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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 182-xii
HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
Home Affairs Committee
Localised Child Grooming
Tuesday 19 March 2013
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra and Alyas Karmani
Sheila Taylor and Martine Osmond
Evidence heard in Public Questions 817 - 883
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 19 March 2013
Keith Vaz (Chair)
Dr Julian Huppert
Mr David Winnick
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, Muslim Council of Britain, and Alyas Karmani, STREET UK, gave evidence.
Q817 Chair: This is the Committee’s inquiry into child grooming. Can I refer all those present to the Register of Members’ Interests where the interests of Members of this Committee are noted? I welcome Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra from the Muslim Council of Britain and Mr Karmani. Thank you very much for coming here to give evidence. I am not sure whether you have been following the Committee’s deliberations over the last few weeks and months. The inquiry that we set up last year, following the allegations that were made about the various incidences of child grooming, has expanded somewhat over the last few weeks and months because the Committee has found more evidence that is relevant to its inquiry.
Can I start with you, Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra? You have seen the statements that are made in the public domain by various individuals, politicians and newspapers that this issue of child grooming seems to be an issue for the Muslim community. It covers a lot of communities but in particular the concern is that members of the Muslim community, in particular the British Pakistani community, are tolerating or allowing this kind of behaviour. What would you say to that?
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra: I think it is very important for us, first of all, to recognise that the Muslim communities that make up the Muslim community in the UK are very diverse and therefore the attitudes that these components of the community have towards this particular issue also will be diverse. We also have to bear in mind that the Muslim community makes up a very small percentage of the UK population and therefore if we were to look at the whole scale of this kind of abuse right across the various communities we would find that perhaps the component that includes Muslim perpetrators will be minuscule and minute. Nevertheless, I think it is a very serious matter for us as Muslim communities to recognise that this kind of behaviour is not only bringing a bad name to the faith of Islam or to the Pakistani community or the Asian communities but I think it brings a bad name to humanity as a whole. So we need to acknowledge the fact that the cases that have come to light that have been in court and the sentencing that we have so far witnessed includes a disproportionately larger number of Muslims and Asians, and that is very worrying. What is also worrying is the way that these cases are reported.
Q818 Chair: Yes. Mr Karmani, is it a problem for the British Pakistani community? In the cases we have seen in Rochdale and Rotherham the number of members of the British Pakistani community have outnumbered those from the white community quite substantially and you have been very vocal on this point.
Alyas Karmani: That is right, yes. I think it is important to frame it as a societal problem. In our work at STREET we have identified that this is an issue that cuts across all communities and all people of all backgrounds. In particular, in young men fundamentally in British society we feel there is a culture of violence against women that is becoming a norm, and that is prevalent among some Pakistani males as well. I think there is an acceptance that there is a challenge, that there is a major problem, but where things become problematic is when that is seen as a collective label on the whole Pakistani community. A community that we want on board and we want to engage with proactively so we can prevent problems in the future feel very much under siege because this is yet another label that they are having to deal with after a whole decade of being, they feel, unfairly labelled in many other ways. The lessons that we can learn from terrorism and the Prevent agenda is that we do not want to create another collective label in terms of the Pakistani community.
Q819 Chair: Are we unfairly labelling them, given the statistics?
Alyas Karmani: I think so. We had a case just last week in West Yorkshire where two individuals from the Pakistani community were convicted. There is widespread revulsion against these two individuals. I have consulted with members in those particular communities. They said, "These individuals have no commonality with our values, with even any basic human values. They are beyond pond life. They give pond life a bad name." In that regard, when the Pakistani community is then expected to somehow challenge that behaviour where they feel they have nothing in common with that behaviour, that it is nothing to do with them, it is an overall societal issue, I think that is where it becomes problematic. However, having said that, equally I think it is important that intra-community we do recognise that there are problems. There are problems in our community due to drug supply, due to organised crime groups, and as a result of that many girls becoming involved in pimping and prostitution by those groups, so that is a reality that is out there that we still have to take responsibility for.
Q820 Chair: I shall put to you two views from different parts of the political spectrum and ask you to comment on them. Baroness Warsi, Minister of State in the Foreign Office, has said that some Pakistani men view women as second-class citizens and white women as third-class citizens. Jack Straw, the former Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary, said that some Pakistani origin men view white teenagers as easy meat. Do you agree with those statements, Shaykh Mogra?
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra: If that is a factual representation of the sentiments of the Crown-
Chair: It is a factual representation. So they are right?
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra: -then I would say that this is grossly wrong. I am really totally at a loss to see how people who profess to be from the Muslim religion can have these kinds of attitudes. Only recently we have celebrated Mother’s Day, we have had International Women’s Day and the message from the pulpit is very clear that the position of females and of women is a very high position, a very lofty position, where Muhammad-peace be on him-within the teachings of Islam has said that, "The best of you are those who are the best towards women," and he said, "I instruct you to treat women kindly. Paradise is at the feet of your mother." So we find that Islam as a religion requires Muslims to be respectful of the female.
Q821 Chair: So you disagree with Baroness Warsi and Jack Straw?
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra: No, what I am saying is if that is the attitude that she has found on the ground being expressed by these Muslim people then they are totally misguided, they are doing the exact opposite of what Islam requires of them. They have used their community or their positions to further their own evil actions and their own personal desires, which are totally forbidden. If you look at the laws of Islam about intimate relations and gender relations, sex outside of marriage is forbidden, so what they are doing really, if I were to use the Arabic term, is haram. From start to end every single action that they have carried out is haram, which is forbidden, and they have gone totally against every teaching of the faith, and that is something that we abhor. We would wish that the religion is not tainted by the actions of these people and, at the same time, we condemn them and their actions.
Q822 Chair: Mr Karmani?
Alyas Karmani: I think I would agree with the statement that these individuals do dehumanise white girls in particular.
Q823 Chair: So you agree with Baroness Warsi and Jack Straw?
