"It gives a detailed and distressing account"
Members of the British-Pakistani community have given their thoughts on the recently published report into Operation Span, which investigated non-recent child sexual exploitation in Rochdale.
The report was the result of a six-year investigation commissioned by Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham.
It found that children were left “at the mercy” of Rochdale grooming gangs because of an “inadequate” response by police and council bosses.
The 173-page report also identified 96 men still deemed a potential risk to children.
Widespread grooming gangs in Rochdale came to light in 2012 when several men, mostly of Pakistani origin, were convicted of exploiting underage girls for sex.
Perpetrators in Rochdale targeted vulnerable girls who often came from troubled backgrounds and subjected them to the horrors of sexual abuse, including rape and trafficking.
The victims were typically lured in with gifts, drugs and alcohol before being subjected to sexual abuse.
The convictions were part of a broader series of investigations into similar patterns of abuse.
After the scandal came to light, it prompted discussions about the need to improve child protection measures and called for better professional training.
The report into Operation Span addresses the extensive organised exploitation of children in Rochdale from 2004 to 2013.
Speaking about the report, Andy Burnham said:
“This report is hard to read. It gives a detailed and distressing account of how many young people were so seriously failed.
“That said, it fulfils the purpose of why I set up this review in the first place.
“It is only by facing up fully and unflinchingly to what happened that we can be sure of bringing the whole system culture change needed when it comes to protecting children from abuse.
“I would like to thank those who had the courage to come forward and share what happened to them.
“We know how difficult it must have been and still is. We are sorry that you were so badly failed by the system that should have protected them.
“I would also like to praise those who blew the whistle on their behalf, particularly Sara Rowbotha and Maggie Oliver, and for the support they have provided to them ever since.
“That took huge courage and determination and we thank them for it.
“The Deputy Mayor and I will personally ensure that support continues for all the victims of this appalling abuse and the organisations who support them.
“I decided to set up this review shortly after taking office in 2017.
“On the back of serious allegations that lessons from failings in Manchester in the early 2000s, which led to the tragic death of Victoria Agoglia, were not learned and were subsequently repeated in Rochdalw several years later.
“The report from the review team finds that this claim is accurate. That represents a serious failing by those in the Greater Manchester system at that time.
“I have asked Greater Manchester Police and Rochdale Council to ensure that every possible action is taken to follow up any leads arising from this report and to pursue any potential perpetrators.”
Following the publication of the report, DESIblitz spoke to various individuals from the British-Pakistani community to gain insight into what they thought about this scandal and the effects it has had on them.
Are there problems for men in the British Pakistani community when it comes to sexual exploitation?
Rumi Waseem answered: “Pakistani men have it tough. If we’re not labelled as terrorists we’re labelled as predators.
“There is good and bad in every community, but unfortunately Pakistani men have been tarnished with the same brush as these wrongdoers.
“Islam is a religion that teaches love and peace. We are not the same as those horrible individuals. I do not think of them as Muslims.”
Muhammad Ghazanfar added: “When a few individuals from a certain community are convicted of doing something wrong, the whole community is said to be the same. This could not be further from the truth.
“I don’t want to say this, but, there are so many non-Asians who have been convicted of doing bad things, but at the same time I have friends who belong to that same community, they’re not all bad.
“Just like us Pakistani men, we are not all sexual abusers. We respect women and would do anything to protect their honour.”
What do British Pakistani women think of these grooming scandals?
Saira Ali said she felt unsafe and found herself constantly looking over her shoulder when she would walk home from work.
She elaborated: “I work in retail, and sometimes I have to work a late shift. I find that I am constantly looking around at my surroundings to see who is around me.
“It is a sad situation to be in. I don’t understand what men get out of sexually abusing women for one minute of sex.”
“Anyone who is part of a grooming scandal needs to have their private parts dealt with accordingly.
“Women are not a piece of meat birthed for the sexual satisfaction of sleazy men.”
Aminah Siddiqui shared her thoughts and said:
“Learning about grooming scandals makes me uneasy. Sometimes I’m too scared to go out because I feel like I’m going to be a victim.
“My friends say let’s go out for an evening meal, but I tell them to go out for brunch or lunch instead because I want to be at home when it’s dark outside.
“For a confident girl, I feel like I’m losing confidence in the world.”
Humna Mehmood added: “It scares me when I’m out, but I will not allow stupid men to stop me living my life.
“When I go out I’m mindful of my surroundings.
“I bought myself and my sisters a rape alarm, and I tell my sisters when they’re walking alone at night, to have the alarm to hand and make sure their thumb is hovering over the button.
“It’s a sad piece of advice I have to give, but it has to be done now.”
Are young vulnerable white women deemed as lower and ‘easy’ by Pakistani men?
Haseeb Abbas said: “You don’t have to be white to be vulnerable. I don’t agree with this question. Anyone is vulnerable, it doesn’t matter which race or ethnicity you are.
“You say Pakistani men, but I say any man from any ethnicity can see anyone as a target.
“I think it’s unfair to label just Pakistani men because of what happened in Rochdale.”
Arshad Malik explained: “No woman is easy. I think that’s unfair to say. No woman asks to be sexually assaulted and have to live with it for the rest of their lives.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re white, black, Indian or Pakistani, when a male sees you as a target he sees you as a target, it’s as simple as that.”
How would the British Pakistani community react if white men were exploring young Pakistani women in this way?
Aliya Haroon said: “It’s scary to think about it. But I don’t think you should tie it down to a specific race.
“It doesn’t matter which religion you belong to, to be a target for sexual pleasures is a scary thing in itself. I just pray that God keeps everyone in His protection.”
Samina Khan said: “The community would react the same as any other community would.
“There have been a lot of news stories where white men have been sentenced to prison for rape and sexual abuse.
“It does not matter where you’re from, a crime is a crime and it is scary either way.”
How can such crimes be avoided in the future? Better education of sons and men about respect for all women?
Muhammad Assam said: “I think the importance of safety should be taught in school. I would say from Year 7 at least.
“Students need to be taught to respect one another and it’s a lifelong lesson that will stay with you.
“Having said that, learning about respect starts at home and at a young age.”
Rabiya Maqsood added: “Unfortunately this crime will never be avoided. You can teach individuals until you’re blue in the face, but there will always be people who will commit the crime.”
Operation Lytton has marked considerable advancements in addressing non-recent, multi-victim, multi-offender child sexual exploitation in Rochdale spanning the years 2000 to 2008.
The ongoing efforts of this operation have resulted in the charging of 37 suspects with a total of 303 offences.
Notably, in 2003, five individuals were convicted of 22 offences receiving a collective sentence of 71 and a half years imprisonment.
Looking ahead, 29 additional suspects are slated to undergo trial in 2025, which is an emphasis on the commitment to pursuing justice in these cases.