Jack Straw criticised for 'easy meat' comments on abuse

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Former Home Secretary Jack Straw has been accused of "stereotyping" after suggesting some men of Pakistani origin see white girls as "easy meat".

The Blackburn Labour MP spoke out after two Asian men who abused girls in Derby were given indeterminate jail terms.

Keith Vaz, Labour chairman of the home affairs select committee, said it was wrong to stereotype an entire community and a proper inquiry was needed.

A Barnado's spokesman said vulnerable children of all races were at risk.

On Friday, Mohammed Liaqat, 28, and Abid Saddique, 27, were jailed at Nottingham Crown Court for raping and sexually abusing several girls aged between 12 and 18, often after giving them alcohol or drugs.

The judge in the case said the race of the victims and their abusers was "coincidental".

But Mr Straw told the BBC's Newsnight there was a "specific problem" in some areas and called on the Pakistani community to be "more open" about the abuse.

Image caption,
Mohammed Liaqat (left) and Abid Saddique, 27 were convicted of rape

Mr Straw said: "Pakistanis, let's be clear, are not the only people who commit sexual offences, and overwhelmingly the sex offenders' wings of prisons are full of white sex offenders.

"But there is a specific problem which involves Pakistani heritage men... who target vulnerable young white girls.

"We need to get the Pakistani community to think much more clearly about why this is going on and to be more open about the problems that are leading to a number of Pakistani heritage men thinking it is OK to target white girls in this way."

Mr Straw added: "These young men are in a western society, in any event, they act like any other young men, they're fizzing and popping with testosterone, they want some outlet for that, but Pakistani heritage girls are off-limits and they are expected to marry a Pakistani girl from Pakistan, typically.

"So they then seek other avenues and they see these young women, white girls who are vulnerable, some of them in care... who they think are easy meat."

Helen Brayley, from University College London's Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science, said people should not draw hasty conclusions.

Ms Brayley, who wrote the first independent academic analysis of child sex trafficking, said: "When you jump in with thinking about race too quickly, you can miss a whole load of other things that are happening in other areas.

"So by racially stereotyping this early on without a national scoping project... we don't know what the situation is in other areas around the country... you might be leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy of if people are looking for Asian offenders, they will only find Asian offenders."

Mr Vaz, who said he represented many men of Pakistani origin in his Leicester East constituency, told BBC Radio 4's Today: "What I don't think we can do is say that this is a cultural problem. One can accept the evidence which is put before us about patterns and networks but to go that step further I think is pretty dangerous.

"We can't ignore the facts of individual cases, but against what Jack says is what the judge said in the Derby case. [I] don't think you can stereotype an entire community."

He said: "Why didn't Jack Straw say something about this (before)? He has represented Blackburn for 31 years, he's been the home secretary."

Mr Vaz added there should be a police investigation led by an organisation like the Serious and Organised Crime Agency to take action against the people involved in the criminal acts, rather than a debate about the criminality of different cultures.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said Mr Straw was right to say there must be zero tolerance of criminal activity against young girls in any community.

But he added: "That said, we've got to be careful about generalisations about particular communities. As Jack himself said, we find sexual crimes committed by people of all backgrounds."

Mohammed Shafiq, director of the Muslim youth group the Ramadhan Foundation, rejected any suggestion such abuse was "ingrained" in Britain's Pakistani community, but he said it was an issue.

He said: "I first raised this two or three years ago and I got a lot of stick within the community from people who said I was doing the work of the BNP and stigmatising them.

"Most people didn't realise the seriousness of it. But now, after a series of court cases, things have changed. I have had a lot of support."

But he added: "These gangs that operate are criminals. There's nothing in their culture, there's nothing in their religion to suggest that this sort of thing is ingrained.

"And for Jack Straw, a former home secretary, to suggest that this somehow is ingrained within young Pakistani men, I think is quite dangerous."

'Sexual exploitation'

Martin Narey, chief executive of Barnardo's, called for more research to be carried out.

He said: "I don't think this is so much about targeting white girls - because black girls are also victims - it's about targeting vulnerable, isolated girls."

Ann Cryer, a former Labour MP for Keighley, she had been made aware of a problem in her constituency in 2003 after she was approached by about six mothers who said their daughters were being groomed for sex by Pakistani men.

She said she tried to intercede with the community by asking a councillor to speak to Muslim elders, but they said it was not their affair.

"Instead of drawing it to a conclusion then, it's drifted on, so it seems now every year we're getting more cases of very young, sometimes 12-year-old girls being abused by these gangs of men. I wish it would stop, I wish it would go away," she said.

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