Alyas Karmani: That is right, but there is a caveat to that. That should not mean all. Unfortunately this is the problem with the way that the mainstream media has represented cases around grooming. It has created collective labelling, and in our work what we find is that I get calls all the time from, let’s say, a mother whose daughter is going out with a Pakistani boy in quite a healthy boyfriend-girlfriend relationship who will call up and say, "Is my daughter being groomed?" There is that almost hysteria that is created by it. Although, what is also interesting in our work is that we have identified that most acts of sexual violence have a hate crime component to them where the abuser dehumanises the victim. It is that dehumanising process of seeing them as easy meat, fresh meat, trash, second class and so on that is part of the dehumanising process that legitimates their abuse of that child.
The point is, if that is a component in all sexual violence and child sexual exploitation, why do we make a particular issue of it when it comes to Pakistani or Asian males and not all males? That is why I think it is important to recognise that this is a generic thing. If I can add that in my research I have identified that there is no unique factor that predisposes Pakistani or Muslim males towards perpetrating child sexual exploitation. You will find the factors are in lots of other groups, ethnic backgrounds, social backgrounds and different classes as well. So although the statement is true, some men do treat women as second-class and third-class, it is important to recognise that somehow we have to get a societal recognition that does not mean all Pakistani males.
Q824 Chair: You mentioned statements from the pulpit. What is the community doing to try to stop this happening, very briefly? Shaykh Mogra?
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra: We need to continue preaching the message that I shared earlier with you about the requirements upon Muslims by Islam. We need to try to reach beyond the congregations and the worshippers who attend the mosques. Clearly we don’t reach everyone and we have to begin to utilise more methods and ways of reaching out to them. I have been utilising social media to try to reach further out. Wherever we have had an opportunity, been given the chance by print media and broadcast media, we have managed to put the word out, and I have asked your colleagues to circulate some of the writings that I have had the opportunity to publish through the Sun newspaper.
Chair: Unfortunately we have just had them so we have not had a chance to study them in detail, but I can assure you we will.
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra: Thank you.
Q825 Chair: Mr Karmani, how do we get the message out from the community?
Alyas Karmani: I think the most important thing is you have to connect with those people who are most at risk, and unfortunately they are not part of the mainstream, so sometimes our mosques and our community leaders are not really engaging at that level. They live in underground and ungoverned spaces, and that is where initiatives have to go. They have to be in what I call the no go areas where a lot of CSE takes places, where the traffickers are, where the groomers are. Who is actually in that space? A lot of third sector organisations, third sector youth engagement outreach and detached projects like STREET operate in that particular environment, and we have had a massive challenge. We have been saying to a lot of Local Safeguarding Boards that we want to do that work on streets with gangs and with young people at risk but the resources have not been there to facilitate that and allow us to do the work that we can do to create prevention and safeguarding.
Q826 Mr Winnick: These are shameful, disgusting crimes as, Mr Mogra, you and your colleague obviously have admitted, like all decent people up and down the country. When there is an accusation because some of the culprits are of Muslim origin, do you see a connection with anti-Semitism in the sense that when from time to time all people have villains, all religions and so on, there may be one or two people convicted of shocking crimes who happen to be of Jewish origin and this is used by those who hate Jews? Do you see a connection in that way between the Muslim community and anti-Semitism?
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra: That is one of our major concerns. Whenever any criminality is reported and the criminals happen to be Muslims, their faith and their religion is almost always publicised and published, so it is always, "Muslim man mugs woman on the street" but no other religion is ever mentioned. This gives fuel to racist people, the far right and the like, to use that as yet another stick with which to beat Muslims.
Q827 Mr Winnick: As with Jews?
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra: As with Jews. If we look back at the tragic history of the Jews and what happened to them, this was exactly the process of demonising a community, maybe because of the actions of one or two but also the continuous demonisation of a community as misfits, as troublemakers, enabled people to see them as less than human, which led to tragic loss of life in the Holocaust.
Alyas Karmani: If I can add to that just quickly that one of the resources we use is a Goebbels propaganda film called The Eternal Jew and in this we have a racial caricaturing of Jewish people but also their identification as sexual predators that were preying on white Aryan women. It is interesting that that parallel was there in the Nazi Germany era, and again it was used as part of that kind of vilification process.
Q828 Mr Winnick: When Muslims understand what tormented Jews have gone through and Jews understand what tormented Muslims have gone through over centuries, that is a step forward, I must say. You have referred, Mr Mogra, and your colleague, to the feeling of revulsion when these crimes were discovered. Would it be right to say that in Rochdale and other places where these culprits have been apprehended, tried and convicted according to the rule of law, the vast majority of Muslim people in those communities do have a feeling of revulsion and shame that some of their fellow Muslims-at least as far as origin is concerned-have been involved in such terrible things?
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra: Absolutely, and this is always the case where decent people, law-abiding people, people who genuinely respect and value their faith, of any faith, feel disgusted when their co-religionists misbehave in this way. For us in the UK it has been a very troubled time since 9/11 and then after the tragic events of 7/7 where it is our own who have perpetrated heinous, murderous crimes against humanity and we end up being blamed collectively for the actions of a few.
Q829 Nicola Blackwood: One of the strands of emerging evidence for the Committee during this inquiry is the real difficulty with victims coming forward and really seeing themselves as victims of child sexual exploitation, but the Office of the Children’s Commissioner also found that sexual exploitation of black and ethnic minority children was even more likely to be under-reported. Do you think that that is likely to be the case? Are you aware of young Asian girls or boys who are being sexually exploited who do not feel that they come forward within the community, and what do you think can be done to address that?
Alyas Karmani: I think so. We fed into the Children’s Commissioner inquiry and we fed in that we felt Pakistani girls, South Asian girls, were actually more vulnerable. That is why it is problematic having a stereotype that only white girls or girls in the care system are being targeted, because groomers target anyone who is vulnerable. Due to issues around honour, and in particular if a South Asian girl, a Pakistani girl, is being groomed-and we have many cases of Pakistani girls being targeted-then she is even less likely to be public about it. The groomers knows that, so therefore she is more likely to continue with that and to be controlled by that particular grooming group. In the same way we identified with the postcode gangs that we worked with that there is a code of honour within the gang that girls who were being serially raped by other gang members could not be public about it because they would be grassing and snitching on the rest of the gang. Also the girls are being criminalised, so by holding drug money or firearms and weapons and things like that also creates a barrier for them to become public about it because of the criminalisation.
