I’m a Rotherham grooming gang survivor. I call myself a survivor because I’m still alive. I’m part of the UK’s largest ever child sexual abuse investigation.
As a teenager, I was taken to various houses and flats above takeaways in the north of England, to be beaten, tortured and raped over 100 times. I was called a “white slag” and “white c***” as they beat me.
They made it clear that because I was a non-Muslim, and not a virgin, and because I didn’t dress “modestly”, that they believed I deserved to be “punished”. They said I had to “obey” or be beaten.
Fear of being killed, and threats to my parents’ lives, made it impossible for me to escape for about a year. The police didn’t help me.
As I write this, it has been widely reported that a letter has been sent to Muslim groups around the country declaring a national “Punish a Muslim” day; elsewhere, the leaders of Britain First have been found guilty of religiously aggravated harassment.
In mainland Europe, conflict surrounding immigrants and refugees has been fuelled by stories of women being raped by migrants. People have been calling for violent attacks against “any Muslims” and have declared “war on Islam”.
Islamophobic online hate and personal attacks occur every day. In response, anti-fascist groups and the “far left” have carried out their own violent attacks on groups they perceive to comprise “white supremacists” or “Nazis”.
As someone who has experienced life inside a grooming gang, I can tell you with certainty that none of this is likely to make any difference to the behaviours of groomers. Like terrorists, they firmly believe that the crimes they carry out are justified by their religious beliefs.
If anything, rising anti-Muslim hate will probably make groomers stronger in their convictions, and drive ordinary young Muslim men towards fundamentalism, grooming gangs and terrorism. The camaraderie, protection, money, and kudos that these groups offer, makes them a strong pull for anyone. Worryingly, several young men I have spoken to joke that being a gangster and going to jail are their “life goals”.
However big or small the problem of grooming gang crime is, it is big enough to warrant national concern, not only because of the severity of crimes, but because of the degree of terror and threats to life involved. This really does devastate lives, families and communities. We don’t even talk about the non-survivors.
Experts say that grooming gangs are not the same as paedophile rings. It’s something that central Government really needs to understand in order to prevent more grooming gang crime in the future.
In November 2017, the Swedish government held a meeting where they stated that: “Sexual violence is being used as a tactic of terrorism”, and as such, it was recognised as a threat to Sweden’s national security.
The link between terrorism and rape undertaken by Islamist gangs was not being ignored. They called for counter-extremism education. This sounds like a balanced and intelligent governmental response to me.
Religious indoctrination is a big part of the process of getting young men involved in grooming gang crime. Religious ideas about purity, virginity, modesty and obedience are taken to the extreme until horrific abuse becomes the norm. It was taught to me as a concept of “othering”.
“Muslim girls are good and pure because they dress modestly, covering down to their ankles and wrists, and covering their crotch area. They stay virgins until marriage. They are our girls.
"White girls and non-Muslim girls are bad because you dress like slags. You show the curves of your bodies (showing the gap between your thighs means you’re asking for it) and therefore you’re immoral. White girls sleep with hundreds of men. You are the other girls. You are worthless and you deserve to be gang-raped.”
This hateful religious hypocrisy strikes people to their very core. But it’s far from unique. My main perpetrator quoted scriptures from the Quran to me as he beat me. However, almost identical scriptures (about the stoning to death of virgins who don’t scream when they are raped) can also be found in the Bible.
The problem isn’t the text itself; it’s how it’s fundamentally interpreted. In fact, there are many cases of Bible quotes being used to justify terrible human injustices, like the enslavement of people from Africa, antisemitism and violence towards LGBT+ people.
All the major world religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism, have also at some time been associated with extreme human rights abuses against men, women and children.
I experienced horrific, religiously sanctioned sexual violence and torture – so I definitely believe that we need to be aware of religious extremism as something potentially harmful, so that we can protect people from it.
But for Tommy Robinson and his followers to focus on an entire religion, based on the cruel interpretations of some scriptures by some people, is unhelpful, to say the least. Many of his religious theories and conjecture are not anything that I can relate to in my real life experiences.
Most grooming gang survivors I know absolutely condemn anti-Islamic hate, and we’re uncomfortable with English Defence League protests. We certainly don’t want random attacks on “all Muslims”. You can’t cure harm with more harm. Free-thinking men from Pakistani Muslim backgrounds, like Nazir Afzal, agree, and many deal with all of this incredibly graciously.
As a Rotherham grooming gang survivor, I am told that both child protection services and the prosecution of offenders is improving in most areas. But frustratingly, prevention hasn’t really begun.
I witnessed the ways young men are groomed to become perpetrators by older grooming gang members. It’s very similar to the tactics used in grooming for terrorism, with love-bombing, emotive language (“brother”, “cuz”, “blud”), and promises of wealth and fame, then humiliation, controlling with guilt and shame, training with weapons, and instilling hate and fear of outsiders.
Always, at the same time, they continue to convince these young men that they must find girls to be gang-raped too.
Grooming gang crime is upheld by religious extremism. Like Sweden, we must officially recognise this, and work to curb extremist preaching, teach religious counter-narratives, give gendered extremism education and deliver quality relationships education, while learning the lessons from Prevent and Channel. We need a careful, considered approach that is respectful of the human rights of everyone.
Ella Hill is a pseudonym
The new online portal for anyone wishing to report crime to Operation Stovewood can be found here. Anonymous submissions are accepted