More Searching for Narrative in Horrible Child Sex Rings
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It was not my intention to extend the discussion of Rotherham, Telford and the other cities into a second post. In fact, I try to avoid extending a subject over multiple entries because I think I’m lucky to get someone to read one of my posts and extending the subject to 7,000 or 10,000 words can only further reduce the number of people who will read the entire thing. But, I feel the need to address some interesting points raised in the comments of the previous post, additionally, I did have a few other thoughts on the subject which I cut because of space. Finally, I’m spending part of this week traveling and it’s less time-consuming to write about something I was already thinking about than to queue up a whole new subject. All of which is to say that the preponderance of excuses leads me to continue discussing last weeks subject, with perhaps some additional stuff thrown in.
To begin with I’d like to address Boonton’s objection from the comments that “1,000 children as young as 11 [being] drugged, beaten and raped over 40 years” is not that much.
Telford has a population of 170,000. 1000 children abused over 40 years amounts to 25 children a year. Is that a lot? Sadly not really. [This] indicates maybe as much as 16% of men and 25% of women experienced some type of underage sex abuse. Here if you're a UK Tabloid you can easily make a short memo on how to "make your own Child Sex Scandal". Dig and find a bunch of examples that were ignored and tie them all together by some common factor. Even if 25% is too high, [the] fact is there's nowhere that lacks child sex abuse that didn't get reported or prosecuted in a timely manner. We know from the 'Satanic Abuse panic' and 'recovered memories' fiasco's in the 80's and 90's that the media can both under and over report child sex abuse.
I’ll be honest that upon re-reading the comment I’m not sure what he means there at the end, if he agrees with me that the crimes in Rotherham, Telford etc. were under-reported, or if he’s actually moving to the other side of things and claiming that Rotherham, Telford etc. were over-reported. It feels like the latter, like he’s arguing this is just the normal level of child sex abuse strung into a sensational narrative by tabloids looking to increase page views. And this is something you have to consider in any discussion like this.
If 25% of women experience some kind of underage sexual abuse, then as he says 1000 over 40 years is a small fraction of the approximately 21,250 (170,000*0.5 females*0.25) you would expect. (Both numbers being a current snapshot of people who report being abused either in one fashion or the other.)
But as another commenter, Mark, points out:
25% experiencing unwanted sexual abuse is entirely dependent on how this is defined. I've been burned too often by these journal articles creating over broad definitions for shock value. If one in four girls is forcibly raped before graduating high school it seems to me we're on the verge of societal collapse. Either that, or we should be taking to the streets. Sorry, I just don't buy it. And if it's something less than that, it's not close enough to establish a baseline around. "25% of girls have their butt pinched by perv teenage boys, so I guess those multiple small towns where hundreds of girls were forced into sex slavery is put in context" just doesn't work. How many girls were sex slaves in these same small towns outside the crime rings? Are other small towns plagued with similar rates of sex trafficking, but these ones just had all the traffickers conveniently organized into the same criminal network? Are there similar rates in cities? The 25% number doesn't help answer these questions, and I understand it's an attempt to establish a baseline, but I think it is just distracting instead.
As is the case with so many things we have (at least) two competing sides. I find myself more on Mark’s side than Boonton’s (as you might imagine) particularly his point that if one in four girls is being forcibly raped (the article actually says “drugged, beaten and raped”) then we have a societal collapse level problem. But where does that leave us? Do I just dismiss Boonton’s numbers and move on, or is there a way we can try and get to the bottom of this. And here’s where I part with Mark, I don’t think it’s a distraction. Or to put it a different way I think it’s important to make sure that we’re not confusing anecdotes for data. As Boonton says later, if you dig enough you can find examples of just about anything. And I agree that It’s important not to lose sight of that.
Accordingly rather than being distracted by the 25%, let’s engage with it for a moment. Are the 1000 Telford victims or the 1400 Rotherham victims just the tail end of the sex abuse distribution, not some separate terrifying phenomenon? I guess the best place to look would be the official Rotherham report and see whether it has any information which will clarify things. Also I’m not going to belabor this point too much I suspect that even Boonton agrees that what happened in Rotherham, Telford, etc. was out of the ordinary the question is how out of the ordinary. So just some rapid fire observations of things that would appear to set what happened in these towns into a separate category from the figures Boonton mentions:
The Rotherham number of 1400 is a “conservative estimate” and covered only 1997-2013. (So less than 40 years.) [Page 1 of report]
There appears to be a large uptick in cases from 2008-2013. (This was not business as usual but specific trend.) [Page 29]
Grooming was a major element, and children as young as 8 were targeted. [Page 38]
They make specific reference to how easy the internet made it to target those 8 year olds, and mention elsewhere that the internet was causing a rise in the amount of exploitation. [Page 45]
The numbers Boonton mentioned gave a 25%/16%, or approximately 3 to 2, gender disparity in abuse. With Rotherham the ratio appears to have been more like 15 to 2. [Page 32]
Beyond all these differences I would recommend reading all of section five from the report, which details a representative sampling of the victims, and what happened to them. I know it’s all anecdotes, but if after doing that you’re not convinced that Rotherham represents something out of the ordinary, then I don’t know what else to say.