The other thing is there is a major threat that if the girls do become public then they are alienated and ostracised by their own families and by the whole community as well who, rather than identify them as victims, see them as the ones who have committed crimes as well. For those reasons, Asian girls, Pakistani girls in particular, and Bangladeshi girls sometimes, are more vulnerable and they are even less likely to come forward. How can we engage? I think the most effective way is connecting. The way that we do it is by working with young men who are potential perpetrators and groomers and trying to channel them away from that kind of negative lifestyle.
Q830 Nicola Blackwood: You do not accept the statements that have been made by some that Asian perpetrators, Pakistani perpetrators, see the young Asian girls as out of bounds, as somehow a protected group who they will not target?
Alyas Karmani: It is not true at all. I have cases all the way from the 1980s, and currently the Muslim Women’s Network UK are collecting cases. We have about 30 cases so far of South Asian girls who have been groomed by South Asian gangs and other gangs.
Q831 Nicola Blackwood: When you say that the girls won’t go public about it, do they tell their families, do they tell people within the community? Who are they not telling? Are they not telling anybody?
Alyas Karmani: They can’t tell anyone, so unfortunately they have this strange dependence on their actual groomers. Part of the problem is if you come from a socially conservative community where you don’t talk about sex and relationship issues, which is the case of a lot of the socially conservative Muslim communities, then sometimes girls are even more vulnerable because they do not understand how predatory males are. We have identified a particular pattern where young boys in school are grooming South Asian girls who they have identified as vulnerable. I remember one individual talking about the fact that a couple had gone through a divorce, they realised the girl was vulnerable and then they targeted her because of that vulnerability. No one does it. One of the workshops we have is with girls and it is basically teaching them about how men are predatory. I know it is not the most romantic way of looking at sex and relationship issues but they need to be aware of the challenges, the fact that men are players and are predatory and will use, and "This is what an abusive relationship looks like and this is what you do." However, we are not getting out there enough with that kind of workshop and that intervention.
Q832 Nicola Blackwood: That is prevention work. What is being done to develop women’s leadership among women’s groups within the community and things like that across the country?
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra: We are encouraged by the fact that we have a growing number of confident British Muslim women who are organising themselves into different organisations. Only a few weeks ago we had a very interesting meeting with four key women’s organisations within the UK on this particular issue and we are all rallying together now to see how we can ensure that we can use the women’s voice and the access that they could have with these young children and young girls to try to get them to be able to report this kind of behaviour and the approaches that are being made to them. A national conference is being planned where we hope to invite imams, mosque leaders, community leaders, and these women’s organisations will play a leading role within that day in making presentations and explaining the case to the community.
Q833 Nicola Blackwood: What kind of a relationship do you think these different groups could have with statutory agencies? If the girls do not feel that they can go forward but might feel that they can speak to the group as an intermediary, perhaps there is a route through to getting the support that they need from those agencies.
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra: These groups have already made contact. At that meeting we even had representation from the NSPCC, so connections are already being made and networking is ongoing. We have begun to identify individuals and organisations who can be of use. Part of the planning is also to provide training to community leaders, to imams, to teachers so that they can identify and look for tell-tale signs of where this kind of abuse might be taking place.
Q834 Nicola Blackwood: What about linking into the multi-agency hubs so that you are linking into the centre of where the support is going to be coming from in different areas?
Alyas Karmani: I think the big challenge is around capacity, where you have individuals who do have the competence and can work in multi-agency groups. We do not have the resources or the capacity really to do so. I think it is vital that we develop community intermediaries who can then be a conduit between the grassroots and the statutory agencies. At the moment, if you ask a young person who has been exploited would they go to the police or social services, they would probably run a mile, so we need to have those intermediaries in place. With the first sector being undermined quite considerably by public cuts, we have lost all those potential community players who could play that intermediary role. Also it is important when they are at the table that we actually listen to them. I find in a lot of multi-agency work that we do, in some cases we have a positive and constructive role, we are really valued at the table. In other cases, we are just seen as rubber-stamping what the statutory agencies want. So it is also about being assertive at that table. It is not just about being there to rubber-stamp.
Q835 Michael Ellis: Shaykh Mogra, I note in an answer to questions put by Mr Winnick a few minutes ago that you agreed with his parallel with the Jewish community and instances of anti-Semitism. In that context, does the Muslim Council of Britain acknowledge the national Holocaust Memorial Day? Is that something that is acknowledged by the Council?
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra: Absolutely, and I was privileged and felt very honoured to have been invited to the Holocaust Memorial Day UK commemoration at the QE Centre here in London and asked to light a candle and offer a prayer. This is something we have to share as human beings. The pain and the loss of a fellow human being goes right across the board regardless of faith or ethnicity.
Q836 Michael Ellis: Thank you. I am interested in the fact that you used these historical examples of anti-Semitism in your teachings as far as Islamophobia is concerned and incidents of hatred based on your faith. Is this something that you find resonates with your community in this country, that they can understand the issues as a result of this parallel?
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra: We take a multi-level approach. One is to enable the communities to recognise the pain of others, to recognise that Islam requires us to feel the hurt of that loss. At the same time it is also to make them alert to the fact that if we do not challenge the stereotyping that is ongoing about the Muslim community in the UK then we could end up being the kind of community that is an unwanted community, that is seen as trouble, and therefore one that needs to be eliminated. We are trying to put that message across very strongly.
Q837 Michael Ellis: To help you with that message, I wanted to ask you about media reporting in this country and particularly on the race aspect. I notice, as the Chairman alluded to you sent us just before the session into effect, that you write a column periodically in the Sun newspaper. I commend the Sun for that and for giving you a voice. Do you find that brings with it some correspondence that you can help communicate with people the issues that the Muslim faith faces in this country?
