TV gang rape documentary angers blacks groups

Paul McCann,Kathy Marks
Wednesday 18 November 1998 00:02 GMT

A LEADING black organisation is to stage a demonstration outside Channel 4 headquarters tomorrow to coincide with the screening of a documentary that claims to have established that most juvenile gang rapes are carried out by black youths.

The protest in central London has been called by the National Assembly Against Racism, which is accusing the programme of demonising young black men and feeding stereotypes that associate them with sexual violence. But the documentary, to be broadcast tomorrow night as part of Channel 4's Dispatches series, was applauded by some black commentators for highlighting a disturbing phenomenon. They said it was time for a rational debate about an unpalatable subject.

The programme-makers, Laurel Productions, identified 14 cases of juvenile gang rape tried by the courts since 1996. Of these, nine were carried out by all-black gangs, it says, and all but one of the rest by mixed groups that included Afro-Caribbean youths.

Eighty-six per cent of the 79 youths charged with rape or indecent assault in the 14 cases were black, researchers found. In one case in Birmingham, the ringleaders were aged just 12 and 13.

The majority of victims were black girls.

The validity of the statistics and the methodology of the research were attacked yesterday by several academics, including Dr Tony Sewell, a professor of education at the University of Leeds, who took part in a post-broadcast studio discussion. He condemned the documentary as "sloppy journalism".

Professor Mike Hough, a criminologist at South Bank University, said: "I would look first to social rather than ethnic factors to explain these figures. The racial explanation is almost certainly wrong, but it will resonate with certain people."

According to the Home Office, 6,337 rapes were reported in Britain in 1997. But the statistics are not broken down according to race or the number of perpetrators involved. Laurel Productions relied on figures given to it by individual police forces and crown courts.

The controversy has been stirred by Darcus Howe, the black broadcaster, who chaired the studio discussion. Writing earlier this week, he said the programme had opened his eyes to the "alarming" extent of the problem. "We need to clarify the reason for it and what we can do to stop it," Mr Howe wrote, speculating that the weight of history - specifically, the brutalisation of black slaves on Caribbean sugar plantations - was to blame.

The airing of the issue was also welcomed by Donu Kogbara, a black journalist who took part in the debate. She said yesterday she believed a "sense of powerlessness" lay at the root of sexual violence by Afro-Caribbean men. "The black man is so despised by white society that the only person who is lower than him is a black woman," she said. "It's the one area of power he can exercise."

Chris Oxley, head of Laurel, admitted that the problem was "tiny", but said it caused fear among girls on certain inner-city estates. Of the 14 cases, half took place in south London.

There was scathing criticism of the programme yesterday in New Nation, the Afro-Caribbean newspaper. An editorial dismissed it as "tabloid television".

Lee Jasper, the national secretary of the National Assembly Against Racism, said the figures were skewed by a spate of rapes in specific areas such as south London. "It is a horrendous crime, but it is not a national problem. It needs to be discussed within the wider context of black-on-black violence."

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