The Only Way is Ethics: There are many dangers in a story as complex as the Rotherham child sex scandal

Should someone who turned a blind eye to abuse be as worthy of rebuke as the rapist?


The laying bare last week of systematic sexual abuse of hundreds of children in Rotherham has been horrifying.

We have heard before of cases in which men of generally Pakistani heritage have groomed usually white girls for sex. The cultural context of the Rotherham abuse is not, therefore, a new phenomenon; nor, sadly, is the depravity of the criminality.

The difference in the report by professor Alexis Jay is the extent of abuse in one geographical location. It involved a great many victims – with the 1,400 figure apparently a conservative estimate – and took place over a long period. The failings of the police and other local agencies are magnified by the scale of the law-breaking.

But in cases like this one, where the shortcomings of those in authority (whose identities are often known) are as acute as the misdeeds of the offenders (who are almost certainly unidentifiable), there can be something of a dilemma for the media.

Both groups are rightly held up to criticism: but where does the balance lie in terms of apportioning blame? To put it more simply, is the police officer or councillor who effectively turned a blind eye to abuse as worthy of rebuke by the media as the rapist?

The answer to that question is inevitably subjective. But in this particular case, because of that cultural context noted before, there is an added layer of complexity. The knowledge that gangs of British Asians treated mostly white girls in ways that are beyond abhorrent is hardly likely to promote civic cohesion (even though they were a tiny minority within Rotherham’s Pakistani community).

The appearance on front pages not of those perpetrators but of white faces from the council and the police might, however unreasonably, fuel the feelings of some that the political correctness which allowed the real abusers to “get away with it” is still very much in play.

It was only right that The Independent, in common with other outlets, should give considerable time to reporting professor Jay’s conclusions about the failures by Rotherham’s public services.

But we should not ignore the possibility that, in an age of sometimes little reason, even the most proper coverage might be interpreted illogically and therefore have unforeseen consequences.

Occupied territory as top holiday spot?

Take in the warm seas around northern Cyprus and you might end up in hotter water than you bargained for.

The continued occupation by Turkey’s military forces of a portion of the island and the lack of international recognition for the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus make it, as a holiday destination, an ethical minefield.

A recent travel piece about the area led one reader to complain. After all, he said, the UN has denounced the Turkish military presence in several Security Council resolutions. To support it economically by vacationing there is morally ambiguous at very best.

Our review about the experience made the political situation abundantly clear and highlighted the ethical misgivings connected with a trip to the north. While there will be some who dispute that we should ever promote the possibility of travel to northern Cyprus, our focus on the downsides – as well as the positives – was absolutely appropriate. 

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