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra: I wish I had the opportunity, and many other theologians and scholars of this country had the opportunity, to have columns in all of our newspapers where we have access to the wider communities to put our message across. When you get a handful of Muslim people misbehaving and involved in criminality that is automatically seen as, "Okay, that is what Islam is and that is what Muslims do," but having access to this kind of readership and listenership we are able to challenge that and say what they are doing is the exact opposite of what the faith teaches. I am really grateful to the Sun for giving me those opportunities.
Q838 Michael Ellis: How often do you write in the Sun?
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra: Sadly, that column has now been taken off and I wish it would be brought back again.
Q839 Michael Ellis: I think you have sent a message to the newspaper in respect of that. As far as the child sex offenders are concerned in this country and the models of sexual abuse that the Committee has been examining, the model of grooming has received a particularly large amount of media attention. Do you think there a risk that the nature of media reporting in this area has distorted perceptions of the Muslim community in this country as to the real nature of child sexual exploitation? In other words, do you think that the media reporting on the race aspect has been unduly hostile?
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra: I think so. I think it has been hostile whenever the criminality of a Muslim has been reported. We have been calling for an approach that is looking at the crime not at the multiple identities of the criminal and the perpetrator. We have used the same argument with regards to terrorism. Terrorism has no religion, has no ethnicity; it is a crime against humanity and we have to treat it as a crime. Here it is also the case that grooming is a crime regardless of the perpetrator or the victim’s multiple identities. If we begin to limit ourselves and look only at colour and creed then I am afraid we will be doing more harm than good.
Q840 Michael Ellis: Mr Karmani, do you have anything to add to that comment?
Alyas Karmani: The way that the media has handled the issue has actually detracted from the real issues around sexual violence, which is about gender, power and control. It has distracted us from the many other models of grooming that exist. Localised street grooming in areas where there are large Pakistani populations is a model and there is a particular pattern around that model of drug supply, organised crime groups and pimping. In Exeter and Harrogate there is a model as well. It is slightly different, with different perpetrators, different actors and different methodologies, equally as reprehensible. So the point is that we have detracted from what the core issues are. An indicator of that for me is the fact that I get so many people asking me about this, that or the other, which are cases where there are no risk issues and we are failing to look at where the risk issues actually are. So I think we recognise that this is a subset within a subset of overall acts related to sexual violence.
Q841 Mr Winnick: We have had directors of social services, children’s services and those who were in such occupations until recently. The questions we put to such personnel-and this arises from previous questions asked today-is why no action was taken when it should have been obvious that this sort of exploitation of young women was taking place. Do you find that very difficult to understand?
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra: It is shocking. I can understand that we need to be sensitive towards the many different communities that make up the UK but I think there comes a time when you have to call a spade a spade and we cannot allow political correctness to get in the way of justice and the protection of the vulnerable. I am sure that if the law enforcement agencies were to use the right language and the right approach you would be able to call a spade a space without making a community feel responsible for the actions of some of them. I have read reports, indeed when I wrote those pieces for the Sun, of where social services and even some police forces were reluctant to tackle issues because of the ethnic background of the criminals and the perpetrators, and we cannot allow that to continue. Once the law is broken those criminals have to be brought to task regardless of their faith or their ethnicity.
Q842 Mr Winnick: This term "political correctness" has been used by those who find some excuse to say that anti-discrimination laws are wrong, but if there were social workers, professional people and the rest, sometimes in leading positions, who used that as a reason-"We mustn’t do this, we mustn’t do that because the people concerned happen to be Muslim"-would that not be an abdication of responsibility, and certainly there is no excuse whatsoever to adopt such an attitude, and a betrayal of the women involved?
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra: It would be an abdication and we do not want to see this. If the perpetrator is a Muslim, treat that perpetrator and that criminal as you would treat any other criminal. They should not get any preferential treatment or anywhere to hide behind the name of Islam or of Muslim.
Q843 Mr Winnick: Do you agree with that, no hesitation because someone happens to belong to what is described as an ethnic minority?
Alyas Karmani: I fully agree, absolutely. One of the things I often hear is that we just want fair and equal treatment, we don’t want special treatment. I think it is key that there should not be this pandering to a particular community, but there is also another key stakeholder and player in this whole process. I identified, certainly in West Yorkshire, that key elected members from certain communities were also part of that sense of denial that there were issues taking place and wanting to handle it too much with kid gloves and with an over-sensitivity, which also then created a barrier for the statutory agencies to intervene. So I think they are complicit with that whole process in terms of creating a politically correct culture. The overwhelming view is that they are criminals and they need to be dealt with as such.
Q844 Mr Winnick: As a private citizen, if you were aware of some offence of this nature, or indeed any offence, would you have any hesitation in letting the police know? Would you hesitate simply because he happened to be a Muslim?
Alyas Karmani: No hesitation at all. One of the things we do with our young people is exactly that. They have a safeguarding responsibility to protect the weak and the vulnerable and if criminality is taking place then they need to report. If they can’t report because they feel that they are intimated or anything then they can go through us to report that.
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra: If I could add to that that there is a Koranic injunction upon Muslims. We are called upon to stand up for justice even if it is against ourselves, our parents and our family and not to allow anything to get in the way of standing up for justice. So it is our duty, a religious duty and a duty as human beings, to bring these crimes to the attention of the law enforcement agencies.
Mr Winnick: I am not sure if we atheists have a code, but that is very interesting to know.
Q845 Chair: Shaykh Mogra, accepting what you have just said, we have seen examples and heard evidence of crimes that are very obvious, groups of Pakistani men with young white women in places like Rochdale and Rotherham and at shopping centres. The community must know this is happening. The puzzle is why are the communities-and you know what the communities are like in places like Leicester, Bradford and South Yorkshire-not doing more in their networks? Some of this is quite obvious, isn’t it? It is happening on street corners.
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra: It is very obvious. I am struggling to find an answer as to the reasons why they might be doing this. Although, clearly we need to be more forceful, I guess, as imams in our preaching to spell it out to them that, "This is what the Koran calls on you to do and where you see a wrong it is your duty as a human being, as a Muslim, to make sure that that wrong stops and the victims are protected from further victimisation."
