Taking Grooming Gangs Seriously

10th November 2018

In December 2017, we at Quilliam put out a report entitled Group-Based Child Sexual Exploitation: Dissecting “Grooming Gangs”

We decided to produce this report because we were concerned that the debate around this issue had been skewed by anti-Muslim populists. Those populists had used the high number of convictions to peddle anti-Muslim hatred. We wanted to take the microphone away from the hatemongers, and to demonstrate that this was an issue that Pakistani British Muslims were also deeply concerned about.

The purpose of this piece is to deal with what are, quite frankly, lies that are being spread online about the report. It also discusses the agenda and judgement of those that are trying to whip up a frenzy on Twitter. Finally, and for completeness, it links to the answers which we provided to the journalist Kenan Malik, which he asked me last week.

Because of the level of denial that surrounds the grooming gangs issue, we expected a certain amount of opposition to the points that we raised in the report. Accordingly, we were unsurprised to encounter a degree of criticism from extremist organisations, anonymous blogs, and Twitter accounts. 

We do look at objections and consider whether points that are raised have substance.

However, when we see critics joining with groups like Cage to attack our work or giving interviews to the Socialist Worker – as Dr Ella Cockbain – has done, we tend to regard the criticisms as less than constructive.

The Socialist Workers Party is a revolutionary socialist organisation, which any sensible person would steer clear of. Readers will remember that this organisation was nearly destroyed by the scandal surrounding the handling of rape allegations made by a young woman member against one of its most senior officers.

Cage is an outfit which exists to defend those accused and convicted of takfiri jihadist crimes. Notably, they described “Jihadi John” – the murderous terrorist who carried out assassinations of hostages – a “beautiful young man” and refused to condemn a range of barbaric practices carried out by jihadist groups, including FGM, the right of husbands to beat their wives, and the notion that death by stoning is an appropriate punishment for adulterers.

No reputable person should align themselves with anonymous trolls and extremist organisations such as these.

One of the most surreal accusations, in recent days, is Dr Ella Cockbain’s suggestion that we have altered our report.

“Alert: @QuilliamOrg is IN RETREAT. Corrections have been made to two majorly flawed claims of the original report. Numerous other flaws & rotten foundations still not addressed. Time for a complete retraction & apology? #factsnotfiction #groominggangs”

That is simply not true. All of Quilliam’s IT is outsourced to an external IT Company. They confirm that this claim is wholly without substance. In fact, the original false tweets that claimed that Quilliam had made changes showed a cached URL of the generic Quilliaminternational.org website as evidence for this claim (i.e. the homepage of the website), and not the URL of the actual PDF report.

We welcome others conducting work on the grooming gangs issue, in good faith, which does not seek to deny that there is a serious problem with organised “Grooming Gang” sexual exploitation. Such research may come to different conclusions to ours: and that is unobjectionable.

But it is hugely damaging to public debate to suggest that there is no problem of this nature. Above all, it would be disastrous if a situation arose in which nobody felt able to discuss the problem, apart from the anti-Muslim populists. The danger is that we fall into the same traps that snared the victims of these crimes: failed by the agencies and organisations which should have been protecting them.

The spectacle of a British academic, posting frenetically on Twitter for weeks and weeks is hugely unimpressive. Twitter is a flawed platform for those who want to conduct serious debate. I don’t presume to advise Dr Cockbain on how her time might better be spent. However, on reflection, she might conclude that working with anonymous trolls and extremist organisations to attack British Pakistani Muslims who are concerned about the prevalence of other British Muslims among those convicted of terrible crimes is unhelpful.

It is now almost a year on from the report. In that time, there have been a large number of additional convictions which fit the pattern we identified and discussed. It would be better if the considerable energy which has been put into critiquing aspects of our report – which is now sadly out of date – were directed to addressing the underlying problem.