British Home Secretary Amber Rudd has said “political and cultural sensitivities” must not get in the way of uncovering child sex abuse amid calls to review offences that are racially aggravated.
She was speaking following the convictions of 17 men and one woman over the sexual abuse of under-age girls in the north east city of Newcastle, which Rudd labelled “an abhorrent case of sexual predators preying on young women and girls”.
As in the Rotherham and Oxford grooming scandals, victims in this latest case were conned into thinking they were in a relationship with their abuser, who would then pass them round their network to be used for sex, sometimes with the encouragement of the class B drug M-Kat, or cannabis.
Rudd said the exploitation of young girls was a “sickening crime”.
She added: “Those responsible are not restricted to any single ethnic group, religion or community.
“It is an affront to everyone in our society and I want to be absolutely clear that political and cultural sensitivities must never be allowed to get in the way of preventing and uncovering it.”
While fellow Conservative MP Mike Penning, who was a former justice and defence minister, told the Press Association he has written to Attorney General Jeremy Wright questioning whether the incident should be treated as “a race-hate crime”.
Northumbria Police launched a major investigation into the abuse of women in Newcastle after receiving information from social workers and initially spoke to 108 potential victims.
Over the course of four trials, 20 young women gave evidence covering a period from 2011 to 2014.
Those prosecuted were from the Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish communities and mainly British-born, with most living in the West End of Newcastle.
Concerns have been raised the ethnicity of the perpetrators may have meant the actions of the gangs were not uncovered sooner.
Sarah Champion, whose Rotherham constituency was rocked by similar crimes, said people were not raising potential cases of child abuse as they feared being labelled racist, while lead detective in the Rochdale case Maggie Oliver said there was an “epidemic” of this kind of abuse because authorities had chosen to turn a blind eye to it due to the ethnicity of perpetrators and victims.
Labour MP for Newcastle Central Chi Onwurah said she was “ashamed” that her home city had harboured abusers.
She said: “I want to make it absolutely clear that there is no excuse, neither ignorance, culture, prejudice nor lack of education which can possibly justify or excuse the abuse of young women.”
The MP said authorities worked together to deal with the problem and did not ignore the offending when it came to light.
Onwurah said those who sought to use the abusers’ Asian or Muslim backgrounds to create division were putting other girls at risk.
She said: “Assuming that grooming and child abuse is prevalent in one group helps potential abusers hide in plain sight if they are not part of that group.
“Crimes of sexual exploitation can be and are committed by members of all communities and indeed it remains regrettably true that sexual abuse is most likely to come from within the family circle.”