Q846 Chair: Mr Karmani?
Alyas Karmani: I think there is an element of it being covered up. There is a double life culture where people are very sophisticated in hiding this quite evil and reprehensible behaviour. For that reason, sometimes the community is perhaps oblivious to the fact that there are abusers in their midst.
Q847 Chair: Really? There are a number of people who-
Alyas Karmani: Yes, in some sections there are. I think it is hard for any community to accept that we have groomers and sexual abuse in our community. If you are more socially conservative, then there is perhaps a bit more of a denial or less of an openness to address these issues. I think there is a wall of silence when it comes to sexual abuse intra-community in hard-to-reach socially conservative communities. Having said that, I have noticed, certainly in the last 10 years, that there is a real concerted effort to want to address these issues head on, in particular some of the root factors.
Q848 Chair: Have you been to mosques where imams have got up and condemned this? You have heard it with your own ears?
Alyas Karmani: Absolutely, yes. We run a programme called No Need for Weed, which is about substance abuse and links with sexual exploitation, and we are running that in mosques, and mosques have said, "Come back, we want you to do more sessions." So I think there is a recognition that there are issues that they want to address and it is just about equipping those people to do that more effectively.
Chair: Very helpful. Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra and Mr Karmani, thank you so much for coming and helping the Committee with our inquiry. We are most grateful.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Sheila Taylor, National Working Group for Sexually Exploited Children and young people, and Martine Osmond, The Children’s Society, gave evidence.
Q849 Chair: Thank you both very much for giving evidence and thank you for sitting through the last session. You know what the Committee is interested in. We are interested in getting to the full facts of what is happening as far as child grooming is concerned and we have received a great deal of evidence from community groups, as you have just heard, from social services departments, from the police, from the Deputy Children’s Commissioner. A lot of people have given the Committee a lot of evidence and tomorrow we will be hearing from the Minister responsible in his evidence to this Committee. My question to you is this, Sheila Taylor, is this on the increase or have we now reached a plateau as far as finding out what is going on and fashioning a system that can help the vulnerable people?
Sheila Taylor: As there is no previous measure of how many victims we have, that is difficult to answer in terms of knowing whether it is more prevalent now. Certainly in the last two years we have seen a wide range of professionals from a lot of disciplines understanding child sexual exploitation symptoms and signs and therefore being able to identify it more comprehensively. That has led to us identifying a whole wealth of young people who are involved in sexual exploitation.
Q850 Chair: If I put a straight question to you, is this on the increase? We know we do not know the depth of this. We have heard that it could be as many as 16,500 children. The Deputy Commissioner told us in evidence it was every town, every village, every city in the United Kingdom, which is quite a lot of places and quite a lot of young people. Do you think it is on the increase or has it plateaued?
Sheila Taylor: Personally I would believe it was on the increase. The access to young people through the internet and social media means that there is a prevalence of young people coming through that. We know there are thousands of young people who access the internet and those social media sites and there are a large number of cases where the young person is approached. I have a bit of a difficulty with how we address some of it in terms of street grooming, localised grooming and grooming per se, because grooming is only the approach to the offence.
Q851 Chair: Yes, indeed. Martine Osmond, I think you have made comments about social media sites, or maybe you have not but you are aware of them and you are aware of the growth of the internet. Do you think that we are dealing with a phenomenon that just cannot be controlled, that this is going to increase because of what Sheila Taylor has said, the access to the internet facility that allows people to groom young girls?
Martine Osmond: I don’t know I would say that it can’t be controlled, because I think that is too pessimistic. I think there are things that we can do locally and nationally. We need to educate parents around their children’s use of technology. Technology is here. It is not going to go away and it is only going to continue to grow, so we need to educate parents around how their children can safely use the internet. We also need to understand, I think, that many of the victims have indicators that we need to begin to recognise, and low self-esteem is a big one of those. We need to educate professionals and the community around how to best protect the young people that are going to be using the kind of technology that you are talking about.
Q852 Chair: Do you think the internet companies should do more? We have had them before this Committee to give evidence. They feel very much bound by the principles of freedom of speech and they don’t want to intervene and they don’t want to stop sites, whether it is sites of radicalism or sites that promote pornography and allow people to groom children. Do you think they need to do much more?
Martine Osmond: Yes, I am sure they can do more, and businesses as well. We are just looking at online grooming, but I think hotels and big chains and tattoo parlours all can do more to be aware of this. We know of some particular sites where the groomer will take the young person, give them technological tokens, take them into a private room and then begin to groom them. Once they are in that private room it is very difficult to trace. So, yes, I think providers can be doing a lot more.
Q853 Mr Winnick: There has been a view-perhaps totally unjustified but I would be interested in your opinion-that since the Minister at the time, Tim Loughton, left there has been less involvement by the Government in child sexual exploitation as an issue. Do you think there is any justification for that view?
Sheila Taylor: The round table meetings still happen, the stakeholder group meetings still happen and we continue to work with the Minister’s team on how we can best promote this issue and get effective response. I suppose my concern is that the new Minister has a wider portfolio of responsibility, therefore will that mean a lesser focus, but he has already stated that it is a priority for him and I know, through the team, that he is very concerned about this issue and wants to work with it. So I think what is of larger concern to me is the reduction in resources that is coming forward and the impact that has on all of those agencies to fully tackle CSE, because that is having an impact.
Q854 Mr Winnick: Because of the cuts?
Sheila Taylor: Because of the cuts, yes.
Q855 Mr Winnick: How far do you believe, Ms Taylor, that the cuts, which of course are taking place in virtually all Departments, will mean that this particular problem you are so deeply involved in will be undermined in some way?
Sheila Taylor: What we are seeing quite often is that in cases that are prosecuted against-and I am not just talking about those that are in the public domain, I am talking about all of those that go through the court process that don’t reach the public and the media in the same way-sometimes because of resources there is perhaps a lack of ability, on capacity grounds, to explore whether some of those different groups all link together and how widespread all of this is. They are questions that we really need to explore and I do think the resources hamper some of that activity.
