Theresa May, the UK's Home Secretary, has said the government will begin an investigation into “institutionalised political correctness” after the Rotherham child abuse scandal.
The Daily Telegraphreports that Mrs May was responding to the publication of a report last week by Prof. Alexis Jay which found that more than 1,400 children in the northern English town were abused across a period of 16 years by gangs of predominantly Pakistani men.
The report exposed the scale and graphic nature of the crimes and raised difficult questions about whether timidity about confronting the racial aspects of the abuse had prompted authorities to turn a blind eye.
Some of the victims, mainly white girls in social care homes, were as young as 11 and were plied with drugs and alcohol before being trafficked to cities across northern England and gang-raped by groups of men. The report found that council officials, elected members and police officers were aware of the problem for years but did nothing to tackle it. One 12-year-old girl was found to have had sex with five adults (two of whom were let off with a caution) a Criminal Investigations Department officer claimed that it should not be categorised as sexual abuse because the girl had been “consensual in every incident”.
Ms May said that Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, was likely to begin an inquiry into Rotherham council's handling of criminal allegations, amid concerns that officials were unwilling to pursue the cases because of fear of “offending cultural senstivities.” It follows the announcement of a similar investigation by South Yorkshire police.
Local councillors admitted they “believed that by opening up these issues they could be 'giving oxygen' to racist perspectives that might in turn attract extremist political groups and threaten community cohesion”. Local youngsters confirmed to the Jay inquiry what had been reported to a previous inquiry, namely that ”young people in Rotherham believed at that time that the Police dared not act against Asian youths for fear of allegations of racism”.
Several people interviewed by Jay “expressed the general view that ethnic considerations had influenced the policy response of the Council and the Police”. Jay states that “messages conveyed by some senior people in the Council and also the Police, were to 'downplay' the ethnic dimensions of child sex exploitation.”
But Muhbeen Hussein, founder of the Rotherham-based group British Muslim Youth, said that the abuse was not “a Pakistani or a Muslim problem.”
"We are not here to deny anything - the report clearly shows a large number of those individuals were Pakistani Muslim men," he said in a press conference.
"But we don't support the sentiment that it is a Pakistani or a Muslim problem. It is clear what these individuals did but they are not part of our community - the only community they are a part of is the criminal community.”
"There is nowhere in Pakistani Muslim culture that condones such actions, there is nowhere in the Islamic faith that supports these actions.”
"What happened is to do with poverty, social class and vulnerable people," said the 20-year-old history and politics student. “They (the authorities) thought 'it's normal for these children to do these kind of things, they're just those kind of girls.'”
Yvette Cooper, Labour's shadow Home Secretary, has called for a mandatory reporting law to be introduced in the wake of the scandal. But Theresa May said that such a change could end up protecting fewer children, because authorities might be overwhelmed by false reports.
“We need to look at it very carefully and look at the evidence from countries (with mandatory reporting) like Australia and the United States where the evidence to its effectiveness... is mixed” she said.