Street grooming gangs: Why blaming Western society is like blaming the girls themselves
This is a guest post by Yasmin Baruchi, the pseudonym for a young British Muslim woman (she's changed her name to avoid any backlash from friends and family). I hope you find it as interesting as I did. Jeremy
There's been much written in the last two weeks about what happened in Rotherham.
Some voices have been incredibly brave, speaking out about their own abuse. Others have spoken about their struggle to be heard due to a deeply embedded culture of shame and honour. I also read an excellent article exploring the various factors that led to the system failing.
Then other voices came forward. Too cowardly to look in the mirror, they have looked instead to shift the spotlight onto failures by the authorities or onto Western society itself. There were, of course, grave failures by the authorities and others who knew and chose to turn a blind eye, and Western society is far from perfect regarding its attitudes towards women's and children's rights. But here's the truth these particular individuals are looking to deflect from.
Growing up in an Asian Muslim household, ever since I can remember to be like a white girl, a “gori” was a very bad thing indeed. At primary school age, we were taught how “goras” were dirty. They didn’t wash when they went to the toilet. I was told not to eat with goras, because they ate pig – only dirty people could eat such a filthy animal.
As a teenager, I discovered there was nothing worse than acting like a gori. I was a rebellious youth, pushing all the boundaries. I didn’t want to wear a hijab and traditional Asian dress. I wanted to be in jeans. I wanted to wear my hair out. I wanted to go out and see my friends. I wanted to meet and talk about boys. I learned that these were “white things”: what white girls did, and so strictly forbidden to me by my parents. Why? Because they were seen to be against Islam and therefore shameful. There was no honour or value in girls who dressed or acted like that. Girls like that, it was made very clear to me, didn't deserve any respect. They were the lowest of the low.
In my late teens, I met a boy. My biggest fear was being seen by someone in my community while I was with him. I was right to be afraid. When I was, inevitably, spotted by an elder, my dad angrily asked me why I wanted to be like “those gori whores”. A whore simply because I was seen talking to a boy and had my arms on show.
Even now, as an adult, I'm often attacked by other Asian Muslims, using words like “coconut” and “choc-ice”; that somehow, having values perceived as “white”, I am lesser, dirty, without honour – fair game for attack.
I know the attitudes of my family and my community do not stand alone. They are, sadly, widespread and deeply ingrained. There were other girls like me growing up. Girls I know that have been estranged and disowned for acting like a gori. I had family across the country, and attitudes were not much different in those communities, either. As an adult, I now know women from other south Asian cultures and have found they grew up with the same attitudes, the same challenges, and the same prejudices.
That is why I find it so infuriating in light of Rotherham that some Asian men (and women!) are still looking to blame Western culture – "the goras' culture" – and denying the part their own plays in the abuse. Gora culture, like the white girls who were targeted, is deemed to be shameless and without honour. I’ve read articles describing western culture as “pornified”, like they describe those girls as “whores” to then conclude that the abusers were somehow led astray or not fully responsible. Another talks with superiority about how Pakistani parents wouldn’t let their daughters out at 2am or wear padded bras. All the time betraying the misogynistic belief that their girls are worth more because they hold on to their honour (read “virginity”) until marriage.
This is why I believe the race of the girls targeted had less to do with it than the culture they were thought to have represented. If it were a vulnerable Asian girl on the streets at 2am, or even an Asian girl with her hair uncovered, or who had gone somewhere unaccompanied or chatted to a male, or was left alone in a room with him, she too would be deemed shameless, because she would be acting like a gori or had presented a temptation.
These codes are a factor in why the abuse of Asian girls is so under-reported and often swept under the carpet, in order to “protect their honour”. The responsibility is invariably carried by the girl and her value still relies very much on her perceived chastity.
So who should we hold responsible? Clearly, the manipulative abusers – they knew exactly what they were doing and felt justified in their evil actions. And, of course, the people who knew and looked away, both within the community and outside, were complicit by their silence. No doubt they also share the blame, seeing these girls as not worth caring about.
But there is a collective responsibility here of anyone (and there are a great many) in the Asian Muslim community who has in any way, shape or form perpetuated the idea that they as Muslims and Asians are better than the goras.