At Sheffield Crown Court throughout September and October, eight men sat in the dock accused of rape and other sexual crimes against four girls, three aged 13 and one 16. The case resulted in five being convicted and three acquitted. All of the eight defendants were Pakistani Muslims and the girls white British. Does this matter? Not for the reasons the British National Party would have us believe, but it is nonetheless significant.
Razwan Razaq, 30, his 24-year-old brother Umar, Muhammed Zafran Ramzan, 21, Adil Hussain, 20, and Mohsin Khan, 21, were sent to prison for between four-and-a-half to 11 years.
The crimes were committed in and around Rotherham, a fairly typical south Yorkshire town. Although unemployment is fairly high, Rotherham is now also a popular summer visitors' destination when All Saints Square is transformed into a seaside beach. Every month, there is a farmers' market that sells produce from local farmers and traders, and Jamie Oliver's TV series, Jamie's Ministry of Food, tried to teach the town's inhabitants to establish healthy eating as part of daily life.
But many parents are concerned far more with the safety of their children than with organic food. Rotherham, along with many other towns, cities and villages in northern England has become infected with the vile activities of criminal gangs using children as currency. While child sexual abuse occurs in every community and culture, what is happening in Rotherham and elsewhere in Yorkshire and Lancashire is organised pimping of girls by Asian gangs who trade their victims for cash and favours.
"These men all know and trust each other," says Jane, the mother of one of the victims. "They don't abuse these girls because they are Muslim, but because they are criminals who think they are above the law."
Although there is no hard evidence of financial gain in the Rotherham case, child protection professionals tell me that the pattern in such cases is that the girls are traded for cash as well as favours between criminals. A number of the gangs operating in the region have found that the sharp drop in the price of drugs has led them to losing considerable income, and that selling girls is increasingly filling the gap.
Jane's daughter Sophie (not their real names) was a happy, ordinary 12-year-old until she met a group of adult males who would control every aspect of her life. Before she escaped, a year later, Sophie had been raped by the gang members as a way of "breaking her in" and then passed around various other men for sex.
The methods used by the pimps are sophisticated and sinister. First, the girls are identified in locations, such as parks, schools, leisure facilities and shopping malls after which boys of their age are sent to befriend them. After a friendship is established, the boys introduce their contacts to young men whom they often describe as cousins.
Then the grooming process gets really under way. The young man will take the girl out in his car, give her vodka, cigarette and cannabis, and take her to venues she would not normally experience until older.
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