There is rightly a lot of sound and fury about a report into the systematic abuse of some 1400 girls and young women by mostly Pakistani men in Rotherham. Indeed, as the author of the report made clear when interviewed, the 1400 figure is a 'conservative estimate'. And the report doesn't pull its punches, at least in setting out the failings of the political and social services leadership and management in Rotherham nor are we dealing with something minor or marginal:
In just over a third of cases, children affected by sexual exploitation were previously known to services because of child protection and neglect. It is hard to describe the appalling nature of the abuse that child victims suffered. They were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten, and intimidated. There were examples of children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone. Girls as young as 11 were raped by large numbers of male perpetrators.
The Report is clear that the problem continues today - that the authorities are more aware seems to be a matter of external pressure rather than a committed attempt by those authorities to face up to a serious problem within their town and, specifically, within one particular community in Rotherham.
My concern is that, while the Rotherham case is especially shocking because of its scale, the nature of the crimes and the manner of the abuse is repeated elsewhere. We have seen similar reports from Keighley, from Preston, from East Lancashire, in Derby, in Oxford and in Luton. All of these cases involve mostly Pakinstani men - primarily in their 20s but also men in their 30s and 40s, married with their own families - targeting vulnerable teenage girls, plying them with alcohol and drugs and taking them to 'parties' where they are raped and abused.
I don't know enough about the Pakistani community to understand how this behaviour has come about - I have Pakistani friends who are as shocked and horrified, perhaps even more so, as I am over these reports and events. There seems almost to a be a form of omerta here, an unwillingness to speak out, to point accusing fingers at the reasons for the problem arising.
However, there is no doubt that that failures identified in the Rotherham Report have made matters worse. It appears - again I don't know whether this is the case elsewhere but I suspect it is - that management within the police and social services were unwilling to respond for fear of being accused of prejudice and racism. Even now, when the scale of Rotherham's problems are made clear, there are people falling over themselves to deny that there is a specific problem within the Pakistani community in that town. This sort of response does not protect the girls and young women involved and does no favours to either 'community cohesion' or the Pakistani communities in the UK.
It's true that the sexual exploitation of girls and young women isn't solely an issue for the Pakistani community- we've seen the extent of Operation Yewtree and other examinations into historic allegations of abuse. And we read of other abuses, often organised abuses. But this form of abuse - targeting girls and young women, plying them with drink and drugs and then sharing the victims round like playthings - has been all too frequent among Pakistani communities. Not just among young men captivated by gangster culture but, just as with other child abuse in the wider community, among otherwise respectable men in their 30s and 40s.
I'm reluctant to call for enquiries - most often they serve either to push the issue into the fog of the future or else to provide a platform for the worst sort of human rights lawyers to make a load of cash. But, given the number of similar cases from right across the country, it would seem worth considering whether an enquiry would help both the professionals dealing with the problem and the Pakistani communities to develop a more effective response to these 'grooming' cases.
In the end though, the real lesson is that those authorities charged with protecting children and young people from abuse are too often simply not up to the job. A combination of that politically-correct fear of racism accusations and the preference of senior management for meetings to discuss strategies has resulted in front line officers who feel unable to act quickly, effectively and robustly when they know abuse is happening.