We often read or hear from the media that a nation is “shocked” or “horrified” by the revelation of some crime or government scandal. It is almost never true. At best, most people are disapproving or mildly interested in the shocking news. Since Tuesday afternoon, however, Britain has felt real shock and horror over the report that 1,400 young women in the South Yorkshire town of Rotherham had been groomed, raped, prostituted, trafficked, and brutally abused in almost every possible way by a criminal gang for the last 16 years. In addition, the authorities — which in this case are the local government authority, the police, and the child-protection services — had been repeatedly informed of these crimes but had dismissed the reports as false or exaggerated and taken no action to investigate, halt, and punish them.
Some of the examples of this depraved official indifference are barely believable. In one case, a girl was found drunk in the company of her exploiters and was arrested while the men were let free. In another, a father found his daughter, tried to rescue her, complained to the police, and was himself arrested while the authorities took no action on his complaint.
If these events were occurring in a film noir or a paperback novel set in a midcentury American city, the Philip Marlowe character would eventually unravel a complicated plot in which a corrupt administration and police force were helping a criminal gang run child brothels for fun and profit. That is in fact the most rational interpretation of what took place. But it is not the true explanation.
What happened is explained by two additional facts: The 1,400 girls were all white and of Christian background and English ethnicity while all but one of their exploiters were Muslims of Pakistani heritage. (The report describes the men delicately as “Asians,” but so far no Hindus, Sikhs, or Hong Kong Chinese are among their number.) As in other recent cases, the men targeted the girls in large part because they were white Christians, culturally speaking, and thus “worthless.” They actually told the girls that this was so. Still worse, the police also treated the girls as worthless when they bravely ignored the physical threats against them (one man poured petrol over a girl and threatened to light it) and sought police help. As a result, some of the girls came to believe they were in fact worthless, which, of course, made them more tractable to the gang. Others committed suicide. Many of the survivors will experience, perhaps for the rest of their lives, prolonged bouts of depression, self-contempt, shame, and other psychological disorders.
The motives of the exploiters, though vile, are not hard to understand. They plainly include both racism and sexism alongside the lust and cruelty enabled by their misogynistic culture. But what explains the silence, the acquiescence, even the cooperation of the authorities? Their motives seem to derive from the rich stew of progressive absurdities that constitute official attitudes in modern Britain. The first is the fear of being suspected of racism. Again and again the police and the social workers shrank from intervening or responding to complaints because to do so would invite the accusation that they were “racist.” Most people in the Muslim community were unaware of this criminal conspiracy (and, shocked and horrified like everyone else, they now condemn it). But when it was brought to the attention of “community leaders,” they too played the race card to suppress further investigation. To uncover such scandal would be not only racist, it would commit a sin against the ideal of multiculturalism that now actuates much official policy.
The Labour member of Parliament for Rotherham from 1994 to 2012, Dennis MacShane, admitted yesterday that as a Guardian-reading left liberal, he had shied away from looking into such topics as the oppression of women in “bits of the Muslim community.” He ought to have done something about it, but, well, you understand . . . “I think there was a culture of not wanting to rock the multicultural community boat, if I may put it like that.”
That kind of official response is worse than outright bigotry, but it has unfortunately been not uncommon in recent years. Anxious to avoid the “racist” taint, the police frequently ignore the appeals of young Muslim women fleeing from forced marriages or genital mutilation; instead, they work with community leaders to persuade the women to return to their families. This shameful collaboration is gradually being brought to an end. But it still shapes many official attitudes.
Official attitudes to the young white girls in Rotherham were different — but, if anything, worse. They combined sexism with a contempt for the white working class that is now common in both the progressive intelligentsia and the lumpen-intelligentsia whose members respectively lay down and enforce social policy under uncomprehending or cowardly political leaders. Thus the police shared the opinion of the criminals that their victims were little better than “sluts.” They were powerless, without influential parents or friends, lacking an ethnic support group that would rally to their defense. If racism is a weapon that can be used only by the powerful, as the progressive mantra holds, then the girls were victims of racism. But they were the wrong victims just as the criminals were the wrong pedophiles. Their plight had never been a topic in lectures on diversity. In short, they certainly weren’t worth risking a reprimand for disrupting good community relations or undermining diversity.
The authorities’ contempt was ill deserved by any standard. Many of the young women victims have proven to be brave, decent, and articulate. All of them were bullied, deceived, and beaten into submission by their tormentors and betrayed by those legally obliged to protect them. But the moral character of the victims is irrelevant in any case. So-called sluts deserve the same police protections as the rest of us — arguably they deserve more since they are at greater risk. Instead, these girls were seen by officials not as children in need of protection but as powerless pieces of meat who scarcely deserved the rights of British citizens and who could be safely ignored to avoid embarrassment.
