The abuse of abuse

It is the social decay caused by capitalism, not race, that leads to acts of horror, says Paul Demarty.

It is the most tantalising myth to circulate around the far right in the last decade - the notion that there exist gangs of Muslims who groom and sexually abuse vulnerable young white women. It is the perfect combination of suspicion of ‘outsiders’, on the one hand, and that neurotic obsession with the sexual innocence of children, which fills the other half of the Daily Mail mind, on the other. No enraged petty bourgeois could fail to be seduced.

A TV documentary that incidentally referred to the practice 10 years ago was seized upon at the time by British National Party fuhrer Nick Griffin as a de facto party-political broadcast in the run-up to some election or other; the issue has lurked at the back of the far-right imagination for quite some time, recently resurfacing in more comic form as the “Muslamic rape gangs” YouTube meme.[1]

Nothing comical about the scenes at Liverpool Crown Court last week. Nine men were convicted of offences ranging from trafficking up to rape, concerning their treatment of a series of adolescent girls in Rochdale. Many of the girls were in vulnerable situations, having either run away from home or been taken into care. That was national news anyway - but the headline-grabber is that all the nine men are Asian, hailing from majority Muslim countries and communities, and all the women concerned are white.

The ‘racial’ or ‘cultural’ angle has been chucked around like the proverbial hot potato. Gerald Clifton, the judge, explicitly referred to it in his summing up: “I believe that one of the factors that led to [these crimes] was that [the victims] were not of your community or religion.”[2]

This seems to have irked the police, who were very keen that this should not be seen as a racially motivated crime. Partly this is self-interest - the offenses were committed not only in Rochdale, but Oldham - the latter previously the site of race riots; the cops will not want a repeat due to heightened racial tensions. The police statements were also partly a defence against the idea, floated by some, that prosecutions were not pursued earlier in deference to Muslim sensibilities.

Hidden agendas

Of all the people in the world to dismiss that perspective, one might not expect Trevor Phillips - chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission quango - to step up. Yet he was widely reported as saying that ignoring the race angle was “fatuous”.

Of the greater Manchester Asian community that produced the perpetrators, he said: “These are closed communities essentially and I worry that in these communities there are people who knew what was going on and didn’t say anything, either because they’re frightened or because they’re so separated from the rest of the communities they think, ‘Oh, that’s just how white people let their children carry on. We don’t need to do anything.’”[3]

Phillips, indeed, is a curious character. He is a Blairite of the old school, and has chaired the EHRC - and its principal predecessor, the Commission for Racial Equality - since 2003. This bloated bureaucracy is a gaping money-hole for the government, with many commissioners raking in six figures, and a hotbed of cronyism. Phillips, meanwhile, can hardly be said to be a bulwark against racism, repeatedly trotting out the hoary old ‘multiculturalism has failed’ line that has served British chauvinists of all hues for the last decade.

Multiculturalism is, indeed, worthy of forthright opposition (contra Socialist Workers Party comrades); but his is the reactionary critique of Tony Blair, David Cameron and the rest. Emphasising the race angle thus serves a double purpose for Phillips - it shores up his reactionary political agenda, and makes an implicit argument for feeding still more public money into his pathetic bureaucratic fiefdom.

Alas, most of the commentary on this case is of a similar type - it amounts to the cynical manipulation of truly disturbing crimes for the purposes of the limited, partial agendas of various sectional political and charitable causes, all competing for a limited supply of media attention and bourgeois largesse.

