South of the River – Looking after our children


Compass-SouthComment logo 2Three men are starting jail terms this week after a girl of 12 was raped and her three friends were sexually exploited. So why do I feel like I let the girls down?

The incident started after midnight one night last March in my local park. What were the girls, aged 11, 12 and 13, doing in the park at that time of night on their own? Who knew where they were? This isn’t about blaming the parents, or blaming school, or blaming the community, but they had put themselves in danger. Had anyone tried to stop them?

This appears to have been a one-off event, but I’m braced for news of a local predatory sex ring like the one that operated in Rochdale. I suspect they exist in many (most?) deprived communities across the country and too many of our communities in South Leeds fit the profile.

We have more than our share of disaffected young people. School attendance is rising in all our schools, but we still have young people who don’t go to school. We have higher than average number of so-called “NEETs”, young people not in employment, education, or training. We have more “looked after” children and more children on the “at risk” register. So there are plenty of vulnerable young people who are unhappy at home, unhappy at school and likely to hang around on the streets.

Do we have more sex offenders? I don’t know. Someone tweeted South Leeds Life this week asking us to look into the “grooming of young girls by Asians”. The three men in court this week were Asian and we have a large Asian community, but Jimmy Savile wasn’t Asian and Ian Watkins (the Lostprophet’s singer) isn’t Asian and don’t get me started on the Catholic Church.

I’m not saying there aren’t Asian sex offenders, but that’s not the only place to look. It’s about power, or rather the abuse of power by some men. Those men come from different backgrounds, different races and creeds.

My Other Half tells me that when she was growing up in the 1960’s and 70s there was something of a bush telegraph amongst the girls she knew. They knew who was dodgy, which sweet shop not to go in alone and they shared that information with each other. Does that still operate today? I worry that something has changed. On the one hand we’ve exposed publicly that child sex abuse goes on, but we’ve also somehow committed to make everywhere safe, rather than teaching children how to understand risk.

We try to make things safe by putting everyone who ever comes into contact with children through a DBS test (what used to be called CRB). It generates a lot of paperwork and costs a lot of money, but only tells you about the people who have been caught. The other problem on relying on DBS is that it assumes the main problem is “stranger danger” when in fact most child abuse goes on within families.

So how do we protect our children? I don’t mean personally, I mean how do we protect our children as a community?

When the Yorkshire Ripper was about, the Police told women to stay at home after dark. That’s no answer, it just punishes the victims and spreads fear. The University Union’s response was to lay on a free minibus taxi service staffed by volunteers to help women get home safely. We need that sort of collective response, we all need to take some responsibility.

The city is  is trying to make itself Child Friendly Leeds. We can all play our part. It’s about respecting children, celebrating children’s achievements as they did last night’s Child Friendly Leeds Awards. It’s about have proper, appropriate relationships with children.

Do you know the children in your street? Do they know you? Do you say hello to them if you see them? If you saw them out late on their own could you talk to them, check they were OK or escort them safely home?

Jeremy Morton Aug13I don’t know the four girls who were abused, I don’t know anything about their family life, but if my daughter had been in the park at that time of night I would have wanted a friendly adult to bring her home.

I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.

5 Replies to “South of the River – Looking after our children”

  1. When I first read the article in the Evening Post my first thought was what were those kids doing out at that time.
    But then, as I thought about my reaction, I realised that it really shouldn’t matter where those girls were, or at what time. They should still be safe from rapist paedophiles!

    You talk about disaffected and unhappy young people and that they are more likely to “hang around on the streets”. So what?
    That shouldn’t make them any more vulnerable to sexual assault and rape. To suggest otherwise is like stepping back 40yrs to a time when it could be suggested a rape victim was complicit in being attacked because she wore a mini skirt.
    It shouldn’t be that these girls “put themselves in danger”. Its the rapists and paedophiles that put them in danger!!!

    I don’t want to fall into the trap of stereotyping any group of people based upon the actions of some of that groups members. But the continued revelation of cases such as this really does suggest there is an issue within some segments of our community.
    Yes, Saville and Watkins weren’t muslim or asian. Neither are Stuart Hall or Gary Glitter. The paedophiles that have been exposed who groom young people on the internet don’t fall into this asian/muslim stereotype either.

    However, in the domain of on street grooming and the convictions that have been publicised, very much point to this being an issue with some muslim/asian men.

    Cases in Rochdale, Oxford, Rotherham, Telford, Derby, Glasgow and other cities, all involved groups of men from the asian/muslim community, all known to each other, and all engaged in rape and sexual abuse of vulnerable young girls.
    These men were all engaged in a collective endeavour perpetrated by like minded individuals. That’s a conspiracy.
    I find this terribly worrying as it could suggest such criminal behaviour is not so far removed from the expected norms which they consider acceptable. Why is this?
    The cultural dimension to these crimes are awkward and difficult for us to consider, but they can’t keep on being ignored.

