Comments by communities minister Kris Hopkins describing patriarchy in Asian communities as a “root cause” in some child abuse cases have been strongly disputed by a range of experts in community cohesion and child care. The minister called for more respect for women and girls within Asian society. There was particular criticism of his reference to the Quran, which made it clear his remarks were focused on Muslims in Britain.
Ted Cantle, who led the Labour government’s Community Cohesion Review Team, responded: “I think he is right that we need to challenge patriarchy within communities, but I think he is wrong to just focus on one community. This again will just make them a suspect community for child abuse, just as [the] Prevent [Strategy] has made Muslims a suspect community for extremism.
“I would have thought that it is obvious to anyone that child abuse is all too prevalent in all communities. We are still going through the remnants of the Savile investigations. Sex abuse is unfortunately there across all communities. Patriarchy and disrespect for women is also prevalent across all communities.
“So rather than just stereotyping the Muslim community, we need to be working with those sections of all communities that understand these issues to stamp out these disgusting practices. Stereotyping has just not been helpful.”
Similar views were expressed by Harris Beider, professor of community cohesion at Coventry University. Professor Beider said: “It’s a dangerous business to reduce whole communities into those pithy and problematic terms. There is as much nuance and diversity within the Muslim community as in any community. Patriarchy is not confined to British Muslims.
“Those comments only inflame sentiments within a febrile environment and what we rather need is dialogue with communities. We need the evidence and then have discussions with people within communities to develop effective interventions.”
Lorraine Radford, professor of social policy and social work at the University of Central Lancashire and former head of research at the NSPCC, agreed that patriarchy was central to understanding some forms of child abuse, but disagreed that this should be considered differently in the context of Asian and Muslim communities. “I think that it is a problem across all sectors of society,” she argued. “It is not specific to Asian society that there are poor attitudes to women. It’s not just Asian people that exploit children. It’s just as common in white British society.”
But Professor Radford conceded that some notorious child abuse cases did predominantly involve Muslim Asian men as perpetrators. The relevance here, she suggested, was that this was a factor in the abuse not being confronted much more quickly. “That has been the case where cases of sexual exploitation have been going on for a long time, as with Rotherham, and that has not come to light for a range of reasons – one of which is the fear of offending community sensitivities and not being willing to address this head on,” she said.
“Attitudes do need to change, of course, but that is not confined to Asian communities. Professionals are sometimes unwilling to confront the issues.”
Professore Radford added that local authorities need to take a lead in tackling patriarchal domination across all of society, where this occurs. “Have local authorities been doing enough about shifting it?,” she asked. “I am not sure they have. They need to address this with children in schools, to challenge attitudes as they develop. They need to put child abuse on the agenda. They need to be reaching out to communities. They need to use government websites and signpost to children the available resources [to support them].”
Dealing with the ethnic and religious identity of abusers is clearly a sensitive subject and one that still many people are uncomfortable about discussing. The Muslim Council of Britain, the Islamic Society of Britain, Newham Asian Women’s Project and Inspire, an Asian’s women’s project advocating human rights, were all invited to contribute to this article, but all failed to respond, despite being given two days in which to do so.
The Muslim Women’s Network UK did comment, but focused on the fact that in many child abuse cases, it is vulnerable Asian girls who are victims. Faeeza Vaid, the Network’s executive director, said: “I think respect is an issue across the board. These crimes happen in all communities.
“The point that he [the minister] is getting at is that there is a particular problem in some Asian communities. There are issues about honour and shame in some communities and the threatening of victims in ways that are different [for Muslim girls] than for white people. I do think young Muslim girls do face additional challenges and threats.”
It seems that Kris Hopkins’ message has not been accepted by many of those people whose support he might have most wanted.