People are more afraid to be called a racist than they are to be wrong about child sexual abuse, a Labour MP has claimed after 18 people were found guilty of involvement in a grooming network.
Sarah Champion’s remarks came after the individuals – predominately from Asian backgrounds – were convicted of or admitted offences in a series of trials related to child sexual exploitation in Newcastle.
Ms Champion, the Labour MP for Rotherham and shadow minister for women and equalities, also urged the Government to commission research into the crimes and said she “hadn’t slept” over criticism she could face over her comments.
Speaking on the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme, Ms Champion said there was a need to “acknowledge” that in all of the towns where similar cases have occurred “the majority of the perpetrators have been British Pakistani”.
“On the news last night there was a picture of 18 men convicted and there was no comment that 17 of those were clearly Asian men. It just pains me that this is going on time and time and time again and the Government aren’t researching what is going on.
“We have got now, hundreds of Pakistani men who have been convicted of this crime, why are we not commissioning research to see what is going on and how we need to change what is going on.”
Asked whether she herself would be attacked for her comments, Ms Champion replied: “Absolutely. The far-right will attack me for not doing enough and the floppy left will have a go at me for being a racist. But this isn’t racist, this is child protection. We need to be grown up about it and deal with it.
“There are many types of child abuse. The particular gang related one – the prosecutions and convictions we get are predominately Pakistani men and therefore we have to address this.
“If it was people from a particular town that were doing this crime across the country, if it people from a motorbike gang doing this, we would recognise that as an indicator and deal with it. But we’re just not dealing it.
Pressed further, the Rotherham MP added: “I genuinely think that it’s because more people are afraid to be called a racist than they are afraid to be wrong about calling out child abuse.”
“What I’m all about is prevention. It’s all great hand-ringing after it’s happened but why has it happened? Lives are being absolutely destroyed because of this and also I have to say within my own constituency – I didn’t sleep last night coming on talking about this because I know every time I talk about it the level of Islamophobia increases.”
But her comments are likely to be criticised by those who say they risk cultivating racist attitudes by implying a link between ethnic background a propensity to commit certain crimes.
Northumbria Police Chief Constable Steve Ashman added that men from a wide range of communities have been arrested by his force and convicted, including white men, Turkish men and Pakistani men.
He told the BBC: “I think the fundamental issue here is, somewhere along the line, in some communities, we’ve got to the point where it’s acceptable for people to behave in this manner and that’s where we need to focus the efforts if we’re going to prevent this happening in the future.