Rotherham’s girls: Evil retains its place in Western liberal society

Institutions would rather look the other way

Share

Britain’s news agenda has been dominated this summer by horrors committed on foreign fields. We have watched as men, women and children have been slaughtered by religious fanatics in Iraq and Syria, caught in the crossfire of strife in Ukraine, and blown up by Hamas rockets or Israeli bombs. If peace in the West has not (yet) been directly compromised, our morality has certainly been outraged.

Yet this week’s shocking report on the widespread sexual abuse of children in Rotherham has blown a hole in any idea that enlightened Western liberalism somehow offers protection from large-scale evil in Britain itself.

The findings of Professor Alexis Jay should send a collective shudder through British society. That the lives of 1,400 young people were ruined by abuse over a period of 16 years up to 2013 is almost beyond comprehension. Gang rapes, serious assaults and psychological torture were the norm for hundreds of children. And the facts cannot be blurred by that terminological net curtain “historical abuse”.

There is no dispute, and it would be dangerous to deny, that a great deal of crime was committed within a cultural context that led perpetrators of mainly Pakistani heritage to regard girls, in the main white ones in this case, as barely more than possessions. That attitude clearly has no place in a civilised country.

But beyond the grim reality that groups of British men spent their days gleefully inflicting unimaginable misery on vulnerable children lies the hardly less troubling approach of the police and others whose role was purportedly  to offer protection to the defenceless. The failure of South Yorkshire Police, Rotherham Council and other local agencies to curb widespread criminality is incomprehensible. The notion that some in positions of authority deliberately sought to undermine reports of abuse is simply reprehensible.

While there will be some who seek comfort in the proposition that abusers were motivated by a “foreign” culture, the actions of the police and others in authority were indicative of a seemingly standard feature of British institutional life: a desire to see and hear no evil, and subsequently to cover up evidence of collective failings.

The degree to which victims were not only disbelieved but also treated with indifference, even contempt, is itself as contemptuous as it is depressing. Agencies were afraid that they might appear racist by focusing their attentions on criminals who were overwhelmingly from Asian backgrounds. Some police officers told Professor Jay and her team that influential Pakistani councillors were barriers to discussions about grooming in the community. Yet all this is so much buck-passing.

The cases in Rochdale, Oxford and elsewhere that presaged this scandal should not reduce its shocking impact. For at its heart it demonstrates a lack of gumption and guts among men and women in authority who must have known children were being raped and yet chose to look the other way. Some have argued that whistleblowers need to be offered greater protection so they feel motivated to expose wrongdoing. But why should there be any need to blow a whistle when information about abuse was so widely known it was virtually being heralded by trumpeters?

It is difficult to reject the suspicion that many victims were ignored for the reason that victims are often ignored: because they were regarded as having played a part in their own downfall. They were runaways; they played truant; they hung around with unsuitable older men; they took drugs and got drunk. They were as worthless in the eyes of their protectors as they were in the eyes of their abusers.

British authorities may not be able to protect the children of Syria and Iraq. But on our own shores there can be no excuse.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Gold Ferrari sits outside Chanel on Sloane Street  

Sunday Times Rich List: We are no longer in thrall to very rich people

Terence Blacker
David Cameron was openly emotional at the prospect of Scotland leaving the union before the referendum  

General election 2015: Remember when David Cameron almost cried over Scotland because he loved it so much?

Matthew Norman
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence