If you wanted to write a drama about child grooming, where would you choose? According to Rotherham Labour MP Sarah Champion, there may have been more than a million white children abused up and down the country by gangs of predatory Muslim Asian men. Bradford, Halifax, Rochdale, Nottingham, Calderdale, there’s plenty of choice.
Take Calderdale where fifteen Muslim Asian men “systematically” groomed and sexually abused teenage girls in Halifax and Bradford between 2009 and 2011. No, Calderdale is too complex. The police had to sift through nearly 60 hours of interviews with the two victims. There were 1,848 statements, 2,963 exhibits and more than 20,000 items of disclosure in what was described as a “complex and lengthy operation”. Worse still, the girls were reported as showing “immense courage and bravery in reporting these matters to the police and in providing evidence”. No, not Calderdale, the victims are not victim enough.
How about Rotherham, where eight Muslim Asian men were jailed for 19 charges, including rape, indecent assault and false imprisonment of girls as young as 13 between 1999 and 2003? Perhaps, but in an April 2017 update on the progress of Operation Stovewood in Rotherham, the investigation initiated after Professor Jay’s damning report, the National Crime Agency report revealed that since September 2016 they have added another 2,955 lines of enquiry, bringing the total up to 14,055. As of April this year there are 58 ‘designated suspects’, 276 separate crimes have been reported and an additional 185 victims have been contacted following interviews with existing victims. Rotherham would be too difficult because the abuses, the grooming, the long line of viciously manipulated young girls traded like pieces of meat by Muslim Asian men have not stopped and there are just too many cases.
Rochdale seems almost perfect, although there are a lot of cases there too. In Rochdale, nine Muslim Asian men were jailed for offences including rape on girls as young as 13 between 2005 and 2008. The ringleader of the grooming gang, Shabir Ahmed, was jailed for 22 years after being convicted of a string of offences including rape in 2012. Three members of the gang were convicted of conspiracy and trafficking for sexual exploitation charges. In December 2013, another five Muslim Asian men were jailed after an investigation into the sexual abuse of a girl was reopened following the exposure of police failings. Between September and October 2014, two girls aged 13 and 15 and a 13-year-old boy were groomed by three Muslim Asian men after repeatedly going missing from care. In 2015, three more Muslim Asian men were sentenced for a string of child sexual offences that took place in Rochdale.
How can you write a drama about those events, you might wonder, without exploring the reasons why it happened? How can you put words on paper without wondering what motivated such inhuman violations, not spontaneous but carefully planned and prepared and executed not solely but in groups over a period of years that is so long that it defies understanding to imagine that it could have been happening on such a scale and for so long without someone stopping it.
The BBC must be given full credit for seemingly attempting the impossible, and the BBC’s new drama series ‘Three Girls’ will show whether they have brought it off. With the declared goal of not giving the English Defence League the chance to “hitch … [our] … wagon opportunistically to anything” and not including anything that “could be used by far-right groups to further their racist agenda”, author Nicole Taylor sets out to dramatise the suffering and misery in a carefully sanitized manner with the same sense of political correctness that was one of the major underlying reasons why these crimes were ignored for so long.
How does she intend to avoid mentioning the largest elephant in the room? How does she avoid the inconvenient truth that a British Muslim male is 170 times more likely to be part of a sex grooming gang than a non-Muslim? That there are no recorded instances of non-Muslims grooming Muslim girls as part of a criminal enterprise? The drama technique is an old one, tried and tested in such more notable works as Schindler’s List and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – give it a personal slant, focus on the victims, their emotions, their suffering and not what is happening to them. Keep it small scale; choose just one case out the many with one, maybe two major characters, and if you can, find a hero or heroine and give the audience something positive to take away from it all. And so it goes; pick just three girls from the 47 victims interviewed and one social services heroine. The villains in the piece, easy; the police are an easy target, as are social services: the great and faceless establishment; they’re a safe target, no-one will complain if you give them the blame.
Who did it? Why did it happen? No need to worry about that, after all we wouldn’t want to open ourselves to accusations of being racist, would we? Or, heavens forbid, Islamophobic. Why these girls then? No problem, call it class. Oh, but don’t mention the words ‘working class’ that might upset some people and might open us up to accusations of being elitist, even snobs. No, let’s keep it neutral, we’ll call it “a certain strata of society” – has a nice academic ring to it, doesn’t it?
The Daily Express reported in August 2016 that the sexual grooming of children is still going on in Rotherham on an “industrial scale”. They have not stopped in Rochdale either but, in the words of Maxine Peake, one of the stars of Three Girls, “steps have been made and things are getting better” … perhaps she and the BBC team are already planning for a sequel next year and another after that, with a ‘return of’ and a ‘resurrection’ follow up planned for the years after that, if the ratings are high enough.
When sentencing the Rochdale groomers, Judge Gerald Clifton said the men – eight of Pakistani origin and one from Afghanistan – treated the girls “as though they were worthless and beyond respect”. He said: “One of the factors leading to that was the fact that they were not part of your community or religion.” Chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips said it was “fatuous” to deny racial and cultural factors.
It is highly unlikely that this BBC drama will mention either the ‘M’ word or the ‘I’ word, but we encourage people to give it a chance. Sadly, we suspect that this drama which is supposed to ‘shine a light on the trauma of sexual ‘grooming’, providing knowledge and understanding for parents and children alike’ will be a missed opportunity if the cultural and religious make-up of the perpetrators is ignored.
Edit on 16 May: It appears that the BBC are depicting criticism of the “Three Girls” series (first episode tonight) as racist with the intention that they can draw on the widespread distaste for racism to disarm all critics as being motivated only by racism.
This is a version of the straw man technique, whereby a phenomenon is described in a way that distorts reality and uses that distortion – rather than the reality – as the basis for attack.