Demonising British Pakistanis

Braverman’s sweeping characterisation does a hatchet job on British Pakistani men in general, majority of whom are innocent of such crimes

Mary Hunter
British Home Secretary Suella Braverman. — AFP/File
British Home Secretary Suella Braverman. — AFP/File

Many Brits woke up on Sunday morning to discover that our Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, was trending on Twitter.

Braverman said in an interview with Sophy Ridge that we’ve seen a “practice whereby vulnerable white English girls, sometimes in care, sometimes who are in challenging circumstances, [are] being pursued and raped and drugged and harmed by gangs of British Pakistani men, who’ve worked in child abuse rings or networks.”

That state institutions and the police “turn a blind eye to these signs of abuse out of political correctness, out of fear of being called racist” and that, as a result, “thousands of children have had their childhoods robbed and devastated.” She described many of these perpetrators as remaining free and “running wild.”

However, the presenter challenged Braverman for singling out Pakistanis, citing the Home Office report in 2020 that found that grooming gangs are “most commonly white” and, despite the high-profile cases relating to British Pakistanis, links between ethnicity and this form of offending “could not be proven.”

To this, Braverman replied by naming the reports into the high-profile case of Rotherham and saying that there have been “several reports since” about the “predominance of certain ethnic groups, and I say British Pakistani males, who hold cultural values totally at odds with British values to see women in a demeaned and illegitimate way, and pursue an outdated and frankly heinous approach in terms of the way they behave.”

It might be implicit to such characterisations that “cultural values” be read as “Islamic values,” given the racialised perceptions of religiousness in the UK, but also the wider presentation of grooming as perpetrated by British Pakistani Muslims.

The case of Rotherham is the most high-profile relating to British Pakistani men as perpetrators of child sexual exploitation (asking for sex from children in return for a place to stay, gifts or affection). 

A report written by Professor Alexis Jay published in 2014 found that, between 1997 and 2013, at least 1,400 children were subjected to sexual exploitation in Rotherham and that men of Pakistani heritage were the “majority of perpetrators,” but that there was some denial within the community to this effect. However, even this report conceded that white men are the main perpetrators of child sexual exploitation in the UK.

Therefore, it should not be denied that child sexual exploitation has been a significant issue within specific British Pakistani, and British Asian, communities. But the problem with Braverman’s characterisation is that she simplifies the complex issue and realities of national child sexual exploitation in two main ways.

Firstly, she suggests it is predominantly perpetrated by British Pakistani men against white girls and, secondly, she implies that child sexual exploitation is a British Pakistani problem, as opposed to a wider problem perpetrated by different ethnic communities within the UK.

Moreover, Braverman suggests that this is predominantly a problem of British Pakistani men sexually exploiting “white English girls,” but this flies in the face of the reports she mentions. 

In the aforementioned report written by Jay, for example, it states how British Pakistani girls and women have also been subjected to sexual exploitation and that it is a “myth” that Asian males only target white girls and women for some racialised motive. Such myths work to fuel the interracial fires fanned by far-right groups.

Indeed, Aaron Winter, a senior lecturer whose research focuses on the far-right and racism, tweeted that Braverman: “Repeats the same racist far right narrative. It has many functions: signals how emboldened the govt are; signals to the far right the restraints are off; signals to targeted communities they're targets; & displaces people's material concerns & govt crises. Doesn't protect victims.”

Also, Braverman refers to the “predominance of certain ethnic groups”, meaning “British Pakistani males,” in the context of child sexual exploitation (CSE). As the Home Office report published in 2020 states, men of Pakistani ethnicity were mainly involved in such offences in Rotherham and also in the investigations into a specific group in Rochdale and convictions in Telford.

But it crucially states that, beyond these high-profile cases, “the academic literature highlights significant limitations to what can be said about links between ethnicity and this form of offending. Research has found that group-based CSE offenders are most commonly white.”

Ethnicities of offenders “varied considerably” and “the data was not sufficiently robust to allow for comparisons to be made in terms of proportions across these groups.”

Indeed, in response to Braverman’s interview, Nazir Afzal, solicitor and former Chief Prosecutor, said in a tweet: “Suella Braverman knows that 84% of child sex offenders are white British, but chooses to focus on those who are not.” 

Braverman not only exclusively singled out British Pakistanis, but she connected the behaviour of British Pakistani males in grooming gangs with sexist and outdated cultural values held by that specific community. This is problematic in a number of ways, especially because Braverman creates a dichotomy between good British values and bad outdated British Pakistani cultural values.

Emphasis on cultural values external to British values as a factor influencing such crimes also causes a lack of introspection into what values common in Britain are contributing to sexism and child sex offences. 

As a British woman, my own experiences and those of many women I know anecdotally, as well as research-based reports into workplaces (like the NHS and the Metropolitan Police) and social media, suggest that sexism and the demeaning of women and girls is a widespread problem in the UK. 

This is not to say that sexism and child sex offences are not an issue in Pakistan, they are, but offences in the UK should not be dismissed as a problem exclusively imported from Pakistan. We must also reflect on why and how British culture emboldens the demeaning and grooming of girls and women.

Braverman’s characterisation is not only a simplification of these offences, but it also demonises British Pakistani men in general, the majority of whom are innocent of such crimes, which will in turn likely lead to an increase in anti-Pakistani hate crimes. 

It is worth noting the recent sentencing of Eleanor Williams in this context, who falsely accused men of rape and trafficking her into an ‘Asian’ grooming gang. As a result of these false allegations, two local Indian restaurants had windows broken and their owners were spat at in the streets.

According to Sky News, over 150 crimes were committed as a result of Williams’ claims. This is not to say that all allegations against British Asian men are false, as the high-profile cases attest, nor should such cases be used to invalidate or dismiss the real experiences women and girls have had at the hands of sex offenders and groomers. 

But it demonstrates how drawing a connection between a specific ethnicity and child sex offences, especially without factual evidence, can have implications for their wider community, but also for national inter-racial relations. Not to mention even international relations with the Asian countries related to these diasporas.

The writer is a researcher and is currently undertaking a PhD. She tweets @MaryFloraHunter.