Moving on, another issue which attracted a fair amount of criticism both in the comments and with people I talked to was the idea that Rotherham, Telford, etc. took so long to investigate because the perpetrators were powerful people, thus it took a long time for the same reason that it took a long time for the crimes of Nassar and Sandusky and Weinstein to come to light. But people weren’t buying it, so let me approach it from another angle. First, recall that I brought up that point specifically as a rebuttal to someone who argued that all child sex abuse cases take forever to come to light. To which I retorted that all they had shown was that sex abuse cases involving powerful individuals take forever to come to light. And gave an example of a child sex abuse case which progressed with amazing rapidity, and argued it was because the suspects weren’t powerful. I then asked for any examples of child sex abuse which took forever to investigate, but didn’t involve people in positions of power. So far, no example has been forthcoming.
All that said, I will admit that the kind of power exercised by the perpetrators in Rotherham, Telford, etc. was of a different type and complexion than what we normally think of as power. But I continue to maintain that they do have a form of power. Not only do we have the example of perpetrators threatening to play the race card, and the claims of the researcher from 2001, from the last post, but as I was reading the official report I was reminded of some other ways in which their power was manifested:
In two of the cases we read, fathers tracked down their daughters and tried to remove them from houses where they were being abused, only to be arrested themselves when police were called to the scene. In a small number of cases (which have already received media attention) the victims were arrested for offences such as breach of the peace or being drunk and disorderly, with no action taken against the perpetrators of rape and sexual assault against children.
Still, I’m guessing that those who weren’t convinced before aren’t convinced now, so let me put it another way. One of the reasons why, for example, Jerry Sandusky’s crimes took so long to come to light was that any attempt to investigate him would have been very messy. You were talking about an important part of a hallowed institution. Now I’m not saying the perpetrators in these crimes were a similar part of a hallowed institution, but I am saying that, as we saw in all the examples, social and political sensitivities made any attempt at a full investigation very messy. So, perhaps, even if you can’t agree that the social justice movement has made these minorities powerful, you can at least agree that it’s made any investigations very messy.
Still another subject that was brought up in the comments was assimilation. I am obviously fascinated by assimilation because I have argued repeatedly that the lack of it is the key thing making recent immigration different than immigration in the past. I made the point that given that the big surge in Pakistani immigration was in the 50s and 60s. They have had plenty of time to assimilate, and a big part of the problem is that they haven’t. Boonton countered by pointing out that we still had problems with the Italian mafia decades after the peak of Italian immigration, and made the argument that by that standard Pakistanis have not been especially slow. This is a fair point, but I think it overlooks what the Italians themselves were doing about the problems of Italian crime. Allow me to provide an example of what I mean.
Last year I read the book Black Hand: The Epic War Between a Brilliant Detective and the Deadliest Secret Society in American History, which was all about Joseph Petrosino who in 1908 formed an all Italian police squad to combat Italian organized crime (and was arresting notable Italian crime figures years before that). Looking at the charts the bulk of italian immigration was happening at exactly the same time as Petrosino was forming his squad. Where is the Pakistani Petrosino? Can anyone point me at something similar? Obviously this is once again just one data point, but if nothing else it speaks of a strong desire by some Italians to assimilate, to the point of organizing squads to arrest their countrymen, which I don’t find much evidence of among the more recent immigrants. Including British Pakistanis.
That’s enough revisiting of the last post, but it does lead right into a subject that got left out of the last post: culture. Where does it fit into things?
There are of course several possibilities. It could be that there is no material difference between the culture of the perpetrators of these crimes and the culture of the victims. That whatever crimes were committed would have been committed by British males if they hadn’t been committed by minority males. Already you can see where this is a subject that might get me in trouble, but of course if it does I think it just proves the point about political correctness and to a lesser extent buttresses my argument about power. That said how would this argument work?
You could certainly imagine a level of family disintegration which didn’t exist previously, and further imagine that because of this, the victims had greater latitude to get into trouble. They were under less supervision, and therefore presented easier targets for grooming. And that, however large you think this crisis is, this is what led to it. That taxi drivers (a primary component of the csa rings) would inevitably have come in contact with unsupervised, naive young girls and that if it had been working class English men who still made up the bulk of the taxi drivers, instead of minority males, then you would have had child sex abuse rings composed entirely of English men rather than Pakistanis and other minorities.
