Tyne & Wear

Child sex abuse: Sarah Champion MP says 'consider race and culture'

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Media captionOperation Sanctuary: Newcastle community leaders react

A fear of being called racist is preventing authorities investigating the reasons behind child abuse cases, an MP has claimed.

Rotherham MP Sarah Champion was speaking after 17 men were convicted of forcing girls in Newcastle to have sex.

Mostly British-born, they are from Iraqi, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Iranian and Turkish communities.

Ms Champion said asking if there were "cultural issues" was simply "child protection".

Northumbria Police said society "can't be afraid to have this discussion".

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Ms Champion, Labour's shadow women and equalities minister, said gang-related child sexual exploitation involves "predominately Pakistani men" who were involved in such cases "time and time and time again".

Image copyright UK Parliament
Image caption MP Sarah Champion says it is not racist to ask questions about race

"The government aren't researching what is going on. Are these cultural issues? Is there some sort of message going out within the community?" she said.

Ms Champion said the "far right" would attack her comments for "not doing enough" and the "floppy left" would call her racist.

"This isn't racist, this is child protection," said the MP for Rotherham, where at least 1,400 children were found to have been exploited between 1997 and 2013.

'White girls worthless'

The issue was not being dealt with because "people are more afraid to be called a racist than they are afraid to be wrong about calling out child abuse", Ms Champion said.

Mohammed Shafiq from the Ramadhan Foundation said the debate needed putting in context.

"Amongst these criminals there is a mindset that they think that white girls are worthless," he said.

"They don't have any regard for their standing within society and therefore they think they can be used and abused in that way.

"But the vast majority of child sex abuse carried out in this country is carried out by white men - through the home, through family networks and through the internet."

Image caption Chief Constable Steve Ashman said the police treated suspects "without fear or favour"

Northumbria Police Chief Constable Steve Ashman said the force did not ask about religious background on arrest.

As those arrested under Operation Sanctuary were from a number cultural backgrounds, "who do I point that finger towards to say you have an issue here, culturally?" he said.

Some communities' attitude to "women, principally white women" needed addressing, he said.

"But the discussion has to take place beyond policing."

Former director of public prosecutions Lord Macdonald said there had been a reluctance in the past to investigate gangs from some Asian communities targeting vulnerable white girls.

"Some recognition that this is a problem" was needed, he said.

All communities needed to address it, "not pretending it's something else, not shying away from it, recognising it for what it is, which is profoundly racist crime", he said.

Image copyright Northumbria Police
Image caption Mostly British-born, those men convicted in the Newcastle grooming case are from Iraqi, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Iranian and Turkish communities

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