It’s been a year since the Rotherham child abuse case broke. It was one of many similar cases. The media had a framework ready-made: the victims were mostly white, the abusers were mostly Asian men. Multiculturalism is to blame. An estimated 1,400 underage girls had been abused. The tale resembles the lowest fantasies of fascists: dark-skinned men stalking pristine caucasian girls. It’s a familiar story.
This racist vision has long been a staple of fascist propaganda in the UK. It was a major feature of BNP campaigns for many years. It chimes with their worldview. The racialised enemy is not just a threat in the ordinary sense.
It’s long been commonplace to relocate social pathologies in the other. Obviously, this is a way of externalising such problems.
The presupposition is always the body national as a harmonious organic social order, which has been poisoned by outsiders. Once the threat of child abuse becomes an external matter then the answers are obvious. The threat is so grave, for the radical right, that the situation calls for extraordinary measures.
Monsters and men
Child abusers are in a similar category to terrorists. Suicide bombers appeal to paranoia. It appears like the epitome of an irrational act. It’s as if the atrocity is committed only for its own sake. Evil is autotelic. In plain English, it’s done just for the sheer hell of it. The fact that such actions are often retaliatory doesn’t enter the picture. Or rather, it shouldn’t enter the picture for it risks unsettling some people. Too many people would rather pretend it’s night time when the sky turns black, with chickens coming home to roost.
This isn’t the case with child sexual abuse. It might even be more mysterious. Nothing seems more repulsive than such assaults. This form of sexual violence seems particularly horrendous. Firstly, because the child cannot consent, the imbalance of power is immense. Secondly, the sexual act can have no purpose beyond deviant gratification. Yet this is still functional for the abuser. So it’s easy to see, especially given the trauma of abuse, why people often call for punitive measures. As if the best way to confront evil is to suspend the rule of law and basic human rights.
The murder of James Bulger in 1993 shocked British society. For good reason, the abduction, abuse and eventual murder of a two year-old boy was a horrific crime. The fact that it was carried out by two little boys made it all the more horrific. The case touched a nerve for obvious reasons. There was mass outrage. The press pinned the killers are the embodiments of ‘innate evil’. Many called for the execution of both boys. As if the sensible response to the killing of a child was to reenact the crime as punishment.
If the killers were born evil they couldn’t have been responsible for their actions. This claim presupposes the innocence of children, while they are actually developing moral agents. The true purpose of a death penalty, or indeed life in prison, in this case would not be justice. It would be vengeance as an almost erotic impulse. There’s a reason executions are often public events. It’s this drive that the extreme right wants to harness. Whether it’s repatriation, or the gas chamber.
Multicultural Child Abuse
It says a lot about our society that the Rotherham revelations have led only to racist suggestions that it was multicultural tolerance which has allowed paedophiles to swarm across England. It used to be that people believed that it was Satanic cults and witches who were behind systematic child abuse. Now British society has moved on to saying it’s really just Asian grooming gangs. Rotherham was just the biggest case. There were instances of such grooming gangs in Derby, Rochdale, Bristol and Oxford to name a few.
At the Times, Paul Rodgers claimed that there were 17 cases of ‘child grooming’ gangs investigated between 1997 and 2013. Almost all of the perpetrators in these cases were Muslims. This picture may be accurate of this sample of examples, but it doesn’t convey the reality of sexual violence in the UK. In 2012 to 2013, 63% of defendants in rape cases were white. By contrast, 8.5% were Asian and 10.6% were black. Racial profiling would fulfill any preventative goal. It would make certain people feel better.
Watch any exploitation movie and the formula is present. The crimes against the weak are used as props to craft a moral justification for violence. It’s not just that the gutter press was transmitting the facts of these cases to the public. It was a conduit for a sordid fantasy life. White girls are “easy meat” for Pakistani meat, as Labour politician Jack Straw put it. The narrative of child abuse as Britain’s sexual multiculture was being solidified. It wouldn’t be the first time that the press sought to tap into reserve energies of anger.
In 2000, the News of the World ran a notorious ‘name-and-shame’ campaign against sex offenders. It led to mass protests and strange experiments with vigilantism. In one surreal case, a paediatrician came home to find ‘paedo’ daubed on her front door in yellow paint. Iain Armstrong was mistaken for a paedophile, who had been singled out by the newspaper, because he was wearing a neckbrace. He was beaten up. Similarly a Portsmouth taxi driver, named by the paper, faced a mob of 300 people outside his home.
In the midst of these incidents the ‘name-and-shame’ campaign was dropped. The Murdoch-owned newspaper had launched the campaign following the murder of Sarah Payne by Roy Whiting. Despite police criticism of the ‘irresponsible’ campaign, the News of the World won in the end. The New Labour government implemented ‘Sarah’s Law’ to allow limited parental access to the sex offenders registry. First introduced in 2008, the new scheme was extended across England and Wales by 2011. This is one of the achievements of a tabloid culture which could not expose Jimmy Savile.
Back to Rotherham
The Rotherham case seems to resemble other scandals. Not least the instances of child abuse by Roman Catholic priests. Until recently, the Church tried to cover up and downplay these cases. The Catholic hierarchy obviously feared the stain of the allegations. Likewise, it has been suggested that the Muslim community in Rotherham was aware of the abuse. If this was the case then we might put inaction down to the fear of collective shame. This is not unlike the Church. The tendency to try and save the whole from accusations is not uniquely Islamic.
Note the new parlance ensnares the criminals as ‘Muslim paedophiles’. The term ‘Muslim’ has become a signifier for South Asian people. This is a very recent change. Up until the 1970s Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrants to the UK were regarded as ‘coloured’ and sometimes even ‘black’. Gradually, the undifferentiated non-white masses became particularised entities. Over the same period the immigration discourse began to shift to multiracialism and then to multiculturalism. We now say ‘Muslim’ when we really mean ‘Asian’.
The real question is why the police and social services failed. Some have put this down to ‘political-correctness’. So we find a circular theory, whereby liberal multiculturalism unleashes the paedophiles as it incapacitates us. Supposedly this enables the predatory sex offender. As if the system is immune from institutional negligence and it only really runs into political obstacles. The police are just inhibited by red tape, which stops them from taking sexual violence seriously. But this fails to explain why the police have failed historically.
Photographs courtesy of Joel Schalit.