Grooming children for sex is a growing scourge that cuts across all communities, West Yorkshire’s chief constable warned yesterday as he met Muslim community leaders at a summit to tackle the problem.
Sir Norman Bettison insisted the crime was not a racial or cultural issue.
The type of exploitation seen in cases such as the recent Rochdale scandal, in which a gang of Asian men preyed on vulnerable young white girls, was just one of its many faces, he said.
“I believe there is a problem that is very widespread, not just in Yorkshire, not just within the Muslim or Asian community, but there are girls who are vulnerable and those vulnerabilities are more and more often these days exploited,” he said.
“What these cases have done is they have shone a light on this type of exploitation.
“West Yorkshire Police is in the vanguard of being determined to ruthlessly pursue anyone who is committing criminal exploitation and bring them before the courts.
“That’s why it’s very important we have the support of the community alongside us.”
Nine men – eight of Pakistani origin and one from Afghanistan – were jailed last month for abusing dozens of girls, some as young as 12, in the Heywood area of Rochdale.
It was the latest in a string of similar high-profile cases, prompting Conservative peer Baroness Sayeeda Warsi to claim “a small minority of Pakistani men believe that white girls are fair game”.
Her remark echoed comments by former Home Secretary Jack Straw that some young Pakistani men see white girls as “easy meat”, following the jailing of two Asian men who abused girls in Derby last January.
Sir Norman said young girls were also seen as “easy meat” by some young white men and insisted sexual exploitation was “not a faith or a race issue”.
“We witness that sort of approach and attitude any Saturday night in any of our towns and cities,” he said.
He also warned children are as vulnerable to sexual exploitation online as they are on the street
“There’s a growing trend of exploitation, predominantly of young girls, but also young boys, for sexual ends,” he said.
“It’s got lots of faces. It’s got groups of men on the street who are identifying and picking up vulnerable girls, but it’s also got people sitting in the comfort of their sitting rooms or bedrooms. Social media opens up a newer means of sexual exploitation.”
He said the summit, attended by the Bradford Council of Mosques’ president Rafiq Sehgal and secretary Zulfiqar Karim, had cemented a commitment to jointly tackle the issue.
“The powerful thing is the determination and willingness of the religious leadership to be involved in preventing exploitation in the future and sending a powerful message to Muslim communities that this is abhorrent behaviour that should be stamped upon,” he said.
“The reassurance that we’ve been getting is that the communities themselves are very keen to be involved in sending out a powerful message of abhorrence and intolerance at this criminal behaviour.”
He added conversations with community leaders and agencies in other parts of West Yorkshire would soon follow.
“Now this stone has been lifted over grooming and exploitng young vulnerable girls, there’s a realisation on our part at West Yorkshire Police isn’t the sole provider of safeguarding and security,” said Sir Norman.
“We can play our part, we can continue to investigate and prosecute criminality but what’s needed is much more of a multi-agency and community bottom-up approach to send messages about the sort of activity that’s being investigated and to prevent it happening in future.”
Mr Seghal said the Muslim community utterly condemned sexual exploitation and abuse and it was important to spread that message through mosques even though he did not believe the type of men who would commit such crimes would be likely to attend them.
“I think it’s important to acknowledge there is an issue. We can only tackle something if we acknowledge the issue that’s there,” he said.
“The community condemns crime in any shape or form and this is condemned at the highest level.
“The message needs to be going into households and families. They have got to know it’s time to stand up and fight for rights and against wrongs, to stand up and be counted.
“Once we get that message across that will filter down into the communities.”