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'Patriarchal attitudes need challenging in all communties'

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Local government minister Kris Hopkins last week used an LGC interview to claim patriarchy in Asian communities was a “root cause” of much child abuse.

Speaking in the aftermath of the Rotherham child abuse scandal, the minister called for more respect for women and girls within some communities.

“The way that the abusers are brought up to not respect women and girls the same as they treat boys and men in the community, there’s something fundamentally wrong there and that needs to be challenged,” he said.

Professor Alexis Jay’s report into the Rotherham scandal said the majority of perpetrators were described as Asian by victims. However, it reports several staff “described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist”.

LGC last week contacted a range of community cohesion and child care experts to discuss Mr Hopkins’ views. Dealing with the ethnic and religious identity of abusers is clearly a sensitive subject and one that many are still uncomfortable about discussing. A number of Asian and Muslim community organisations were invited to contribute to this article, but failed to respond, despite being given two days in which to do so.

The Muslim Women’s Network UK did comment but focused on how in many child abuse cases vulnerable Asian girls are the victims. Faeeza Vaid, the network’s executive director, said: “I think respect is an issue across the board. These crimes happen in all communities.  

“The point that [the minister] is getting at is that there is a particular problem in some Asian communities. There are issues about honour and shame in some communities and the threatening of victims in ways that are different [for Muslim girls] than for white people. I do think young Muslim girls face additional challenges and threats.”

Ted Cantle, who led the Labour government’s Community Cohesion Review, said Mr Hopkins was right to challenge patriarchy, but said it was wrong to “just focus on one community”. Mr Cantle, a founder of the Institute for Community Cohesion, said: “This, again, will just make them a suspect community for child abuse, just as [the] Prevent [Strategy] has made Muslims a suspect community for extremism.”

“I would have thought that it is obvious to anyone that child abuse is all too prevalent in all communities,” Mr Cantle continued. “We are still going through the remnants of the Savile investigations. Sex abuse is unfortunately there across all communities. Patriarchy and disrespect for women is also prevalent across all communities.”

He continued: “So rather than just stereotyping the Muslim community, we need to be working with those sections of all communities that understand these issues to stamp out these disgusting practices. Stereotyping has just not been helpful.”

Lorraine Radford, professor of social policy and social work at the University of Central Lancashire, conceded that the involvement of Muslim Asian men in some of the most notorious child abuse cases may have contributed to such issues not being confronted rapidly enough.

One of the reasons that such cases had not come to light sooner, she acknowledged, was “the fear of offending community sensitivities and not being willing to address this head on”.

“Attitudes need to change, of course, but that is not confined to Asian communities. Professionals are sometimes unwilling to confront the issues.”

Professor Radford, a former head of research at children’s charity NSPCC, argued councils needed to take a lead in tackling patriarchal domination across all of society, adding that she was not sure whether they had done enough to shift attitudes on the issue.

“They need to address this with children in schools, to challenge attitudes as they develop. They need to put child abuse on the agenda. They need to be reaching out to communities. They need to use government websites and signpost to children the available resources [to support them].”

Abuse was “a problem across all sectors of society” and it was “not specific to Asian society that there are poor attitudes to women”.  “It’s not just Asian people who exploit children,” she said. “It’s just as common in white British society.”

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