Women’s voices must be heard

Young, vulnerable girls were groomed by a sex ring yet much of the media focuses only on ethnicity of the convicted men.

The Streets Of Rochdale After Child Exploitation Arrests
More than a quarter of children in Rochdale live in poverty, say The Campaign to End Child Poverty [GALLO/GETTY]

London, United Kingdom –
The conviction of nine men in the north west of England for “grooming” vulnerable girls as young as 13 years old for sex was almost hijacked by the grotesque opportunism of the British National Party – which sought to make political capital from the case, based upon the common ethnicity of the convicted men.

Showing utter contempt for judicial process, BNP leader Nick Griffin Tweeted his “guessed” outcomes for the trial while the jury deliberated their verdicts, calling into doubt the safeness of the legal process.

Such selfish actions by Griffin demonstrate zero concern for the ordeal that the young victims faced in going to trial. Griffin seized his chance to attempt to incite racial hatred against the non-white community in Rochdale for his own sordid political ends.

Men jailed over UK underage sex ring

It must be remembered that this case is not about the racist distortions of white supremacist political parties. Nor is it about the 59-year-old convicted gang leader’s self-pitying claims that society’s failure to protect the girls is being blamed on what he called “a weak minority group” – meaning his ethnic group.

This case is about how young girls were violated because their vulnerability and poverty was noticed and exploited by a group of criminals with the cash and resources to exploit them.

A close-knit group of “small business men” chose to become pimps and rapists and, as do all abusers, they saw an opportunity to select their victims. In this case, the victims came from a poor town in northern England with high unemployment. The culprits used age-old methods of force and coercion to target emotionally isolated girls – described by the police as coming from “chaotic backgrounds” – into their ugly world of sexual exploitation.

The 59-year-old leader of the sex ring, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was convicted of two rapes, aiding and abetting rape and sexual assault and trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation. He has been jailed for 19 years.

This man, and the eight other men convicted, were on trial for their predatory actions against vulnerable children – not for their ethnic identities.

Questions must be raised as to why, when one of the victims first reported her case to the police she was deemed by the Crown Prosecution Service not to be a credible witness – despite providing samples of her underwear spattered with the DNA of the unnamed 59-year-old. It is understood that this dismissal of her case is being taken up by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

This man, and the eight other men convicted, were on trial for their predatory actions against vulnerable children – not for their ethnic identities.

Protecting the vulnerable

The initial dismissal of a victim of sex crime as not credible shows that British society is not listening to its vulnerable young. This is shown again and again by cases of adults coming forward who, as children, were sexually abused in care homes and detention centres by the very adults entrusted with their care and well-being.

Perpetrators choose their victims based on how much they think they can enforce a child’s silence – ensuring impunity for their actions.

The UK coalition government’s policies further demonstrate its political hardness of hearing concerning the protection of the vulnerable. The passing of its Legal Aid Act imposes drastic limitations on funding for family law cases, which will hurt women and children the most.

And this government’s cuts to services have further damaged urgent services to girls and women across England and Wales. Refuge, a charity for the victims of domestic violence, is struggling to provide safe places for women and girls fleeing violence. Rape Crisis, an organisation that provides support for victims of rape, already suffers from long-term under-funding.

The Women’s Resource Centre, based in London, reports that Rape Crisis centres are now in dire straits and are closing due to of a lack of funds.

In 1984, there were 68 Rape Crisis Centres in England and Wales – today there are just 38 centres affiliated to Rape Crisis. Nine have closed since 2003, while the remainder face an uncertain future.

Our society does not give clear enough messages that this kind of violent behaviour to girls is unacceptable.

– Vivienne Hayes, executive director of the Women’s Resource Centre

Vivienne Hayes, executive director of the Women’s Resource Centre, describes the difficulties of getting meaningful prevention work on girls’ safety carried out in schools. She calls for the development of a national strategy to protect girls, by teaching them how to stay safe from sexual predators.

Though she describes the work done by womens’ organisations as having positive results, she says it is carried out in an ad-hoc way and that there urgently needs to be a national strategy. Girls in all communities are at risk from predators seeking out the vulnerable among them.

“Our society does not give clear enough messages that this kind of violent behaviour to girls is unacceptable,” she said.

She mentioned that even the Leveson Inquiry into the UK’s newspapers has been hearing of the routine abuse of women and their sexuality in the media – which, she says, “sends out a subliminal message that it is OK to abuse women”.

The girl who first came forward to report the Rochdale sex crimes showed incredible bravery in continuing to speak out against what was done to her – despite previously being deemed a “non-credible” witness by the CPS. She has not only suffered the heinous crimes committed against her person but also suffered from her voice being marginalised and dismissed as “unsuitable”. That dismissal meant the Rochdale sex gang were able to carry on wrecking the lives of vulnerable girls.

These are the dangers of marginalising women’s voices.

The serial killer Peter Sutcliffe, the “Yorkshire Ripper”, was finally caught only after the police appealed to women to come forward, pointing out that he was somebody’s husband, somebody’s son.

Pennie Quinton is a freelance journalist based in East London. You can read more of her writings on her website and on her blog.

Follow her on Twitter: @penrosequnton