For kort tid siden ble det i forbindelse med straffesaken mot Zulfqar Hussain (46) og Qaiser Naveed (32) i Storbritannia avslørt at de to dømte mennenes virksomhet er en del av et mønster hvor grupper av voksne muslimske menn utnytter mindreårige, etnisk britiske og sårbare jenter fra arbeiderklassen for sex.
Fenomenet har imidlertid vært kjent siden 2004, da Channel 4 ble anklaget av anti-rasistiske grupper for å oppfordre til rasisme mot det pakistanske miljøet, og ble presset til å trekke tilbake en dokumentar som satte fokus på den systematiske utnyttelsen.
I ettertid viser det seg at det hovedsakelig er jentenes mødre og den Leeds-baserte organisasjonen Coalition for the Removal of Pimping (Crop) som har stått i spissen for avsløringene, mens britisk politi ikke har foretatt seg noe til tross for gjentatte oppfordringer fra lokalmiljøet. Undersøkelser viser at bare i Yorkshire har mer enn 30 mindreårige piker blitt seksuelt utnyttet, og noen blitt tvunget inn i prostitusjon. Så mange som 200 familier har oppsøkt Crop for å få råd og hjelp.
På bakgrunn av opplysninger fra lokalpolitikere, sosialarbeidere og foreldre melder nå spørsmålet om hvorfor myndighetene er så motvillige til å involvere seg med full kraft i britisk offentlighet:
Schoolgirls in Lancashire and Yorkshire are falling prey to sinister gangs of pimps. Two men have been sent to jail, but the girls’ mothers, not the police, are at the forefront of the crackdown. Why are the authorities so reluctant to get involved?
It seemed a shabby, seedy episode, probably typical of many cases down the years that have involved exploitative men and naive women. Yet, until these convictions, the police in over a dozen towns and cities, including Leeds, Sheffield, Blackburn and Huddersfield, had appeared reluctant to address what many local people had perceived as a growing problem – the groups of men who had been preying on young, vulnerable girls and ensnaring them into prostitution.
It was a very uncomfortable scenario, not least because many of these crimes had an identifiable racial element: the gangs were Asian and the girls were white. The authorities, in the shape of politicians and the police, seemed reluctant to acknowledge this aspect of the crimes; it has been left to the mothers of the victims to speak out.
De to mennene ble dømt for bortføring og barnemishandling, etter å ha utnyttet to jenter under 16 år ved å gi dem alkohol og narkotiske stoffer før de hadde sex med dem. Begge pikene var i en svært utsatt posisjon, der den ene var plassert i fosterhjem og den andre på et barnehjem.
Det har i lengre tid vært hevdet fra flere hold at dette så langt fra er noe enkeltstående tilfelle, men at rettssaken mot de to mennene avdekker en urovekkende utvikling der voksne muslimske menn bevisst «skjemmer bort» mindreårige jenter med tanke på å utnytte dem for sex og kriminelle aktiviteter.
Fremgangsmåten nettverket benytter overfor de mindreårige er stort sett den samme; mennene «skjemmer bort» den aktuelle piken med komplimenter og gaver. Når hun først er kommet inn i gruppen, går hun på rundgang.
Presents, including jewellery, make-up and a string of new mobile phones, were soon followed by bruises and threatening phone calls. Jackie recalls how her daughter began wearing a dressing gown during the day to cover any telltale marks of abuse.
Rettssaken har pågått samtidig som voksende bekymringer for noen muslimske menns holdninger til hvite jenter har gjort seg gjeldende. Foreldre i innvandrertette områder har gjentatte ganger klaget over at piker så unge som 12 år er blitt en målgruppe for voksne menns målbevisste seksuelle tilnærmelser. Myndighetene har så langt vært lite villige til å ta i problemstillingen, noe flere mener skyldes frykt for rasismeanklager:
The trial came amid growing concern at the attitudes of some Asian men towards white girls which campaigners for women claim few people wish to address.
Parents have complained that in parts of the country with large Asian communities white girls as young as 12 are being targeted for sex by older Asian men yet the authorities are unwilling to act because of fears of being labelled racist.
Ann Cryer, a Labour member of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, has been at the forefront of attempting to tackle the problem after receiving complaints from mothers in her constituency about young Asian men targeting their under-age daughters.
