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Rotherham represents the failure of old-style multicultural policies

Ted Cantle
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Sexism and racism have been allowed to work together, says the Institute of Community Cohesion’s founder

The ‘Equality Implications’ sections in Rotherham MBC committee reports into child sexual abuse should have made interesting reading. But it is not clear that they were ever written, or if they were, they said nothing of value.

In fact, the council seemed to pretend that ethnicity was of no concern; and gender implications did not seem to exist either – despite the fact that the abuse was carried out almost entirely by ‘Asian’ men against white girls.

For the most part, local authorities recognise ethnic, faith, gender and other differences where such differences appear to reinforce a disadvantage. For example, if black Caribbean boys are doing less well at school, positive action programmes are devised and the support of the local community is sought. No one suggests that this process in any way labels the whole black Caribbean community as ‘failures’. Rather, positive role models are found, negative stereotyping is challenged and poor aspirations are turned round.

But when some aspect of a minority community – even just a small section – is seen as problematic, suddenly the corporate blinkers are employed, as though recognition and publicity will somehow stigmatise the entire community. This approach can have appalling results.

First, the problem just continues – and, in the case of Rotherham, the victims increased from a few hundred when first researched to over 1,400. Second, other communities notice that nothing has been done and obviously see this as unjust, giving fuel to any racist sentiment. And third, it is based on an assumption that the entire community would be offended by the suggestion of wrongdoing by some of their members.

The irony is that, these completely misguided attempts at avoiding charges of racism are themselves inherently racist. Not only do they result in differential treatment but, by the assumption that offence would be caused, they are suggesting that most members of that community – in this case the Pakistani-heritage community – would wish to defend the statutory rape and abuse of 1,400 girls.

Some commentators suggest that “this is political correctness gone mad”, but that is too simple. It represents the failure of old-style multicultural policies that sought to defend any action by any part of minority communities even when they were clearly contrary to basic human rights.

Only this year the government finally criminalised forced marriage and, for the first time, has written to all schools urging them to be more vigilant against female genital mutilation because the law of many years standing had simply not been enforced. Jasvinder Sanghera of Karma Nirvana, the organisation that campaigns against forced marriage, says that this is because too many statutory agencies say ‘we’ ignore these issues because it is what ‘they’ do.

It is women and girls who have borne the brunt of this approach. And in the case of Rotherham the police apparently failed to intervene because they took the view that the girls concerned were consenting. Sexism and racism has clearly been allowed to work together in this case.

One explanation of the Rotherham failure provided by the recent report is that “throughout the entire period, councillors did not engage directly with the Pakistani-heritage community to discuss how best they could jointly address the issue”.

And even had they done so, their contacts seemed to be limited to the community ‘gatekeepers’, generally older and male, rather than women and younger people. Giving voice to wider representation will certainly help in future.

But, the government too has buried its head in the sand and seems intent on leaving all community cohesion issues to local communities, rather than offering any leadership, support and guidance. Some local authorities have excellent equalities records and local government has often led the way in the past.

But we urgently need a series of new initiatives to ensure that improvement and development is a continuous – and challenging – process, which ensures that there are no more local ‘Rotherhams’.

Ted Cantle, founder, the Institute of Community Cohesion

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