Sexual grooming victims: Is there Sikh code of silence?

Victim in silhouette One 15-year-old victim says her mother warned her against going to the police

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Six men were jailed at Leicester Crown Court last week for offences including facilitating child prostitution. The convictions are being heralded as a legal landmark because it is the first high-profile case involving a Sikh victim of sexual abuse which has led to convictions in the UK.

However, Inside Out London has uncovered evidence that there are potentially dozens of other young Sikh victims of sexual exploitation and few of these cases have come to court.

The Sikh Awareness Society (SAS), a charity which focuses on family welfare, claims it has investigated more than 200 reports of child sexual grooming in the UK over the past five years, many involving Muslim men.

However, there are no official statistics to support this claim, because incidents of sexual abuse featuring Sikh minors are rarely reported to the authorities.

Start Quote

There is quite a way to go in terms of police forces around the country waking up to the fact that there are ethnic minority victims of sexual abuse”

End Quote Sue Berelowitz Deputy Children's Commissioner for England

According to Det Supt David Sandall of Leicestershire Police, "when it comes to faith-based communities' sexual abuse is woefully under-reported. We know it is going on but it is difficult to launch investigations when the victims and their families are refusing to talk.

"We want more victims to come forward because we are here to help."

The reason Sikhs rarely reveal incidents of abuse to the authorities has to do with family honour.

"Our community is very honour based," says Mohan Singh of the SAS.

As part of this code of honour, virginity before marriage is held sacred by Sikhs.

For girls in particular, in order to ensure they can get married and maintain dignity in the community, their virtue must remain unquestionable.

So when cases of abuse occur "the majority of parents just want to shut up shop as if nothing has happened because they know that a girl who is tarnished with this kind of thing will never actually get married," says Mr Singh.

Growing concern

In fact the stigma around sexual abuse is so detrimental to a Sikh girl's future that children who are the victims of rape have been told by their own parents to keep quiet about it.

Members of the Sikh community in the West Midlands claim girls as young as nine are being targeted for grooming

Inside Out London has spoken to a girl whose own mother told her not to go to the police, even though she had been subjected to sexual abuse by countless men.

Fifteen-year old Jaswinder was under the control of a groomer for nearly two years.

The man charged countless other men to have sex with her and took obscene pictures which he used to blackmail her into silence.

When she finally broke away and told her mother what had happened, she was warned against going to the police and forbidden from ever telling her father the full details.

Other victims of grooming have been removed from the family home in order to ensure the wider community does not find out or to place the child safely away from those who are abusing her.

But these methods of dealing with child victims of sexual abuse are causing growing concern amongst mental health workers.

Counsellor Emma Kenny says that, over the past few years, she has noticed the number of Sikh girls requiring help after enduring sexual abuse is on the rise.

"We have cases where Sikh children have actually been forbidden from speaking up or removed from their home environment when they talk about the fact they are being sexually exploited or groomed," she says.

Mohan Singh Mohan Singh says his charity has probed more than 200 claims since 2008

"Parents may be doing these things out of the best intentions but the problem here is that firstly, by telling the child to keep quiet, the children will not get a chance to recover from the ordeal.

"Secondly, removing them from the home, from their original support network, gives a very strong message that they are the problem and that can lead to enormous long-standing emotional and psychological issues."

Inside Out has also discovered that groomers are actually exploiting the fact that Sikh families are less likely to report incidents of abuse.

In some cases girls are sent abroad following sexual abuse

The programme has spoken to one man who recently broke away from a grooming gang and is now campaigning for greater awareness of the problem.

He says there are groomers who specifically target Sikh girls because they feel they can get away with it.

They see Sikh girls as 'easy targets' because they know codes of honour mean the child will be too scared and ashamed to tell their parents about the abuse and "their parents would not even report it if they were to find out".

Police sensitivity

Yet even when some Sikh parents are brave enough to risk family honour and do report incidents of sexual grooming to the police, there are concerns that their cases are poorly investigated.

Deputy Children's Commissioner for England Sue Berelowitz, admits that "there is quite a way to go in terms of police forces around the country waking up to the fact that there are ethnic minority victims of sexual abuse".

Birmingham parents Gureemt and Ranjit believe their daughter, Javeen, has been the target of a group of groomers since she was 12 years old.

They claim that they have struggled to get the police to proactively investigate.

Jim Gamble Jim Gamble believes cultural misunderstandings are an issue

"I've lost count of the amount of times I've tried contacting them," says Ranjit.

"There have been incidents where we have rang several times a day to get information and they've just had a blasé attitude."

Jim Gamble, the former chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, has witnessed similar problems with other cases.

"I have seen victims who have not been well served because of police sensitivity about engaging a community whose tradition is all about honour and shame," he says.

"That sensitivity can be overplayed and I think in those cases where it is, perhaps police and other statuary authorities pause for too long.

"But in the end we need to get over these cultural misunderstandings because what ultimately matters is the safety and welfare of the children."

Some names have been changed to protect the identities of victims.

Inside Out London is to be shown on BBC One at 19:30 BST on Monday 2 September in the London area. The programme can also be seen on Inside Out West Midlands and East Midlands. It is also available on BBC iPlayer.

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