muslim grooming gangs’ narrative.

Such a dominant narrative has become a defining feature of the British media, political and public debate to explain a series of horrific cases, but is “misleading, sensationalist and has in itself promoted a number of harms.”

In a joint paper, Dr Ella Cockbain, Associate Professor at UCL in the Department of Security and Crime Science and Dr Waqas Tufail, Senior Lecturer at Leeds Beckett University, examines how racist framings of ‘Muslim grooming gangs’ exist not only in extremist, far-right fringes but in the mainstream, liberal discourses too.

“The involvement of supposedly feminist and liberal actors and the promotion of pseudoscientific ‘research’ have lent a veneer of legitimacy to essentialist, Orientalist stereotypes of Muslim men, the demonisation of whole communities and demands for collective responsibility,” they argue.
They note in their recent paper that the narrative has been produced, maintained, and propagated by a range of actors, including “liberal actors and the promotion of pseudoscientific ‘research’” that is fundamentally flawed.

Over the past decade, a so-called ‘Muslim grooming gangs’ narrative has become established in popular and political discourse, including claims of how Muslim culture and faith supposedly perpetuate sexual abuse that collectively demonise British Muslim communities, especially young Muslim men.
Much of the narrative has centred around towns in the North and Midlands regions of England, where many high-profile criminal convictions have taken place. Rotherham, in South Yorkshire, has arguably become the place most synonymous with ‘Muslim grooming gangs’ and has attracted the most attention from far-right groups.

The central argument of the ‘grooming gangs’ narrative is that a ‘disproportionate’ number of Asian/Muslim/Pakistani-heritage men are involved in grooming (mostly) white British girls for organised sexual abuse. These claims are often substantiated with reference to a spate of high-profile prosecutions of ‘grooming gangs’ in towns and cities such as Rotherham, Rochdale, Derby, Telford, Oxford, Huddersfield and Newcastle.

The ‘grooming gangs’ narrative belongs within a broader tendency to racialise the crime in political and popular discourse. The authors give the classic example is the racialised panic in 1970s Britain in which young black men were cast as ‘muggers’. Fuelled by misleading statistics and misinformation, the devastating consequences included over-policing and criminalisation.

The racialisation of ‘grooming gangs’ must also be understood in the context of a long history of racialised and gendered Islamophobia, or anti-Muslim racism, they argue. Muslim men have been stereotyped as both religiously fanatical and prone to committing violent, sexual acts motivated by a patriarchal, misogynistic culture and backward, barbaric religion.

Looking back over more than a decade, the authors document the architects of the ‘grooming gangs’ narrative, examine the political backdrop to it and consider the harms it causes. They also sketch out tangible ways forward, with implications for policy-makers, practitioners and activists. They contend that genuinely practised anti-racist feminism is vital in tackling child sexual abuse and resisting anti-Muslim forces.

The authors in no way want to detract from the absolutely horrific crimes that have been in no doubt committed, nor to the grotesque harm or excuse the inexcusable but point out the ‘grooming gangs’ term is “itself a spurious media construct and one that has been heavily racialised from the very start.”
‘Grooming gangs’ simply do not correspond to established legal or social scientific categories and the various weak definitions offered up by proponents of this racialised narrative fail to delineate these offenders meaningfully from other groups of child sex offenders.

“Contrary to stereotypes, there is no ‘grooming’ offence’ – let alone a ‘grooming gangs’ offence; consequently, ‘grooming gang offenders’ cannot be sensibly disentangled from police recorded crime data or prosecution data.”

Editorial: ‘Muslim grooming gangs’ narrative deliberately pernicious http://muslimnews.co.uk/newspaper/editorials/muslim-grooming-gangs-narrative-deliberately-pernicious/

 

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