Anti-racist activists protest against Tommy Robinson Credit: Gary Knight

Tommy Robinson—former leader of the fascist English Defence League—is touring the north west of England whipping up hate by weaponising child sexual exploitation. He descended on Telford in the West Midlands on 27 January and has announced he will go to Oldham in Greater Manchester on 23 March.

Amid a by-election announced for 29 February, nearby Rochdale is another town in the north west scarred by a child sexual exploitation scandal. Robinson uses child sexual exploitation scandals to scapegoat migrants and refugees. But the real culprits are the police, council and social services which ignored victims and neglected years of evidence.

Eventually a court convicted nine men from Rochdale and Oldham involved in a grooming ring in 2013. The court sentenced the men to between four and 19 years in prison for their abuse. At least 47 girls under 16-years-old were abused between 2004 and 2012. The British Parole Board has since released several of the men. A further 68 abused children are still waiting for justice.

An independent inquiry was set up to investigate how grooming gangs in Oldham got away with abusing girls for so long. Investigators said there were structural flaws in the Greater Manchester Police and the council’s systems that were meant to safeguard children.

The report details how Shabir Ahmed—the ring leader of a grooming gang in Rochdale—was employed by Oldham Council as a welfare rights officer. Despite multiple concerns being raised about him and his arrest for the sexual assault of children, police failed to tell his employers.

Many of the abusers groomed girls who were in the care system. Children’s homes—run by companies motivated by profit— neglected children who were abused while in their “care”. Even care homes questioned the innocence of the children—all because they were from working class backgrounds.

Referring to how the police treated her, Amber— one of the child victims—told the Observer, “They weren’t bothered when you’re from a shit home. They don’t give a fuck when you’re not from a wealthy background.”

Many media outlets reported the racist explanation that all immigrants are rapists because most of the convicted men were Pakistani. The fascist British National Party (BNP) used this narrative to stoke racism in the towns.

Right wing media outlets continue to use racist narratives. In mid-January Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine tried to link child sexual exploitation in Rochdale to Iran and the 7 October Hamas attacks. And the racist Reform UK party, which is running in the by-election, mustn’t be allowed to distort the issue of grooming gangs into an issue of race or religion like the BNP attempted a decade ago.

The far right doesn’t care about getting real justice for victims of sexual assault. The police have previously charged Robinson with interfering in similar court cases. His obstruction and intimidation has led to cases being thrown out with no justice delivered for victims. Anti-racists in Greater Manchester must organise opposition to Robinson and those who support his attempts to peddle racist myths.

Racist lies hide the real causes of child sexual exploitation

The reaction to the Rochdale and Oldham cases has been through the prism of race. But this hasn’t brought anyone nearer to understanding or stopping the sexual exploitation of vulnerable children. Many victims will not get the help and justice they deserve if grooming and sexual exploitation are seen solely as crimes carried out by certain groups.

Amid the obsession about the race and religion of the male perpetrators, less attention has been given to their young victims. The real question about the Rochdale and Oldham child sexual exploitation is how badly the system let down these children. Race was not what made getting justice difficult for these girls. It was deep-seated prejudice that deemed their lives less worthy as young women from poor working class backgrounds.

And what happened to these girls and young women cannot be separated from the contradictions in the family. Families can act as a defence against the harshness of society but they can also breakdown— often under the pressures that capitalism generates. This leaves children more vulnerable—like many of the victims in Rochdale and Oldham left to a neglectful care system.

Abuse remains widespread across society. The sexual exploitation and abuse of vulnerable children, both young girls and boys, is endemic in the circles of the super rich—which Jeffrey Epstein’s recently released flight logs reveal. And the state doesn’t provide the answers. The government continues to underfund rape crisis services.

The police routinely ignore victims and the justice system retraumatises them. Socialists have to avoid the danger of simplistic explanations—there are multiple factors involved in such cases. When Islamophobia is added, it becomes a toxic mix.

It is vital that we challenge the dominant lies about the issue and expose the bigotry whipped up to distract people. The real scandal is how the system fails people—especially the most vulnerable.

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