Although campaigners claim that hundreds of young girls are already being passed around men within the Asian community for sex, she said that attempts to raise the problem with community leaders had met with little success, with most of them being in a state of denial about it.
Selv om politiet og grupper som arbeider for kvinners beskyttelse insisterer på at den målbevisste jakten på mindreårige jenter ikke begrenser seg til det muslimske miljøet, innrømmer de at de er bekymret for holdningene noen unge muslimske menn utviser overfor hvite jenter. Foreldrene til de mindreårige jentene hevder imidlertid at de kriminelle nettverkene får fortsette å utnytte unge piker fordi myndighetene ikke er villige til å gripe inn av frykt for å skade etniske relasjoner i områder med store etniske minoriteter.
The case took 16 months to come to court. In the meantime, other pimps, undeterred by the impending trial, continued to go about their business.
So what are the police doing? Lancashire police say that in the past few months they have sent letters to 70 men who were believed to be spending an unusual amount of time with young girls. The letters warn the men that the girls are underage; the men are required to sign the letter, confirming they have received and read it.
The details are left on file – but there is no guarantee that the police will take any further action if the grooming continues.
Blackburn, in common with many northern towns, is experiencing a huge upsurge in pimping, and it is an unpalatable truth for the authorities – and indeed the police – that many of the newest wave of pimps come from within the Asian community.
Moren til et av de mindreårige ofrene ble eksplisitt fortalt av en representant for politiet at man ikke ønsket å forårsake eventuelle raseopptøyer ved å arrestere pakistanske menn for seksualforbrytelser. Nå vurderer flere familier i samråd med advokater å saksøke politiet for manglende beskyttelse av barn mot seksualforbrytere, noe som i så fall vil resultere i den hittil største sivile rettsaken mot britisk politi.
Mennenes fremgangsmåte viser forøvrig at de er fullt klar over hvilke lover og regler som gjelder for mindreårige piker i Storbritannia:
Gemma cannot remember ever being happy, although her mother, Anni, says she was a contented child until she reached the age of 13. That was the day she fell out of puppy love. It was the day that Amir, her 24-year-old boyfriend, chose to brutally rape her.
The date Gemma was raped was important – Amir, a seasoned pimp, was well aware of the law. If anyone has sex with a girl under 13, there is a strong risk of being arrested for having sex with a minor. Once they reach 13, however, unless the victim makes a complaint to the police, nothing will happen. Recommendations following the Soham murders clearly state that police should arrest in cases where older males have sex with a child under the age of 16.
However, police rarely take action unless the victim complains, thereby allowing the pimps and their customers to act with impunity.
«The abuse these girls suffer is horrendous,» says Aravinda Kosaraju, a researcher at Crop, which has in the past been funded by the Home Office and has recently received a large lottery grant in order to develop its work. «The pimps even use pregnancy as a form of punishment,» says Kosaraju. «We worked with two girls who were made pregnant by customers and then forced to have backstreet abortions.» Crop was founded by the late Irene Ivison, a mother of three who died during a routine operation. Her daughter Fiona, a bright girl from a happy home in Sheffield, was lured by a pimp masquerading as her boyfriend when she was 14. Having been successfully groomed, by the time she was 17 she was dead, murdered by a customer.
Crop researchers have been tracking the pimping gangs for over a decade, and have built up a valuable database of knowledge about the pimping gangs, based on hundreds of stories from parents and victims. However, the pimps are largely able to operate with impunity. «If we had not pushed and pushed about this issue,» says Anni, «I believe that Hussain and Naveed would still be out there, just like my child’s abusers are.»
Til tross for at organisasjoner som Crop har levert massive bevis for at de kriminelle nettverkene hovedsakelig består av menn av pakistansk opprinnelse er det mange som ønsker å se bort fra det ubehagelige faktum, og hevder at hvert tilfelle er enkeltstående. Dette til tross for at politiet på sin side tilsynelatende har vært motvillige til å gripe inn av angivelig frykt for å skade etniske relasjoner.
Mike Cunningham, an assistant chief constable with Lancashire police, says he is aware that several recent cases reported to police in Lancashire have involved Asian men, but that the issue of sexual grooming of young girls is not based solely on race or culture.
«Offenders can and do come from a variety of cultural backgrounds,» says Cunningham, «and we deal with each case on its own individual merit.» He says he is not aware of «any accusations of racism from the accused or their respective communities».