    Jeremy, you describe the abuse of these four girls as appearing to be a one-off event. But Shah Miah has previously been convicted for abusing THREE OTHER CHILDREN!
    Pertinently this isn’t a one-off event for Shah Miah!
    You also say “I’m braced for news of a local predatory sex ring like the one that operated in Rochdale.” – what makes you say this Jeremy?
    Have you been made party some information that the majority of us aren’t aware of??

    1. Rich, thanks for your comments.

      You are absolutely right that the blame lies with the men, not the girls. This is the point I was trying to make about the University Union’s response to the Ripper. I think the streets become safer if more people engage with each other and with children to we see out and about. If we keep ourselves to ourselves we leave the streets open to abusers who will engage with young people for the wrong reasons.

      In terms of the Asian community we are still talking about very small numbers of people and community leaders are increasingly speaking out and making clear that there is no cultural or religious excuse this despicable behaviour.

      Again you’re right that this wasn’t a one-off event Shah Miah. I was thinking about the young women when I described it as a one off. As I understand it this hadn’t happened to them before and there was no information that Miah was part of a larger ring. I have no idea if such a ring operates in Beeston, or Belle Isle or Middleton. My point was that other rings have operated in areas with very similar demographics, so if such awful news breaks I’ll be saddened, but not surprised.

      Finally can I just say that it’s harder to write a succinct column about a difficult subject like this than it looks! But I’m glad that it has open up a debate.

      1. Hi Jeremy
        Totally agree about the difficulty of this subject, I applaud your bravery in writing about it. Many other just want to ignore the issue and hope it goes away. It won’t, the problem needs to be dealt with now.
        My own daughter is a little older now, but when she was younger there were multiple instances where she was stopped out on the street by young men in cars, making obscene suggestions which turned into abuse. These were always young asian men. This has been going on for years and our institutions have not done anything about it.

  2. I really appreciate you writing this article Jeremy. I think this may be the first article addressing the topic on SLL? One of the barriers to tackling the issue of child sexual abuse is that people often don’t want to talk about it. It’s hard to blame them – it’s horrible, but it must be addressed.

    I think the most important question – and the one you’re asking in the article – is what can we do about it? Whether you’re a parent or not, reading the NSPCC guide “What can I do: Protecting you child from sexual abuse” is one positive action people could take right now:

  3. It is very difficult to approach any youngster nowadays without the constant worry that this may be construed as something other than proper. I would never just leave someone who looks vulnerable though, without at least satisfying my conscience that I had done my best to check on their situation and see if I could help.
    With these girls in particular, had I seen them, I would certainly have called the police at the very least.

    As for the question of who the perpetrators in these types of offences seem to be, I can’t help but feeling there is a solid divide. On the one hand there are many more single incidents of abuse by Caucasian men than any other group in Britain but, considering that Asian men are a minority there are an alarming number of these cases coming to light.
    I feel that it is a problem that society has always faced but it is now more of a issue. This could be because of the way we coddle our children more and discipline them less nowadays, or maybe it’s just the fact that with a rapidly growing population there are bound to be more deviants around to take advantage. I would suggest a mixture of both.
    Can you imagine how any of our generations’ parents would have reacted if we were out at that time of night? I know that my mother wouldn’t have gone stopped searching until either she or the police had dragged me home with a glowing red ear!
    I have a twelve year old daughter and I would never enter my house again until I knew she was safe so, the parents are partly to blame in my opinion, and although I agree with Rich that people should be safe to walk the streets, it doesn’t relieve the parents of their responsibilities to their children.
    I had an incident in Kirkgate market many years ago when a very small child of about 2 years old was alone and crying on the top row of the market. I was astonished to see people just walking by and making no attempt to comfort this distressed baby or indeed to find the parents. This was a vulnerable and terrified child and people didn’t dare get involved!
    I was with my partner and I picked up the baby and asked the shopkeepers if they had seen the baby with anyone, and sent someone to get security to help find the parents while we stayed in place. After a good five minutes a rather flustered looking woman came rushing up to me, snatched the baby and looked at me as if I was some kind of monster for having dared to console the child that she had left whilst talking on her mobile phone. I must admit that I caught up with her and told her what I thought of her parenting skills, and said that she might like to be thankful that I was a decent person and not some paedophile……do you think I got a thank you?
    Sadly, these are the attitudes that stop people from trying to help others.

Comments are closed.