Blacks do 8 in 10 gang rapes? If so, we should be told

This week, I chaired a discussion show on Channel 4. The current affairs department had commissioned a small independent company, Laurel Productions, to make a 30-minute documentary on young people's sexuality.

The programme drifted into dangerous territory: gang rape. And it stated that juvenile blacks were the biggest culprits. Black youths aged 12-17, the programme tried to establish, are responsible for the rape of black girls. A trawl through the courts revealed that, in 80 per cent of the cases of gang rape, the defendants are black. The victims did not appear but actors were used for reconstruction, which only served to heighten the drama.

Further, it portrayed most of the cases taking place on my home turf, Brixton. Young women were hijacked from bus stops, taken to homes or to filthy common spaces on council estates and raped time and time again. One girl claimed that she was unable to walk for a month thereafter.

Laurel Productions spared no detail. This is the most delicate area of race relations imaginable. The producers could have made a different programme, perhaps on gang rape in general, without focusing specifically on blacks. They chose not to. They went in our faces, as it were, and the programme and the producers were perfectly entitled to go down that road.

Channel 4, finding that it now stood knee-deep in controversy on race, called me in to chair an impromptu discussion on the programme and invited a former commissioning editor, Farrukh Dhondy, to be the executive producer. The participants were a small, tight group of the black intelligentsia in the main plus a representative of the offending programme who could not be blamed if she thought that Channel 4 had thrown her to the wolves.

Chris Boothman from the Commission for Racial Equality was the wolf in chief. He was supported by Tony Sewell, columnist of the Voice, and, albeit more gently, by Donu Kogbara, a freelance journalist who felt that a black independent should have made the programme.

The other women in the discussion, young Caribbeans, would not have any of it: they rejected the arguments that the programme would send out the wrong signals to the white community, that it was a smear and that it was atypical of the hundreds and thousands of young blacks who did not rape.

By the end of the evening, the entire panel seemed to agree that Channel 4 was right to show the film; there were still arguments over how it was made but these were mere quibbles.

I had three very specific interests in all this. First, I have often championed the cause of young blacks over the years. Second, I am the father of a juvenile. Third, I live in the heart of the black community in Brixton and I am very likely to see the parents, the victims and the convicted rapists in the course of any week. Nevertheless, I say: broadcast and be damned. As readers of this column know, I give little quarter to those who beat the racial drum. I expected huge opposition to my views. It has not materialised.

Anyone who is bringing up children in the inner city, particularly if they are male, will face the absolute horror of what their lives are and will be. They will face death by the blade or the gun. The statistics on this speak volumes. Schools are dreadful, inner-city filth recalls the degeneration of urban life in the developing world. There is nothing for these children in or out of school. I offer to take any reader to places set up by Lambeth council for young people. Apart from anything else, they are physically filthy: there is a complete absence of facilities and ample opportunity to gather in pursuit of the salacious, the vicious and the nefarious.

As I stood in the studio denouncing those young rapists, I held in my mind how miserable inner-city life has become for them and their parents. Allah be praised.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 20 November 1998 issue of the New Statesman, A prejudice as American as apple pie