Historically, many of Britain’s pimps have come from immigrant communities – Jews in the early 20th century, Jamaicans and Maltese in the 1950s and ’60s. White, British-born pimps have tended to operate as individuals, rather than within criminal gangs. In recent years, however, young Asian men have been operating in formal, organised networks in the north of England, particularly in the impoverished towns with high unemployment and racial disharmony.
Taxi drivers, shop owners and security guards who work in the shopping arcades where the girls are recruited are also involved, one police officer (who asked not to be named) told me.
«Police seem to be very cautious about this. They fear being branded racist,» says Mohammed Shafiq, the press spokesman for the Ramadhan Foundation, a Muslim youth education charity based in Rochdale.
Shafiq recently tried to address some imams and community leaders, but did not get very far. «They all had a ‘no comment’ policy,» says Shafiq, «but our organisation is clear that it is going on, and that it is linked to drug dealing. We can’t simply blame the BNP.»
I følge uttalelser fra menn i nettverket kommer det frem at den målbevisste utnyttelsen av mindreårige, hvite piker har flere perspektiver enn bare å tjene penger:
As well as simple opportunism, pimping of white females by black and ethnic-minority men can be a type of revenge against whites. «My parents ran a grocery shop,» says Hussein, who admits to being part of the pimping gangs in the late 1990s. «They had hardly any money, even though they worked their backsides off. White people treated them like shit, like they were their servants.» Hussein says he took «great pleasure» in having young white girls at his beck and call, knowing their parents would be out of their minds with worry.
Although Hussein was reported to the police, he was never arrested for any crime, and is now working in Leeds.
Allerede i 2004 fokuserte TV-kanalen Channel 4 i en dokumentar på historien til 2 mødre hvis døtre ble ofre for systematisk hallikvirksomhet fra det pakistanske miljøet i Bradford. Men før programmet ble publisert argumenterte flere anti-rasistiske grupper – blant dem organisasjoner for muslimer og svarte – for at Channel 4`s dokumentar hadde til hensikt å fremme rasisme mot muslimer. Kanalen ble presset til å trekke dokumentaren fra sendeplanen. Også politiet advarte om at programmet kunne fremprovosere forstyrrelser av den offentlig ro og orden.
Mange hevder nå at politiets og hvite liberaleres motvilje mot å erkjenne problematikken har ført til økt risiko for utnyttelse av flere mindreårige piker:
Originally due to be screened in May 2004, three years after the Bradford race riots, the documentary was pulled from the schedule at the request of the West Yorkshire Police. A spokesman at the time said police had found no evidence of the alleged systematic exploitation, and the chief constable of West Yorkshire Police warned Channel 4 that he felt the timing of the programme could contribute to community unrest in Bradford and possibly even provoke public disorder in the city.
A number of families affected by Pakistani pimping gangs have said that police inaction and the refusal of white liberals to acknowledge the problem has resulted in more girls being at risk than ever before. «We are still battling to get recognition that what we are dealing with is organised crime against children,» says Kosaraju.
Sunny Hundal, editor of the online magazine Asians in Media, has followed the phenomenon of Asian pimping gangs. «Although it’s obvious that it’s young, lawless Pakistani boys,» says Hundal, «it’s tricky to make this an issue about race or religion when neither are contributing factors.» However, he does believe some young Asian men «hold very disparaging attitudes towards white girls, thinking they’re ‘easy’».
Undersøkelser har forøvrig vist at det ikke er uvanlig at de pakistanske gjengene indoktrinerer de mindreårige pikene til å tro at alle hvite er rasister. Å inngi pikene skyldfølelse for dette er en del av mennenes metode for å oppnå full kontroll over ofrene, samtidig som pikene får en «ny» identitet ved at hallikene gir dem asiatiske navn:
The pimps are adept at trading on teenage rebellion and use similar methods, according to Crop, of convincing the girls all white people are racist. This is part of the controlling process, to instil guilt in the girls.
«Like most teenagers, I was going through a phase of arguing with my mum,» says Gemma. «Amir told me they didn’t understand me and were racist and ignorant. I believed him.» Gemma was given an Asian name by Amir, and told she had to read the Koran, a story support workers tell me is not uncommon. «They erode the girls’ identities,» says Kosaraju, «to make them more compliant and needy.»