When Sajid Javid commissioned a study on grooming gangs in 2018, many of us reclined back on our chairs and rejoiced – “finally!”. It felt like a stuffy prep school headmaster came in and shouted “f*ck it” during assembly. People not merely wanted but needed to understand the motivation behind these barbaric acts. But last week, Boris Johnson’s government deprived us of that knowledge.
The Home Office responded to a petition calling for the release of the review: “Tackling child sexual abuse is this Government’s priority. Any insights gained from our internal work will inform our future action to end this devastating abuse, including forthcoming Strategy”. The keyword here is “internal”. In short, they have chosen not to release it.
Jonathan Wong created the petition, which attracted over 120,000 signatures. Why it did not attract millions remains a mystery, given the severity and nature of the issue – perhaps online circulation withered. An identical change.org petition garnered 15,000 extra signatures.
The Independent newspaper reported almost 19,000 child sexual exploitation victims last year. That was up from 3,300 five years before. Lancashire, Birmingham, Surrey and Bradford recorded the highest concentration of cases. Prevalence is not abating.
If this scandal proved anything, it was that self-censorship because of racial sensitivity is a pervading disease that handicaps authorities from doing their job. Operation Linden exposed as much – hate speech purveyors were shown the extremity of their work. And how did our government react? They self-censored. Johnson’s election signalled a turning point in British politics. A new age where government is forthright, transparent, and bombastic – slightly Trumpian even, or so that’s what I thought.
Governmental namby-pamby prose caked the response to Wong’s petition. “We continue to support…”, “we continue to look for ways…”, “we will continue to challenge…” and on and on it went. The only concrete promises came in the way of a £4 million increase for specialist local services dealing with victims of sexual violence and a doubling in funding for related charities.
Refusing to release the review came at a convenient time. Only The Independent, Breitbart and The Spectator covered the news. Everybody else is too busy printing headlines about PPE. Or they dare not touch it.
No one can stamp out sexual assault for good. There will always be a sick minority who commit sexual abuse. But what we require is transparent investigation to better prevent these crimes. Where the police fail, the community succeeds.
With Rochdale, the motive related to race. Asian grooming gangs targeted young white girls. A survivor who goes by the pseudonym Ella Hill admitted there was a religious and a racial element to her targeting. This is not to villanise Asians and their religions. Most sexual abusers in the UK are white. But to understand the phenomenon, we must be free to speak, analyse and debate. And how can we do that if our government disables us from doing so?
Until the government has the temerity to release the review, they will only lend credence to genuine racists motivated by what they see as a coverup. And what message does it send to the perpetrators? Not to mention, what message does it send to the victims who so bravely spoke out?
One can only imagine the review is so damning that the Home Office can’t release it for fear of public outrage. If the government can’t trust us on this, what do they expect in return?