Q856 Mr Winnick: The meetings with the Minister in question are going ahead?
Sheila Taylor: The meetings with the Minister in question still go ahead and they are well represented by a team of Ministers there and those people in the field of child sexual exploitation that have a stake in that issue.
Q857 Mark Reckless: Do you accept that has been a tendency to refer to exploited girls of perhaps 13 or 14 years old as consenting to sexual activity and in consequence people have not taken the actions that they should?
Martine Osmond: Absolutely. It is a big area that we feel needs tackling, which is around raising awareness and changing attitudes. You are absolutely right, we often see statements such as the young person is streetwise, the young person is promiscuous, the young person has made a choice-you talked about age 13 to 14; it can be younger as well, boys as well as girls-and there is a lack of understanding around the nature of exploitation. The emphasis is placed back on to the young person as to whether they want to go ahead and make a disclosure. Often young people feel let down and, as you said, often it is because the attitude that has come from professionals has been a negative one. We will sometimes get referrals, for instance, where it will talk about a young person and it will describe them, maybe even aged 11, as sexually active since they were aged 11. We would not view that in those terms. We would view that as abuse.
Q858 Mark Reckless: When you say a negative attitude from the professional, is that an attitude that the professional in some sense looks down on this young person and comes to negative conclusions about them because of their activity, or are there circumstances where you have a professional who takes the view, notwithstanding they are below the age of consent, that somehow it is properly a matter of choice for them and not their business to interfere? Which of that does it tend to be?
Martine Osmond: I think it can be both, but there is a lack of understanding about the nature of sexual exploitation. All too often professionals will take what the victim is saying at face value. As we know, victims often do not see themselves as being victims so they will use terms such as boyfriend-girlfriend relationship and some professionals can feel uncomfortable, I think, unpicking that, whereas we are very clear from the off that to us it is about a healthy and equal relationship and so we don’t go down those lines of seeing it as it is the young person’s choice. Nevertheless, I think you are right, sometimes professionals are also quite dismissive of adolescent behaviour and will see it as, "This is typical adolescent behaviour," when clearly it is not.
Q859 Mark Reckless: When you say you see it as a healthy and equal relationship, for you is that the issue rather than whether it is below the age of consent?
Martine Osmond: No, we are always clear in terms of what is the legal age of consent, but if we are talking about a 15-year-old who is in a relationship with a 15-year-old we will be realistic with that young person. While we are explaining the law, we will be realistic with that young person around healthy and equal. That would be the emphasis.
Q860 Mark Reckless: When children remain as looked after children in many circumstances but are over the age of consent, so between their 16th and 18th birthday, how great is any problem of exploitation relationships for that group and what degree of focus can there be for those somewhat older teenagers?
Martine Osmond: I think that is a very good question, because to us they are still children. You said it yourself, 16 and 17-year-olds are still children and that is very much how the Children’s Society would view these young victims. Again I think the difficulty will be that some professionals will view them as able to make their own choice. I think it is even harder for 16 and 17-year-olds in some senses to be seen as victims and therefore to receive the support that they clearly need.
Q861 Mark Reckless: Ms Taylor, do you have anything to add on the subjects I have been discussing with Ms Osmond?
Sheila Taylor: Yes, one or two points there. Our legislation says that a child cannot consent to their own exploitation and that the question should not be whether they are consenting but what are the consequences to them if they say no. That is something that we don’t measure. What we should be looking at is the fear and retribution that creates a dependency on the exploiters, which is similar to Stockholm syndrome and it is virtual imprisonment without bars. We also need to look at the fact that boys are far less likely to be recognised and seen as consenting far more readily than perhaps we might question some of the young women. The other added complication is that certainly through the health arena we assess young people on Gillick and Fraser competency to their ability to consent but that is a direct conflict with child sexual exploitation where you cannot consent. That also gets you over that 16 to 18 because you cannot consent to child sexual exploitation or trafficking under the age of 18. Well, trafficking at any age but certainly you cannot consent to your own exploitation and that is up to 18. The third thing would be do we ask the right questions to find out whether that young person is really consenting or not, and I would say that in many cases we don’t.
Q862 Mark Reckless: The final question from me, if I may. Do you feel that this is a cultural issue that needs better education of professionals, or are there circumstances in which the professionals do not have the powers that they need? For instance with a children’s home, if a child was going off, do the people running that home have the powers they need to prevent that child going off with the people who may be exploiting them?
Martine Osmond: One of the things that we would like to see is a statutory duty that all children that go missing receive an independent interview, the kind of interviews that we conduct whereby we will ask a child from their own view why they have gone missing and we will assess the risks from both where they have run from and to. That would enable local authorities to be able to look at the picture and spot the indicators, because we know there is a huge link between running away and sexual exploitation. It would enable the kind of professionals that you are talking about to begin to understand what that young person is going through and, more importantly, it gives the child a voice to talk about what is actually going on, particularly if it is done by the third sector. We conduct those interviews. We know we get a much better response from children and young people because we are not wearing a statutory badge. That is not to discredit statutory badge but children and young people find it much easier to talk to the third sector.
Q863 Nicola Blackwood: One of the strands of evidence that has come out very strongly during the inquiry has been the problem of co-ordination between local agencies and the fact that even though there was all of the information that would have been needed to identify that a young victim was experiencing child sexual exploitation, such as that they were going missing regularly or were experiencing regular bouts of chlamydia or something, in fact none of these agencies were talking to each other so they were not putting the full picture together. Has this been your experience? Do you think that the situation is improving?
Sheila Taylor: I think as we bring more sexual exploitation co-ordinators into LSCBs to co-ordinate it, so the information is all in one place, is really key to some of this. I might go back to a piece of work that I did in Derbyshire in 2008 or 2009-I can’t remember which year-that resulted in an operation called Operation Zinc. Safe and Sound Derby, who were a third sector organisation where I was the chief executive at that point, pulled together the information out of 81 cases. The reality of that situation was that all of that information had come from the young people, parents, children’s services, the police, education, youth offending and health and we appeared to be the only one that put all of that information down on one spreadsheet, if you like, to present a whole caseload. That demonstrated how much information people have if they share all of it, even the very small nuggets of information. That makes it very clear to me that you do need a sexual exploitation co-ordinator in each area to be able to pull all of that information together in one place. It is only then will you highlight what each agency needs to do and the real picture and the real difficulties that that young person has in exiting that exploitation and managing it.
