Three girls - and three evils

By Peter Adams

Three girls.  Three girls, terribly abused, violated, tormented by men of Muslim origin. Three girls ignored, stereotyped, totally failed by the public services supposedly there to protect them. And once the story did become public, three girls whose torment was the pretext for haters of Islam to protest and seek to shame a whole faith community. 

The first part of Three Girls aired on BBC1 last evening. A further two parts follow this evening and tomorrow. It can be found here.  The drama is based closely on the story that unfolded in Rochdale and came to criminal trial in 2012.  One of the victims told her story after the trial - its worth listening to that after you've watched the drama. You will weep again as you realise how close to reality the drama was. Evil behaviour.

You will find yourself getting angry at the paralysis of the system as the facts came out. Sara Rowbotham told how that happened in a Guardian article yesterday:   I exposed the Rochdale scandal – Three Girls should be a catalyst for progress  We can be very grateful that has changed considerably and now cases are surfacing where previously they might not have. We also have to recognise the considerable challenges faced in creating confidence among victims to support them disclosing cases, and the equally challenging circumstances in bringing cases to trial and conclusion. However difficult it is though, we can be justifiably angry at how the system has let the girls down. When the system fails, for whatever reason, and allows evil to continue unchecked that evil is multiplied.

I doubt we will encounter the third evil in Three Girls. But you will encounter it online today around the social media virtual world in the torrents of abuse poured out against the Muslim identity of the perpetrators. The narrative that street grooming is a "Muslim thing" has been a touchstone for the far right for well over a decade and gave the British National Party considerable traction in the General Election in 2005 in norther towns like Keighley where stories were emerging. It has continued through the campaigning by groups like the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First who have often made repeated visits to places where there are cases of grooming - there was a period when Rotheram had demonstrations almost every week. Even yesterday there were people in Rochdale clearly seeing to capitalise on the fresh anger Three Girls would stir up. [See note at bottom.]

As Christians and Muslims committed to engaging with the issues around which the EDL and Britian First have campaigned around in Luton community we have made it a priority to talk together about this subject. To be clear, there are no cases in the process of prosecution in Luton at present, but it has been claimed as an issue by EDL and we have to recognise that demographically it is a strong possibility. However I have heard many strong voices from Muslim leaders here and beyond expressing total condemnation of sexual grooming and abuse of children and young people. The clarity of their voice was so strong we decided to launch a Christian Muslim working group on Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE), which in July 2016 becameFACES: Faiths Against Sexual Exploitation of Children, a coalition of which St Marys Centre is a member.  We are privileged that one of our members is a member of the International Centre at the University of Bedfordshire which is a leading research centre on CSE. They are clear: the research clearly shows that sexual exploitation of children and young people occurs in all ethnicities and religions, and there are no typical cases. (10 facts about Child Sexual Exploitation) Members of FACES are very clear: CSE is "neither a Christian thing or a Muslim thing", though it can be found in and around our churches and mosques because we are all humans.

Peter: Child sexual exploitation – people doing horrible things to children and young people. Its not a Muslim thing. Not a Christian thing. Not a Hindu thing or a Jewish thing or a Sikh thing or a Buddhist thing.  It's not a secularist or humanist thing. Let's be very clear. It's a human thing. Something done by men- and women, and sometimes young people themselves - who've lost touch with their shared humanity, their responsibility as adults.  People who occasionally seek to hide behind their faith, to lurk in the shadows of places of worship and conspire, who use their faith to cloud and obscure and in seek to justify it from their faith. 

 Tanvir: Peter is absolutely right, It's a human problem. A human problem that people of every nation, tribe, culture, faith can be drawn into. Sometimes those people use the traditions of their culture or the structures of their faith to promote it, or legitimise it. They are wrong. There is no honest interpretation of either of our faiths that endorses this behaviour. 

Peter Adams and Tanvir Mounir, speaking at launch of FACES, July 2016

All that said we do not deny there is an issue. Its just its not about the teaching of Islam. And we are totally committed to challenging any narrative that says Islam encourages child abuse. CSE takes on different forms in different communities. So CSE has been a real issue in church choirs and youth groups. And it has more recently found a niche in towns with high deprivation and social need around fast food joints and taxi drivers where there are large numbers of Pakistani Muslims. 

"Rape Jihad", the story line that sexual conquest of "our" (white English) girls by Muslim men is a part of the Islamic conquest of Britain is just that, a story. And as Christians and Muslims, members of FACES, we have and we will challenge it. But we will also seek to ensure justice for all who are victims of the sexual exploitation of children and young people. And we will work for the healing and safety of all in our community, Christians and Muslims, all faiths and none.

Victims, their families, communities can face up to evil once it is disclosed, they can even heal.  But when groups come in and seek to refuse to allow a community to move on, who seeks to use and abuse peoples painful story, they further multiply the evil of what originally took place.


Note:  the Far Right did make an appearance in the third episode, demonstrating outside the court.