If you don’t buy this argument or if you think it’s insufficient then perhaps it’s social media. When I was growing up, there were two ways for a predator to contact a teenager, they could meet up with you outside of the house, or they could call you on the phone. With a significantly higher number of stay at home moms and intact marriages (see the first point) whether someone was home or not was a lot easier to determine. On top of that I would also venture to say that when children weren’t at home the parents were a lot more likely to know where they were.
This leaves the phone. I imagine this would come as a shock to many young people, but back then it was pretty obvious if someone was on the phone, particularly if they were on it for any length of time. (And even more particularly if you wanted to use it.) The vast majority of people only had a single line, and on top of that most of them only had phones in central locations. Which is not to say some kids didn’t have their own line in their own room, but it seems unlikely that the working class girls who were largely targeted would have been in this category.
But now, all that is changed. With social media you can be contacted and groomed and there’s a good chance your parents will never suspect.
I keep coming back to this paragraph from the official report, so perhaps I should just include it in its entirety:
Over time, methods of grooming have changed as mobile technology has advanced. Mobile phones, social networking sites and mobile apps have become common ways of identifying and targeting vulnerable children and young people and we heard concerns from local agencies in Rotherham that much younger children were being targeted in this way. A number of the recent case files we read demonstrated that by unguarded use of text and video messaging and social networking sites, children had unwittingly placed themselves in a position where they could be targeted, sometimes in a matter of days or hours, by sexual predators from all over the world. In a small number of cases, this led to direct physical contact, rape and sexual abuse with one or more perpetrators. The comment was made that grooming could move from online to personal contact very quickly indeed. One of the most worrying features is the ease with which young children aged from about 8-10 years can be targeted and exploited in this way without their families being aware of the dangers associated with internet use.
Of course, all of this is still culture, but so far we’ve mostly talked about the culture of the victims, and to a larger extent the changing culture brought on by the internet. And it’s possible that this is all there is to it. That all the people who talk about the Pakistani culture, or Muslim culture or Somali culture in connection with what happened are being unfair, or even bigoted.
This is possible, but it’s also possible that the culture of the perpetrators does matter, that the lack of assimilation contributed to the problem. That what we’re really looking at is a perfect storm of declining supervision, new and more effective vectors for perpetrators to find and groom victims, and a culture predisposed to commit these sorts of crimes. It is obviously this last statement which is the most controversial. And I can’t promise that I’m going to offer up some smoking gun of proof, but we do have the following evidence.
To begin with, as far as I can tell no ethnically english men were ever implicated or charged in connection with any of the grooming rings. If you can find one, I’d love to hear about it. (In fact as we saw above a couple of them were arrested when they tried to stop things in preference to arresting the actual perpetrators.) If it was just due to disintegrating families, lax supervision, or the ease of grooming brought on by social media, you would expect that you wouldn’t see such uniformity among the perpetrators. I understand that this is not sufficient, I said I had no smoking guns, but it shouldn’t be dismissed either.
Second, the perpetrators were from less-developed, non-western countries where norms of behavior are very different. You might even say the cultural norms among the perpetrators were less modern. To give an extreme example, in the distant past, rape and pillage and aggression towards women, and of course more broadly all behavior that would fall under the general heading of “objectification of women” was far more common. In the course of time cultures developed norms and standards and laws to minimize all these various forms of objectification, you might even say they developed antibodies. Eventually as the behavior was stamped out, the norms and standards started to atrophy and became curious traditions. An example might be having a constant chaperon, or the tradition of a father walking his daughter down the aisle as part of the wedding ceremony. Both of these are things that seem quaint and pointless now, but there was a time when they were a response to a certain form of aggressive male behavior, but now, to the extent they exist at all, they are shrunken relics from the distant past. Progress has gotten us to a point where we’ve been able to abandon all these things, but in the course of doing so western culture has lost a form of societal immunity it once possessed.
Into this mix, toss some men who might still be in a less culturally advanced state, where chaperoning and full body covering and women not being left alone with any man who isn’t her relative, are all still the norm. And it is not too much of a stretch to imagine that these men view all the women who aren’t doing these things as promiscuous, and the parents who allow it as uncaring and neglectful. To return to our metaphor, you may have released a disease to which western society is no longer immune. Now obviously none of this is very politically correct. And none of it is stuff that hasn’t made an appearance in dozens if not hundreds of right wing blogs. But it may be true and worth repeating despite all that. There was and is a problem in Rotherham, Telford, Rochdale, Derby, Oxford, Bristol, Banbury, Aylesbury, Halifax, Keighley, and probably other towns and cities we’re unaware of. And if things are anywhere close to as bad as the reports make them out to be, then it’s important to understand everything that could be contributing, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us.