A teenage girl, who claims to be a victim of sexual abuse and alleged grooming, poses in Rotherham (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
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Nazir Afzal: Rotherham scandal is about male power, not ethnicity

Nazir Afzal, the CPS’s lead on child sexual abuse, suggests that the victims were targeted due to their vulnerability, and not because they were white.

In light of the recent Rotherham Scandal, Nazir Afzal, the Crown Prosecution Service’s lead on child sexual abuse and violence against women and girls, suggests that the media hysteria about the perpetrators’ ethnicity is misleading.

Some residents proposed that diffidence around confronting the racial aspects of the abuse - the fact that the majority of the perpetrators were men of Pakistani descent – caused authorities to turn a blind eye. This led Home Secretary Theresa May to announce in parliament that the government would consider specifically investigating whether “institutionalized political correctness" – that is, the fear of being labeled racist - could also be to blame for why the sex abuse cases were inadequately dealt with.

Afzal suggests taking a more nationwide perspective on the issue and remains skeptical about whether a culture of “political correctness”, as alluded to in the report, caused the authorities to ignore the child abuse accusations.

In an interview with the Guardian he says:

So I know that the vast majority of offenders are British white male. We have come across cases all over the country and the ethnicity of the perpetrators varies depending on where you are … It is not the abusers’ race that defines them. It is their attitude to women that defines them.”

“I don’t want to play it down. The ethnicity of these perpetrators is what it is. It is a matter of fact. It is an issue that has to be addressed by the state, and the authorities and the community – but it’s important to contextualise this”

He explains that the media attention devoted to child abuse is inconsistent and  goes on to describe his experience working with the legal team on the Rochdale grooming case, back in 2012, which also involved Asian male perpetrators:

 A few weeks after the Rochdale case, we dealt with a case of 10 white men in North Yorkshire who had been abusing young girls, and they were all convicted and they got long sentences. It didn’t get the level of coverage”

Afzal proposes a practical explanation for involvement of Asian men in grooming scandals, and suggests that the victims were targeted due to their vulnerability, and not because they were white. Their vulnerability caused them to seek out “warmth, love, transport, mind-numbing substances, drugs, alcohol and food.” He explains:

Who offers those things? In certain parts of the country, the place they go is the night-time economy. Where you have Pakistani men, Asian men, disproportionately employed in the night-time economy, they are going to be more involved in this kind of activity than perhaps white men are. We keep hearing people talk about a problem in the north and the Midlands, and that’s where you have lots of minicab drivers, lots of people employed in takeaways, from that kind of background. If you have a preponderance of Asians working in those fields, some of that number, a very small number of those people, will take advantage of the girls who have moved into their sphere of influence. It’s tragic.”

“There is no religious basis for this. These men were not religious. Islam says that alcohol, drugs, rape and abuse are all forbidden, yet these men were surrounded by all of these things. So how can anyone say that these men were driven by their religion to do this kind of thing?

“They were doing this horrible, terrible stuff, because of the fact that they are men. That’s sadly what the driver is here. This is about male power. These young girls have been manipulated and abused because they were easy prey for evil men.”

 

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What Brussels can learn from the Italian referendum

Matteo Renzi's proposed reforms would have made it easier for eurosceptic forces within Italy to gain power in upcoming elections in 2018.

The Austrian presidential elections can justifiably be claimed as a victory for supporters of the European Union. But the Italian referendum is not the triumph for euroscepticism some have claimed.

In Austria, the victorious candidate Alexander van der Bellen ruthlessly put the EU centre stage in his campaign. “From the beginning I fought and argued for a pro-European Austria,” he said after a campaign that saw posters warning against “Öxit”.

Austrians have traditionally been eurosceptic, only joining the bloc in 1995, but Brexit changed all that.  Austrian voters saw the instability in the UK and support for EU membership soared. An overwhelming majority now back continued membership.

Van der Bellen’s opponent Norbert Hofer was at an immediate disadvantage. His far right Freedom Party has long pushed for an Öxit referendum.

The Freedom Party has claimed to have undergone a Damascene conversion but voters were not fooled.  They even blamed Nigel Farage for harming their chances with an interview he gave to Fox News claiming that the party would push to leave the EU.

The European Commission, as one would expect, hailed the result. “Europe was central in the campaign that led to the election of a new president and the final result speaks for itself,” chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas said today in Brussels.

“We think the referendum in Italy was about a change to the Italian constitution and not about Europe,” Schinas added.

Brussels has a history of sticking its head in the sand when it gets political results it doesn’t like.

When asked what lessons the Commission could learn from Brexit, Schinas had said the lessons to be learnt were for the government that called the referendum.

But in this case, the commission is right. The EU was a peripheral issue compared to domestic politics in the Italian referendum.

Alberto Alemanno is Jean Monnet Professor of EU Law and an Italian. He said the reforms would have been vital to modernise Italy but rejected any idea it would lead to an Italian Brexit.

“While anti-establishment and eurosceptic actors are likely to emerge emboldened from the vote, interpreting the outcome of the Italian referendum as the next stage of Europe’s populist, anti-establishment movement – as many mainstream journalists have done – is not only factually wrong, but also far-fetched.”

Renzi was very popular in Brussels after coming to power in a palace coup in February 2014. He was a pro-EU reformer, who seemed keen to engage in European politics.

After the Brexit vote, he was photographed with Merkel and Hollande on the Italian island of Ventotene, where a landmark manifesto by the EU’s founding fathers was written.

This staged communion with the past was swiftly forgotten as Renzi indulged in increasingly virulent Brussels-bashing over EU budget flexibility in a bid to shore up his plummeting popularity. 

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker even publicly reprimanded Renzi for demonising the EU.

Renzi’s vow to resign personalised the referendum. He gave voters a chance to give him a bloody nose when his popularity was at an all-time low.

Some of the reforms he wanted were marked “to be confirmed”.  The referendum question was astonishingly verbose and complex. He was asking for a blank cheque from the voters.

Ironically Renzi’s reforms to the constitution and senate would have made it easier for the eurosceptic Five Star Movement to gain power in upcoming elections in 2018.

For reasons best known to themselves, they campaigned against the changes to their own disadvantage.

Thanks to the reforms, a Five Star government would have found it far easier to push through a “Quitaly” referendum, which now seems very distant.  

As things stand, Five Star has said it would push for an advisory vote on membership of the euro but not necessarily the EU.

The Italian constitution bans the overruling of international treaties by popular vote, so Five Star would need to amend the constitution. That would require a two thirds majority in both houses of parliament and then another referendum on euro membership. Even that could be blocked by one of the country’s supreme courts.

The Italian referendum was closely watched in Brussels. It was hailed as another triumph for euroscepticism by the likes of Farage and Marine Le Pen. But Italians are far more likely to be concerned about the possibility of financial turbulence, which has so far been mildly volatile, than any prospect of leaving the EU in the near future.

James Crisp is the news editor at EurActiv.com.