Q864 Nicola Blackwood: The impression that we have had is that the performance of different LSCBs on this issue has been variable. Some areas are very good, outstanding, and others feel that this is not a problem, "We don’t have this sort of thing happening here." Do you think that with the coverage that Rochdale and other cases have had people are starting to wake up and now the standard is rising everywhere or do you think that there are still places that we should be worrying about? How do you think we can resolve that issue and have consistent support everywhere?
Sheila Taylor: There is definite movement. There is definite improvement. If we look back at three years ago we did not have CSE co-ordinators in place, so there is definite movement and definite improvement. We need to share the improving practice that those CSE boards have developed across others. There are very definitely areas who say, "We don’t need to deal with it because it is not in our area," and it is very clear that it is because we have third sector organisations in those areas identifying it but no strategy or command to manage.
Q865 Nicola Blackwood: Could you point on a map and say, "These places are doing a good job and these places are not doing a good job and need to be challenged"?
Sheila Taylor: If we plot our dedicated services that are engaged with the national working group on a map then we seem to follow largely-and this is rather a sweeping statement-the corridors of main traffic, so the main motorways and so on. I would ask whether or not the project developed because there was an issue there or whether they identified the issue because they started a project.
Q866 Dr Huppert: Following on from what my colleague was asking, ultimately we have to make some recommendations rather than just ask questions and I am not quite clear what it is that you think we ought to be suggesting in this space. On the one hand you said there need to be named people, on the other hand you said there may be some improvement in some areas and not others. What would you ideally like this Committee to recommend that would make a really big difference?
Sheila Taylor: There is a full list of agencies that we should be engaging with and quite often when we go to areas and look at it they have a whole host of the agencies engaged but not all that we would perhaps recommend, so I think it is an overall recognition of whose duty crosses over with this. Sometimes it is those we don’t think about, like ambulance and paramedic who are often the first on the scene. I would recommend that we do have a CSE co-ordinator in each place so that the full picture from all the agencies-
Q867 Dr Huppert: When you say "each place", what sort of scale?
Sheila Taylor: Each LSCB. I would call for more movement from the health authority on this. We are seeing that quite a lot of areas are moving forward but don’t have the same representation from health, and that is very difficult because it crosses quite a lot of health boundaries. For example, it crosses sexual health clinics who don’t talk to accident and emergency who don’t talk to CAMHS and various things. There is a report coming out from us in the next few days that is a grassroots report done by Dr Paul Kirtley on our behalf, exploring a whole wealth of people who have found difficulties in their particular department of health. Also we have not developed our therapeutic care for children. It is not where it needs to be. We have just developed a home with advanced childcare, which has four young people in, where it is more of a treatment centre for child sexual exploitation. It is showing really good therapeutic intervention, where they are all back in mainstream education or apprenticeship, no missing incidents.
Q868 Dr Huppert: That is a longish shopping list, and it would be helpful if you could send us a copy of that report.
Sheila Taylor: Yes.
Martine Osmond: I would agree with everything that has just been said. Could I also add that I have talked about a statutory duty for independent interviews to be provided but also we would like to see all LSCBs having a multi-agency subgroup to tackle children that go missing and CSE so that information is collated and shared. I would echo Sheila’s point in particular about support for young people. We have to support children and young people that are being abused in this way. It should not just be conditional and linked to whether they make a disclosure or not or whether there is a conviction or not. There should still be support placed around that young person.
Q869 Michael Ellis: Could I ask about the role of the criminal justice system again, just to take a step back and speak about that? One hears an increasingly loud voice of those who understandably focus concerns on the manner in which the criminal justice system deals with these types of allegations, but of course it is right to say that it is juries who find defendants guilty or not guilty, as the case may be. Do you think it is reasonable for the Crown Prosecution Service or the prosecuting authorities when considering these matters to consider them using the professional aspect of whether or not they think they can secure a conviction? After all, it does no favours to anyone, nor would it serve any reasonable purpose, to prosecute a case that is not likely to lead in the end to a conviction, after all the trial and tribulation to the victim of going through court proceedings. If you feel that things could be done better by the criminal justice system, could you tell the Committee what you think could be improved?
Sheila Taylor: The experience of young people going through the court process, especially when it is multiple offenders, which it usually is, is horrific. Some of the young people have expressed a statement similar to it was worse going through the court process than it was actually going through the exploitation. That clearly is unacceptable. The court process does seem weighted in favour of defendants, and I know they have a right but quite often the rights of the child are not listened to during that process. We do need these cases to be tried by representatives from the Crown Prosecution Service who understand child sexual exploitation in front of judges and magistrates who are trained in child sexual exploitation.
Q870 Michael Ellis: You don’t think that happens now?
Sheila Taylor: No, it doesn’t happen now.
Q871 Michael Ellis: What do you think could be done to improve the courtroom experiences? Ultimately in any adversarial system witnesses have to be challenged and that is unpleasant, so how do you think it could be improved? Do either of you have any suggestions of how you think it could be improved?
Sheila Taylor: I think we should be engaging with intermediaries. At the moment, court intermediaries are often used with children who are very young in that court process and does not take adolescents into account quite readily. I know that I would struggle to answer to any rape charges and serious sexual offences charges in front of eight, nine, 10, 11, 12 barristers, all passing notes to one another to feed a line of inquiry that assists all of them. We do need trained personnel, we need the use of intermediaries, we need the special measures for young people, and if we possibly can we should not be taking young people through the court process anyway. We should be using that third-party evidence as much as we can and not subjecting them.
Q872 Michael Ellis: Do you have any observations to add?