Another element in official attitudes is hostility to the family and a hatred of the notion that families might instill traditional moral values in their children. Such hostility proved very convenient for the criminal gangs, who probably had to overcome a weaker moral resistance on the part of their grooming victims. To be sure, this hostility arises from a very different source than sexism or contempt for the white working class: a sense among progressives in the public sector that intact families undermine equality and that even etiolated Christian beliefs obstruct multiculturalism. If that sounds a trifle paranoid, recall that it was the same Rotherham social-work department that wanted to remove children from foster parents whose support for UKIP indicated an impermissible hostility to multiculturalism. You couldn’t make it up.
No one can deny that many families in Britain’s new underclass neglect their children and, in the worst cases, abuse them almost as much as the criminals did. But exactly the same is true of social workers. They too have been guilty of the worst possible scandals (leading at times to murder), some of which are rooted in quasi-sophisticated “anti-racist” nonsense about the proper ethnic culture that young children should enjoy. They increasingly show a contempt for natural families and their rights that is plainly contrary to almost any theory of human rights and that allows them to break up families on slight pretexts. Late last year, the British courts forced a young Italian tourist to have a caesarean operation and hand over her newborn to foster parents on the grounds that she was bipolar and might not always take her medication. And to put the top hat on it, these social-work interventions have a very poor record of success. As Colin Brewer, a distinguished psychiatrist, points out in the current London Spectator, it is increasingly plain that social work simply doesn’t work. And that makes intact families with religious commitments even more of a threat — because they do work.
A final factor is that Rotherham and South Yorkshire have been Labour “pocket boroughs” for 80 years or more. Until the last local elections — when UKIP broke through to win ten seats — there has been no effective opposition to hold Labour to account. The threat from UKIP in recent years has made Labour still more determined to hold the Muslim vote and even more reliant on those Muslim Labour councilors who were its missionaries to Muslim voters. So Labour kept the lid on the scandal as long as it could and discouraged interest in it. (You may hear certain American echoes there.)
What can we do? Given the scale of horror in this story, governments and politicians will propose to do a great deal between now and the election. But will their proposals pass the tests of serious effectiveness? There are two:
First, will anybody apart from the “Asian” criminals themselves go to prison for what has happened? What penalty, for instance, will be imposed on the current police and crime commissioner for South Yorkshire who, in his previous position as a Labour councilor, shared responsibility for the council’s treatment of the young victims? At the moment, he is offering weak apologies and refusing to resign. But he and his official colleagues are guilty of something like conspiracy to facilitate and conceal crimes such as rape, sexual assault, grievous bodily harm, etc., etc. A competent lawyer could probably run up a dozen formal charges on such lines overnight. Mere resignations and dismissals will not fit this bill. Nothing short of prison sentences for senior officials in the police and local government will meet the needs of both justice and public opinion. People are tired of official scandals for which no one ever pays a price.
The second test is whether the British government will reform the broad-brush multiculturalism and “anti-racism” that have grievously distorted government policy nationally and locally. One way of advertising such a change would be to repudiate the official definition of “institutionalized racism” that the Macpherson report introduced a decade ago. The Commission on Racial Equality, a quasi-official body, defines it as follows:
If racist consequences accrue to institutional laws, customs, or practices, that institution is racist whether or not the individuals maintaining those practices have racial intentions.
And the Macpherson Report itself gave a further explanation as to how it works:
[Institutionalized racism] can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes, and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.
These arguments are fatuous and cannot withstand serious intellectual criticism — though there is a huge inverted pyramid of intellectualized nonsense resting on them. Once intentionality is removed from the concept of racism, it becomes the accidental result of policies or structures adopted for legitimate reasons, and almost anyone anywhere can be shown to be guilty of it. But in Britain and (under the term “disparate impact”) in America, these arguments have carried the day in law and politics. That explains why the police and local authorities in Rotherham and elsewhere have been willing to conceal or ignore crimes that involve race, ethnicity, or religion.
If racism is a mysterious airborne virus that shapes people’s behavior without their realizing it, then why should an ordinary copper take the risk of even noticing a case with racial overtones? If he cannot avoid involvement, why not take the side of the “disadvantaged ethnic minority” — especially when it has such advantages as powerful friends and helpful pressure groups? And if the powerful friends sense that police intervention might threaten their ethnic electoral support, then a quiet word in the right place will ensure that the problem “goes away.” In reality, however, the problem metastasizes — until, as in Rotherham, it becomes so massive, toxic, and embarrassing that the authorities join the criminals in concealing it, to the continued detriment of its victims.
Ultimately, this mess is the result of progressive official policies. It will recur endlessly until the policies are changed. Ordinary citizens — especially working-class “Old Labour” voters — realize this. The only good aspect of this scandal is that this time they seem enraged enough to insist on real change.
— John O’Sullivan is editor-at-large of National Review.