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Adeela Shafi: The media must stop tarnishing whole communities with one brush in its reporting of the horrific sex gangs

Adeela Shafi Adeela Shafi was Conservative candidate for Bristol East at the 2010 general election and is Lecturer in Psychology at the University of the West of England.

Yesterday I travelled up to Oldham to facilitate and co-ordinate several meetings with women encouraging them to use their vote in the upcoming by-election.

However, on my way up I found myself reeling from the horror of the story revealed in The Times (£) on the sexual exploitation of young girls in the north of England, including the Oldham area.  As well as the horror of the crime itself I am also thinking ‘Here we go again. The Muslim tag applied yet again and somehow people will bring it back to Islam’.  Gosh.  Why can’t people see that crimes are committed by people not religions?

Heinous as these crimes are, the Times has accorded it disproportionate space.  I mean, a 5-page spread further creating, reinforcing, encouraging an image that Pakistani men are dangerous.  If they are not terrorists blowing people up, they are terrorising our girls.  How fair is it to label the Pakistani man even further.  Does one particular group really deserve this based on the actions of a few?

What this also reveals, I am sad to say, is a tip of the iceberg, perhaps not just in the crime itself but what it says about our care system.  What made it easy for these men to prey on these girls is numerous ranging from their own profession, the easy access to vulnerable girls as well as a view that, ‘well, these girls don’t have anyone watching over them’.  Even if they did come from decent homes, the Western lifestyle meant that they would still be easily manipulated as there is less parental control.  It is also another prod on the care system as to why these girls are being failed.  ‘In care’ should mean in care.

It is not unusual for men to prey on young girls who lose that protective ring around them. Even in countries where there exist considerable strong and protective family networks, in times of chaos and carnage, such as natural disasters or warfare, men will prey on the vulnerability and the temporary loss of that protective ring.  Surprisingly amidst this chaos these criminals retain an extraordinary sense of calm keen to take advantage of the situation, when they think they might be able to get away with it.

In Yorkshire, a similar mentality has prevailed except that here the looseness of a strong and protective family network for many of these girls has been the loophole.  With vulnerable young girls and nobody looking out for them, coupled with the fact that they were passed around quite tight networks meant that the risk of capture would be much less.  And it was. `

However, I am of the view that if certain types of crime seem to be committed by people from certain groups, then it should be viewed as intelligence to crack that crime not an excuse to leave well alone, nor an excuse to vilify a particular group. 

Perhaps then this attitude of the police and other agencies of ‘let’s not offend’ will finally become out of date.  Because it has been dangerous.  It has become a screen behind which people can hide on both sides.  The criminals as well as those who want to further an agenda of prejudice and damaging stereotypes. 

What is needed is honest action where crimes seem to be disproportionately happening in particular a place or community.

What is needed is for media to be more grown up in understanding its responsibility and considerable influence it holds in shaping the attitudes on the public.

What is needed is for government needs to start caring for the kids in its care so they are not seen as the most vulnerable kids in society and a prey for manipulative, abusive adults whatever their background.

And also what is needed is for communities to be brave enough to look outwards and see that there is more to the four walls of the community, that you can take it upon yourself to ensure that just the criminals are punished, not your entire community. 

I, for one as a woman whose heritage lies within these communities, say loud and clear. Seek and clear these criminals out.  But don’t once again label whole communities with the charge.

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