Martine Osmond: I echo a lot of those thoughts but I would add in the case in which I was involved, which is obviously where my experience is, we did support, young people did feel quite supported. We placed a big emphasis on making sure we got that as good as we could, so each young person had a sexual offences liaison officer with them or another identified appropriate adult with them right the way through the court proceedings.
Q873 Michael Ellis: Do you think that could make a big difference?
Martine Osmond: Yes. There was a very clear multi-agency response right the way from the beginning of the investigation up until the court case and there was a lot of preparation done by agencies such as ours that knew those victims and knew what was going to get the best evidence out of them. There was about three months worth of work put in preparing professionals for exactly how to best approach the victims to achieve the best evidence.
Q874 Chair: We have a supplementary from Nicola Blackwood, but I want to ask you, Martine Osmond, about the race issue, which you heard us talk to the previous witnesses about. You were involved in Operation Mansfield where the vast majority of the perpetrators, I think all of them, were white and not of Asian origin.
Martine Osmond: They were, yes.
Chair: Do you find it distracting when the race issue is brought into the area of child grooming? Do you think it is a factor?
Martine Osmond: As you have said, I can only comment on the case that I was involved in where the victims were all white European and the perpetrators were white, and I work in an authority where there is low BME. From our point of view, what concerns me is that it detracts somewhat from the wider issue of abuse. We are talking about online grooming, we are talking about groups and we are talking about individuals, and every area will see different themes and different patterns but the message is the same, it is abuse and it is a child protection issue.
Q875 Chair: On Mansfield, were you disappointed that only one person was successfully prosecuted in the end? You obviously worked very hard on that project and provided a lot of support and help. 10 were prosecuted; I think only one was successfully convicted. That is not a very good success rate as far as the criminal justice system is concerned.
Martine Osmond: Yes, one was cautioned and one received a 10-year sentence. There was some disappointment and at the same time I think we recognised again-this is a national theme as well-victims find it incredibly difficult to come forward and make disclosures, because they are absolutely terrified of the perpetrators and because they feel that professionals in the past have let them down, because of some of the attitudinal stuff that we talked about earlier.
Q876 Nicola Blackwood: I just wanted to take you back to the comments that you made about the court process and you said that victims come out the other end saying that it is more horrific then the sexual exploitation in the first place. You work with a wide range of victims up and down the country. Do you think that that is putting off victims from coming forward and going through the process? Do you think that is one of the reasons why we are finding it hard to take cases through to court?
Sheila Taylor: I am not so sure that the young people know what the court process has in stock for them. I don’t think they are that informed about the court process, although some are. I think what we don’t focus on so much is the fact that these young people are not credible witnesses and they are not credible witnesses quite often through the mechanisms of child sexual exploitation; they have been encouraged to take large quantities of alcohol and so on, their story is not straight, they are in fear of retribution and various other things. There are a whole host of things that make it difficult for young people to come through.
Q877 Nicola Blackwood: Do you think if more expert witnesses were used in court in order to explain the nature of the abuse and the reason for these behaviours that would assist?
Sheila Taylor: Often it is bad character reference that is put forward by the defence. We do need to see those as symptoms of child sexual exploitation rather than incredible.
Q878 Nicola Blackwood: Are you aware of the DPP’s recent statement about his concerns about the CPS tests being inappropriate for this particular category of victim and perhaps leaving victims unprotected under criminal law? All of the things that you would usually use as a credibility test for a witness don’t really work for victims of child sexual exploitation. Are you encouraged by that? Are you feeding into that process of review?
Sheila Taylor: We welcome that acknowledgement from the CPS and the process that they are now going to look at. We do have a place around the table and we are working quite closely with some of the team there on those, so I think it is really important that we do address some of those things.
Q879 Nicola Blackwood: My question is do you think that amending the test and addressing that initial entry barrier of taking the cases into court will be enough or do you think that more needs to be done?
Sheila Taylor: We need to enhance the special measures that the young people-
Q880 Nicola Blackwood: The section 28?
Sheila Taylor: Yes.
Nicola Blackwood: What in addition to that? You don’t know?
Sheila Taylor: Not on the hoof. I would have to sit and think about that.
Q881 Nicola Blackwood: You sit and think about that and maybe send it to us in writing, both of you, given your experience, thinking of things like maybe specialist courts, having individual ushers, ISVAs, expert witnesses, the things that you think would really make the difference in terms of prosecutions, bearing in mind the comments of Mr Ellis that we still have to have regard for innocent until proven guilty and defendants’ rights.
Sheila Taylor: Yes, I understand that. Can I just make an observation on something that you said earlier to Martine about the race issue distraction?
Chair: Yes, of course.
Sheila Taylor: We work with over 300 police officers and are engaged with the national working group from 41 of the forces. A little while ago we found that quite often police were able to recognise the model of sexual exploitation because of how it was profiled in the press so then they would go and look for that because they could see it and they knew how to scope it and how to find it. However, because we don’t see the same representation in the press from other cases-and I am particularly thinking of one with a Slovakian background, another one with a Romany traveller, another one with a Irish traveller background and a whole host of other backgrounds-people feel a bit lost about how to investigate and how to go on. We add all of that mix together for the police and we hold a police forum where we highlight all models of child sexual exploitation.
Q882 Chair: Do you think the model of the British Pakistani man exploiting the young white girl is over-egged?
Sheila Taylor: I think we know how to spot it. I am not saying there is not a difficulty there. There clearly is something there that we have to-
Q883 Chair: Although, there are other models that we don’t spot?
Sheila Taylor: That we don’t have the media attention on so therefore we don’t look for them. A professional, especially stretched in this current climate, does not look for the different models because they don’t know how to scope them and how to look for them. That is what we do in the National Working Group. We help people to explore the wider issues to child sexual exploitation.
Chair: That is most interesting. Thank you very much for that observation. Sheila Taylor and Martine Osmond, you have been extremely helpful. You are in fact our last witnesses. Although we will have the Minister in tomorrow as our last ministerial witness, you are our last witnesses today. As Nicola Blackwood has just said, if there are any issues that are pertinent to what you have been asked today please come back to us, but come back to us very quickly because we want to get the report out and our recommendations made. Thank you very much.