The British media could never be accused of shying away from a race row. But if there was ever an instance where bringing race into the equation was entirely unnecessary, unhelpful and unproductive, it’s here.
Last week, The Times newspaper featured a leading article examining the increasing number of cases of internal trafficking in parts of the UK over recent years. The victims have largely been teenage girls, who have been coerced into sexual exploitation.
But the headlines doing the rounds in the British media over the past week have consistently focussed on the fact that the majority of the 56 people arrested in connection with the internal trafficking offences are (a) Muslim and (b) of Pakistani heritage. It has been similarly well documented that the majority of the recorded victims were white, British girls.
Conspicuous in its absence was any real acknowledgment of:
– the fact that behind this media-generated race row lies not another ‘ethnicity’ statistic, but real girls who have been subjected to unspeakable physical and sexual abuse.
– the fact that human trafficking is a profit-driven business in which criminals are motivated by money, not personal prejudice.
Contrary to what many journalists are implying, these sex traffickers are not preying on vulnerable young girls in the name of Islam. They are doing so in the name of profit – a motivation common to all sex traffickers. Clearly they have an utterly contemptible view of women – again a view held by all sex traffickers. But you can be sure that, like everyone else, they’re in the business because it is high-profit and low-risk, not because they have any particular vendetta against vulnerable white women.
Detective Chief Inspector Alan Edwards is quoted by The Times as saying “to stop this type of crime you need to start talking about it, but everyone’s been too scared to address the ethnicity issue.” Agreed, we need to start talking about it. But the reason no-one has ‘addressed the ethnicity issue’ is simply because people committed to eradicating human trafficking have many, many more pertinent issues to talk about. There have been several instances in the past of young British girls being trafficked within the UK by Eastern European gangs. It would be interesting to find out whether DCI Edwards felt that their Serbian or Czech cultural heritage or their Christian background played any part in shaping their actions, and if so whether this constituted an ‘ethnicity issue’ to be ‘addressed’.
There may be good reason to focus preventative measures on the British Pakistani community, but it’s just futile and damaging to in any way intimate that one community can be held largely responsible, and even worse to suggest that their membership of that community defines their actions.
Mohammed Shafiq is chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation: “We need to establish why such men are mainly choosing to groom white teenagers and not Muslim girls. The simple answer is that these people think that white girls have fewer morals and are less valuable”. At the risk of repeating myself, these people’s views on white girls’ morals is not ‘the answer’. Patterns of abuse and sexual exploitation of this kind reflect patterns of supply and demand. Sex traffickers are criminals regardless of their cultural or religious background, and profit is their common motivation. If racism or cultural prejudice is involved, it is very much a subordinate issue. Simply, if the market conditions were such that traffickers could make money by exploiting a different demographic group – they would.
But let’s forget market conditions, demographic groups and race rows for a moment, and remember that it is our responsibility to be advocates for the vulnerable young women and girls subject to this kind of sexual exploitation. It is a truly global problem, but one that can be unfolding in your town, your neighbourhood, your street. STOP THE TRAFFIK has a worldwide network of community action groups doing amazing work to help people understand the signs of trafficking, how it affects them, how to report it, and what they can do about it. To find out how you can get involved with Active Communities against Trafficking (ACT), click here.
The UK Home Office has stated that although child protection was “an absolute priority”, it has no plans to commission research into the ethnic and cultural background of those orchestrating internal sex trafficking in the UK. Do you agree that any such research would be a waste of time and resources? Or are we under-estimating the role that cultural heritage or religion plays in sex trafficking – whether in the UK or globally?