The Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, earlier this month asserted – wrongly – that grooming gangs are “almost always British-Pakistani” and that their victims are “overwhelmingly white girls from disadvantaged or troubled backgrounds”.
I am a survivor of sexual abuse. It was carried out by a Pakistani grooming gang in the late 1970s. But Braverman’s attempt to use my experiences as a political weapon disgusts me.
There were many factors involved that made me a vulnerable, unprotected child and such easy prey for any man inclined to exploitation.
I was 11 years old and lived next door to a corner shop owned by these men; many others hung out day and night. I couldn’t go in there without being harassed, from looks to comments to inappropriate touching. I wasn’t safe in my own home either. My mother dated one of the men who lived along the street. When my bedroom window was accidentally broken, a ladder was put up against it in the night to gain access. This was my life, my normal. Not safe at home. Not safe in my neighbourhood.
Taken into care
The problem with vulnerable children is that any predator inclined to take advantage will take advantage. It’s never just one person and one incident; it’s multiples of each. I escaped this dark chapter of my childhood a week before my 13th birthday, when I was taken into care and put into a children’s home in Shrewsbury.
For decades I held all the pain and damage inside while my mental and physical health deteriorated with multiple chronic illnesses, depression and suicide attempts. Finally the dam burst, and I made a serious suicide attempt that I barely survived. For two years afterwards I hardly left my home, and if I did, I couldn’t be alone.
Wellington, Telford. Even today, just hearing the place name brings a sick feeling to my stomach. It’s been a long journey getting to the place I’m at now. I eventually got the diagnosis of CPTSD (Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and entered therapy. I saw that I could no longer keep it all in. I had to talk about my experiences in order to help myself on my journey to recover, to allow myself to feel whole.
Last year – almost 45 years after that damaging period of my life – I told my story to the independent inquiry into Telford Child Sexual Exploitation.
But the reason that I, and others, recounted these horrifying personal details was not so that this Conservative government could use them to demonise a whole community of people or to further their goals in making changes to our country’s laws concerning human rights and migration.
And it contradicts the findings of Braverman’s own department: its 2020 report concluded that perpetrators of this heinous crime are most often white, that victims may be boys and that the children come from diverse backgrounds.
Imagine how disquieting it was for me to read Braverman’s assertions about grooming gangs. I know exactly where she gathered her information from – from the very report to which I had contributed. She took it very much out of context, apparently to further a political agenda contrary to the one that had motivated me and other victims to give our evidence to the inquiry.
I believe that Telford has a decades-old problem of English girls being targeted for sexual exploitation by men of Pakistani origin – but that does not equate to gangs of Pakistani men exploiting white English girls nationally, which is how the Home Secretary made it sound.
To blame “woke-ness” and “fear of being accused of racism” for the lack of action in pursuing these criminals is to deflect attention from the appalling national record of dealing with widespread sexual abuse of children by men who don’t fit into the profile suggested by Braverman.
We told our stories so we were heard, and in an effort to stop it happening to other children. To make the agencies accountable for turning a blind eye to what was happening in Telford year after year.
We did not put ourselves through the harrowing ordeal of recounting painful, damaging and humiliating experiences to add fuel to a right-wing rhetoric – a rhetoric that likes to characterise entire demographic groups as sexual predators, sowing division instead of the unity needed to combat a vile crime against children.
We need your help!
The press in our country is dominated by billionaire-owned media, many offshore and avoiding paying tax. We are a citizen journalism publication but still have significant costs.
If you believe in what we do, please consider subscribing to the Bylines Gazette from as little as £2 a month🙏