Sarah Champion fuelling sterotypes


Labour’s women’s and equalities spokesperson Sarah Champion was right to resign after her disgraceful column in The Sun newspaper in which she claimed that “Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls.”

By linking those in Newcastle convicted with these sex’s with an entire community Champion is guilty of perpetrating ugly stereotypes. There are echoes of the way African-Caribbean men were painted as ‘muggers’ in the 1970s and 80s.

Both depictions have real-life consequences to the way people from these communities are treated, including discrimination in the jobs market.

Champion, MP for Rotherham, has been a great campaigner against child abuse. Such campaigns are necessary to root out the abusers. But the moment people begin to racialise crime, particularly in this crude way, they not only cheapen important issues but also insult the very communities that they seek to engage.

Child abuse is abhorrent and is still far too common. It is perpetrated by people from all races, communities and faiths. Suggestions that this disgusting crime is a problem only for one community gives abusers from other backgrounds a free pass. And that is a disservice to their victims.

Today the equalities watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, have wrongly weighed in when stating it’s "real shame" that Champion had resigned because of "over-sensitivity about language". Language matters. It frames arguments, defines attitudes, emotions, and people see other races. If the EHRC are unfamiliar with those basics then shame on them. Language can be the key to progress or the spark that ignites latent hate.

The problem is too serious to play to the crowd, as Champion did in the pages of The Sun, and during radio interview. It was almost as though in the bright spot light she lost her own moral bearing. Her piece gave licence to the papers and political commentators such as Trevor Phillips, and former political editor, Trevor Kavanagh, to go even further and claim that Britain has a “Muslim problem.”

Kavanagh was rightly condemned by politicians across the spectrum. The problem is that drawing these battle lines only polarises communities on the issue and makes it harder to seek solutions.

Within the overall problem of child abuse, there is clear evidence of abuse by a tiny minority of men who are of Asian heritage. This subset of abusers are mostly of a Pakistani background. Very few sensible people would deny that, but to frame this debate as an ethnic problem belies a shocking truth that the vast majority of men sexually abusing young women and young boys are white English. To the latter we simply call it criminality, no cultural baggage or ethnic stereotyping, just awful crimes.

Tackling the specific challenge and the general requires working with local communities, the police, social services and other agencies. Rooting out abuse requires investigations, community cooperation, a flow of intelligence, joined-up government, and trust-building. It is about identifying signs and knowing what to do, not just about the predatory gangs, but also the many more predatory individuals.

Nowhere in this mix does hyperbole fit. Stirring up anger and hostility between races is the opposite of what we need. The same is true of child abuse in churches, boarding schools, broadcasters or state institutions.

What can the people who work or live with the abusers do if they suspect or are subject to abuse? Where can they go, who can they talk to? How can we have a difficult conversation without, demonising whole communities. Champion failed to address any of these questions, and instead ‘waved a red flag to the bigoted bulls’.

Lester Holloway