The “root cause” of child sexual exploitation will not be tackled unless there is a greater willingness to challenge a “patriarchal culture” in some communities, local government minister Kris Hopkins has said.
In an LGC interview, Mr Hopkins said he believed the “vast majority” of local authorities and community leaders were “addressing” child sexual exploitation. He spoke frankly in the wake of the Rotherham scandal that emerged last month, when an independent report found 1,400 children had been abused in the town between 1997 and 2013.
“The bit that I’m fearful of is, we look after the children, we pursue the [perpetrators] but we don’t actually solve the root cause of this,” Mr Hopkins said.
“Some of this is around patriarchal culture where equality and the respect of women is not embedded.
“I hear lots of people shouting at me now saying, ‘it says in the Quran, it says this’, but I’m sorry, the people who are going out there gang raping children at this moment in time, the level of abuse that’s going on, and 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.”
Mr Hopkins, the MP for Keighley in West Yorkshire and a former leader of Bradford MDC, said: “I look at my own district and the amount of people who’ve been arrested, been pursued over this.
“You think, as well as the institutions, now is the time – and perhaps the time should have been last year or 10 years ago – that we challenge the behaviour of men within certain communities.
“I think about the way women are treated, I think about a very patriarchal system which I find within my own Kashmiri Pakistani community. This is not about pointing a finger [or] my motivation being racial or from a position of hatred or anything like that, it’s about what value set allows individuals to believe that this activity on this scale is appropriate.
“I want those young boys and girls who are growing up in those communities to have a real sense around equality and I think fundamentally there are some cultural issues that need to be challenged there as well as the institutional mechanisms that are put in place.”
Mr Hopkins declined to comment specifically on the Rotherham case, saying he would wait for the result of an investigation being carried out by the head of the government’s troubled families programme Louise Casey.
However, he said: “Each local authority will need to ask itself: has it got mechanisms in place to make sure that when a child or a parent or a carer or a teacher or a police officer comes forward with suspicions, accusations, they’ve got a mechanism that those individuals first of all are a priority, that those young people are listened to, that those institutions do not hide behind political correctness.?
“I say this as somebody who led Bradford, which is an extremely diverse community. Those children deserve the right and appropriate mechanism.”
Mr Hopkins said there was a risk that discussing cultures in the way he described could provoke a reaction from far-right groups. However, he said: “I think the EDL [the far-right protest group English Defence League] came to my town the year before last. Their activity was about trying to promote, encourage more hatred between communities…
“What we shouldn’t do is be fearful of those thugs coming to a town, and that stopping or blighting the debate about some of the difficult conversations we should have.
“That’s the difficult bit. People need to be confident about it, because the rape of children is clearly wrong and not addressing that because I’m fearful of a group of racists coming to my town is a complete betrayal of those children even further.”
This is the second part of LGC’s interview with Mr Hopkins, which took place at the LGC Summit.