LONDON: British Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s remarks that British-Pakistani men “hold cultural values at odds with British values” have been criticised by political commentators and children’s charities as “inflammatory” and akin to initiating “race wars”.

Ms Braverman came under fire when, during a Sky News interview about plans to tackle child sexual abuse, she spoke about “the predominance of British-Pakistani males who hold cultural values totally at odds with British values”.

“[British-Pakistani men] see women in a demeaned, illegitimate way, and pursue an outdated and frankly heinous approach to the way we behave,” Ms Braverman commented after she was informed that a Home Office report in 2020 concluded that most child sexual abuse gangs are made up of white men under the age of 30, and that there was not enough evidence to suggest members of grooming gangs were disproportionately more likely to be Asian or black.

Ms Braverman instead pointed to reports from Rotherham, which was rocked by a child sexual exploitation scandal in which five British-Pakistani men were convicted of grooming, raping and exploiting young girls. The home secretary also cited a 2015 report penned by Dame Louise Casey CB, which ironically noted how British-Pakistani community had been “harmed by association” in the scandal.

Braverman’s remarks akin to triggering ‘race wars’

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who is expected to roll out new measures to tackle sexual violence against children, said the grooming gang crackdown would defy “political correctness”. However, he did not repeat Ms Braverman’s comments targeting Pakistanis.

The government vowed that experienced specialist officers and members of the National Crime Agency will assist police forces with their investigations into child sexual abuse cases.

Reaction

Speaking on a Sky News show after Ms Braverman, West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin said, “It feels very dog whistle, if I may say, and it doesn’t deal with what is happening on the ground.”

British actor and presenter Adil Ray was one of many who pointed out that, as per the Home Office report in 2020, most perpetrators are white. Braverman was attorney general at the time [it was published].“

British-American political commentator Mehdi Hasan tweeted, “Despite heavy competition, and despite her own ethnicity, Suella Braverman may be the most bigoted, cynical, and dangerous politician to emerge from the modern UK Conservative Party in many decades. This is vile and dishonest stuff.”

Former chief prosecutor Nazir Afzal, too, drew attention to the predominance of white male perpetrators in child sexual abuse case data.

“Suella Braverman knows that 84% of child sex offenders are white British, but chooses to focus on those who are not,” he posted.

For The Independent, journalist Adam Forrest penned a column titled “Is Sunak’s grooming gangs crackdown just ‘dog whistle’ politics?”, in which he wrote, “The suspicion remains that the Tories have latched upon the grooming gangs issue again in order to create controversy, rile up voters in the Midlands and north of England and demonstrate they are the party willing to say the “unsayable”.

Chief Executive of the National Soc­iety for Prevention of Crue­lty to Children, Sir Peter Wanless, said government’s focus on tackling such crimes was welcome, but race should not be the focus.

“Child sexual exploitation by organised networks is one pernicious form of abuse and it’s welcome to see the government focus on disrupting perpetrators and protecting victims. This must be backed up with funding for services to help child victims recover and support for a justice system that is struggling to cope.

“It’s also vital we remember that any child can be a victim of child sexual exploitation and adult perpetrators do not just come from one background. Sexual predators will target the most vulnerable and accessible children in society and there must be a focus on more than just race so we do not create new blind spots that prevent victims from being identified.”

Sabah Kaiser, an ethnic minority ambassador to the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse led by Professor Alexis Jay, who investigated child abuse in Rotherham, said, it was “very, very dangerous” for the government to turn child sexual abuse into a matter of colour.

“Child sexual abuse does not have a skin colour, it doesn’t have a religion. It doesn’t have a culture. Child sexual abuse does not discriminate. And so therefore, it is really, really important that we as a nation have a singular societal response to this issue,” she told Today on BBC 4.

“It is really important that we do not turn this very, very important issue into an issue about colour. Because let’s be frank, let’s be serious: that grabs headlines, but that is not helpful for this topic.”

Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2023

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