Letters: Tribal honour code masks sexual abuse

These letters appear in the 5 September issue of The Independent

Professor Alexis Jay’s report on child sexual exploitation in Rotherham has been met with an array of trite responses. Some commentators have placed undue emphasis on the fact that child sexual exploitation happens in all communities, obfuscating the fact that offenders of Pakistani origin are over-represented in this specific form of child sexual exploitation (on-street grooming).

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre’s 2011 report, Out of Sight, Out of Mind, researched 2,379 potential offenders caught grooming girls since 2008. Of 940 suspects whose race could be identified, 26 per cent were Asian (almost all of Pakistani origin), 38 per cent were white, and 32 per cent were recorded as unknown. According to the Office of National Statistics, only 6 per cent of the English population is classed as Asian.

We must face up to the cultural, racial and even religious specifics in these crimes. The “double life” syndrome of some men in Pakistani communities cannot be ignored. At the more benign end of the scale, young people will have secret boyfriends and girlfriends, yet display a more pious image in front of their families. The sort of reprehensible conduct we have seen in towns like Rotherham, Rochdale and Oxford is an extreme example of this phenomenon.

Tribal mentalities have imported an honour code that labels women as either honourable or shameful. In some quarters this has developed into an underground “gangster” culture of exploiting and abusing girls who do not fit the honour code. In either case, abuse must be exposed and perpetrators brought before the law.

The honour code has no place in this country: women and girls, regardless of background, culture, ethnicity, religion, lifestyle, or familial lineage, are of equal worth. Fortunately, there is an emerging generation of human rights activists in Britain – many of whom are young, female and secular-minded – who are campaigning hard against misogyny and patriarchy within our communities.

We will continue this important work, through raising awareness, lobbying parliamentarians and facilitating workshops with Muslim women. The victims’ best interests always come first – which is why silence and apologia should never have been an option.

Dr Shaaz Mahboob

Trustee, British Muslims for Secular Democracy

Tehmina Kazi

Director, British Muslims for Secular Democracy

Diana Nammi

Executive Director and founder, Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation

Kalsoom Bashir

Co-director, Inspire

Mahnaz Nadeem, Iram Ramzan, Ophelia Benson,

Deeyah Khan, Gina Khan, Habiba Jaan, Dr Elham Manea, Lejla Kuri

London WC1


Julian Baggini argues (“Something rotten in the town of Rotherham”, 30 August) that “despite being a very good constituency MP”, I was too interested in European affairs. Perhaps, but the idea that an MP should only be a local super-councillor suits the power elites in London who want MPs who take no interest in issues beyond local social problems. There are many MPs like that, but no evidence that this stops the rise of Ukip or populist political prejudices.

One of my fellow Rotherham MPs was born and bred, worked and has lived in Rotherham all his life and taken little interest in foreign affairs, focusing rather on health and core domestic issues. Julian Baggini stayed in this MP’s constituency to write his fine book on the area. The BNP and now Ukip’s vote is as strong there as anywhere else. Mr Baggini makes good points about the liberal-left denial of dark illiberalism, especially as it affects women in parts of new British communities, but his implication that if MPs take no interest in issues beyond our shores, they will be more popular with Ukip or BNP voters is far-fetched.

Denis MacShane

London SW1


Sadly, the Rotherham scandal did not come as a surprise. It is an example of an inward-looking culture resistant to outside advice.

Following the Victoria Climbie tragedy, I and a colleague were asked to review the children’s services department of a county council. 

I felt that senior managers did everything they could to impede the review. When it came time to present the findings, one walked out after half an hour, and the only question from a silent and resentful team of managers was: “Will you be finished on time?”

Robert K Berry

Marchwood, Hampshire


Scottish values vs intolerance

The No campaigners in the Scottish referendum are trying to scare people into voting for them. The people of Scotland need to think of how even more scary are the consequences of a No vote.

The No campaign’s frontman, Alistair Darling, may appear likeable and cuddly but, like pandas, he can’t deliver. Scotland has a tradition of liberalism, social justice, belief in education, and Europeanism. The consequence of voting No is to permanently shackle the Scots to an increasingly illiberal, intolerant, right-wing, south-east-England-dominated agenda.

The Tories are being dragged into an increasingly reactionary and austere stance behind a Ukip-driven handcart. The values of Ukip and the majority of the Tory Party in England are anathema to those that Scotland has been proud to promote for many years. Vote No and be truly scared.

Tom Simpson


It could be maintained that it is the combined contributions from the people of England, Scotland,  Wales and Northern Ireland in government, public life, education, arts, sciences and elsewhere that have constituted the strength of the UK internationally, including its survival in two world wars.

While others have also contributed, it would surely be tragic to pick apart this common bond, especially in a darkening international scene.

John Eekelaar



David Ashton (letter, 1 September) laments the fact that those who don’t live in Scotland will not be allowed to vote in the referendum.

He may wish to ponder the possible outcomes of the referendum were this to be the case. If, for example, Scottish voters were to vote in favour of independence but the UK as a whole voted against it, then Scotland would be trapped in a union against its will. I wonder if Mr Ashton really believes this to be a reasonable outcome, or if he recognises that it is exactly this sort of patronising attitude that is driving some people towards voting Yes.

David French



With the Scottish vote getting too close to call, perhaps the Yes campaign should just send out a blank postcard to all voters with a Margaret Thatcher postage stamp on it. That should be enough to swing it.

Colin Burke



Clear danger of a double standard

Alan Halibard (letter, 3 September) misses the point made in Elizabeth Morley’s letter (4 September). She doesn’t suggest that British Jews volunteering to serve with the Israeli armed forces are likely to return to the UK radicalised, to harm other citizens, but she makes the point that David Cameron has threatened to take away the passport of anyone who swears allegiance to another state. This is not a “cheap and mischievous point”, as Mr Halibard suggests, but a valid observation of a possible double standard.

Patrick Cleary

Honiton, Devon


Let’s link Heathrow and Gatwick

Following the Airports Commission’s rejection of the Thames Estuary (Boris Island) option, progress must be made to create an airport hub from Heathrow and Gatwick.

Instead of entering a fight, Heathrow’s and Gatwick’s owners must work together to provide a two-site hub with the necessary improved infrastructure. This must include a new, fast, dedicated transit link between the two airports, providing quick and seamless transfer of passengers and baggage to onward connections from either site. Only working together in the nation’s interest can achieve the expansion in capacity we need for the future.

Graham Duplock

Bekesbourne, Kent


It’s official: Autumn is falling later

May we assume that the Chancellor has at last made some modest acknowledgment of the impact of global warming on the cycle of the seasons – by announcing that the autumn statement will be made in December?

Bernard O’Sullivan

London SW8


My vote is no one else’s business

Credit should go to the polite responses given by the Glaswegian call-centre workers quizzed by David Mitchell (letter, 4 September) on their referendum voting intentions. If a stranger asked me how I intended to vote in a secret ballot, my response would be much more curt and to the point.

John Nichols