Thus we find the second major ‘angle’ on the affair. This can be glimpsed, in the first instance, in the response of a certain sort of feminist, best exemplified by The Guardian’s indefatigable Julie Bindel. She argues essentially that the organised grooming of young girls for rape is a widespread practice, of which the Rochdale Nine are simply the tip of the iceberg.[4]

Another variant of the same argument comes from children’s charities. One Jacqui Montgomery-Devlin, a Belfast Barnardos bureaucrat, told the Belfast Telegraph that sexual exploitation is rife in “every town and city across Northern Ireland ... [Girls] are invited to houses, given drugs and alcohol, and then return home or to care homes intoxicated or under the influence of substances.” She cited cases involving girls as young as 10.[5]

It should be said that these viewpoints are not entirely without merit. Yet the behaviour of single-issue political lobbies should counsel caution against the general argument - that organised exploitation of young women is everywhere, right under our noses. We have already had years of horror stories about ‘people-trafficking’ - comprehensively rubbished by Nick Davies in The Guardian over two years ago,[6] which nonetheless continues to publish such scare stories. Before that, there was the now notorious international ‘satanic ritual abuse’ scare, which resulted only in genuine abuse of the purported victims by the quack psychotherapists who pushed the agenda.

In perspective

The truth is most likely both less scandalous and more worrying than the various forms of hysteria that have built up around the Rochdale affair.

Less scandalous: the various ‘angles’ above have not been shown to be substantial in any real way, and, as I have argued, should be treated with scepticism. There is little evidence that packs of men operate in this way on a mass basis; for the likes of Julie Bindel, that will only ever be because the crimes are not reported to police, but the more mundane truth may be that it simply does not happen all that much. (That it happens at all, of course, is quite bad enough.)

As for the racial politics of it: the nine men may have self-justified their activities on the basis of contempt for whites. That, however, is purely superficial. The more compelling drive is strictly libidinal - these damaged individuals get off on exploitative sexual intercourse, and such a twisted, unconscious relationship to women will always find a vocabulary and a particular contingent form for itself, be it religious, racial or whatever.

The truth is more worrying, indeed, precisely because the roots of this phenomenon are deeper, and more interconnected with other ‘negative externalities’ of contemporary society, than the superficial analyses on offer make out. There is, first of all, the fact that patriarchy is subject to (cautious) disapproval from official ideology these days, but persists as a social form nonetheless. The proprietorial attitude of men to women and children tends to become repressed - and the repressed returns in unpredictable and often horrific ways.

Then there is the matter that nobody wants to talk about at all - these crimes happened in Rochdale and Oldham, hardly the plushest boroughs of Greater Manchester. While Manchester as a whole has, in recent years, weathered the widening of the north-south divide relatively well, the long-term processes of deindustrialisation and social decay have an impact there, too.

There are two consequences relevant here - a build-up, in the perpetrators, of a resentment of society in general, that may manifest itself as nihilistic violence; and also an expanding population of vulnerable individuals, ripe for abuse. The background here is more sharply visible in a previous case, which saw two children sadistically torture two others in the ex-mining village of Edlington, which led to yet another Janus-faced jeremiad about ‘broken Britain’ from David Cameron,[7] but it provides an important part of the atmosphere here too.

This is why the various official perspectives on the Rochdale case are inadequate - they are partial, and lead only to worthless suggestions as to how to prevent such things happening in the future. The major clamour is for yet another shake-up in social services: more ‘intervention’, closer management of teenagers in care, and so on. Yet cooping people up permanently in halfway houses and watching them every second of the day is hardly conducive to their learning to lead a full, independent life. The problems here are tortuously complex, and resist simple bureaucratic ‘corrections’ of this kind.

The real solution - which is by no means an easy thing to achieve - is to halt and reverse the general social decay that is happening under capitalism, and dissipating the resultant social atmosphere, where lingering patriarchal structures and racial tensions can result in behaviour like that of the nine men. The workers’ movement has powerful traditions of building a collective life through its organisations - economic, political and cultural - which could stand in stark contrast to the spiritual decrepitude of capitalism. These traditions, unfortunately, are in abeyance.

As long as class society persists, we can be certain: there will be more such horrors to come.



1 . www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYd9qbRz2fc.

2 . Manchester Evening News May 9.

3 . The Daily Telegraph May 14.

4 . The Guardian May 9.

5 . The Belfast Telegraph May 14.

6 . The Guardian October 20 2009.

7 . See D Douglass, ‘Who broke it, Cameron?’ Weekly Worker January 28 2010.