Madni Tahir, Youth Network Officer with roshni looks at how we need to tackle the dangers of grooming, both in terms radicalisation and sexual exploitation.
Think about two people. They are young, both feel isolated and both feel misunderstood or unwanted. They are targeted online and manipulated by opportunistic criminals who seek to distort their view of the world around them. Both are told not to trust anyone else and to distance themselves from friends and family. Here’s where these stories diverge: one is being sexually groomed and the other is being ideologically groomed. The outcome for one is sexual exploitation, for the other it is radicalisation. However, the process of grooming is the same.
Why is only one of these young people considered a victim?
Is the perception that radicalised equals criminal a barrier to effectively tackling this issue?
Should radicalisation not also be viewed through the prism of child protection?
We thought it important that these questions form part of the wider debate. Combined with this, since both radicalisation and child sexual exploitation (CSE) are issues that directly affect minority ethnic (ME) young people, we felt it important to provide a non-judgemental platform for them to speak out. All of this informed roshni’s decision to hold an event that brought ME young people and policy makers together to discuss both issues.
Exploiting, Exploited: Radicalisation and Child Sexual Exploitation took place at Glasgow City Chambers on the 20th of May 2015. In attendance were over 200 ME young people, community members and representatives from the public and third sector. In addition, there were several agencies present for the discussion, including: acting Minister for Children and Young People, Fiona McLeod MSP; Deputy Chief Constable, Police Scotland, Iain Livingstone; and Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland QC. A keynote address was provided by Nazir Afzal OBE, former Chief Prosecutor for NW England, who was responsible for prosecuting several high profile cases of child abuse and has been extremely vocal on the links between radicalisation and CSE.Over the course of the evening, those in attendance were witness to a free-flowing debate, with young people and decision makers speaking constructively as equals. The discussion was wide-ranging and extremely informative; here are some of the key messages that arose:
Radicalisation and Childhood Sexual Exploitation are issues for all communities, not just some communities.
The consensus that emerged from the discussion was that we all have a personal responsibility to tackle grooming and abuse in all its forms. Similarly, a commonly expressed view during the debate was that ultimate responsibility for addressing these issues does not fall on one single group or organisation. Young people, community members, parents and third sector/agency representatives alike all called for a cohesive, collaborative and holistic approach going forward.
Education is a key step in tackling radicalisation and Childhood Sexual Exploitation.
A recurring theme around questions of cause, prevention and intervention for both issues was that a lack of awareness was contributing to the problem. With regard to radicalisation, many were of the opinion that a misunderstanding of the Muslim faith was contributing to widespread Islamophobia, which in turn was providing fuel for those seeking to radicalise. Many of the young people who participated wanted to see more measures, not only within the school curriculum, but on a local and national level to dispel common myths about Islam.
Another popular opinion was that more was required to educate both children and their parents on exactly what CSE is and how it can be prevented. Aside from the cultural barriers to addressing CSE in ME communities, many young people felt that a lack of knowledge was the main impediment. As was stated by one young person, we cannot expect communities to talk openly and sensitively about CSE if they do not have an awareness of exactly what it is.
Related to both issues, many felt education was required was to increase understanding of social media amongst parents. Several young people spoke about their own parents’ lack of knowledge about social media and expressed concern about how this translated into a lack of awareness about the potential dangers children are exposed to online
There is a perception that media coverage of both issues displays a bias against ME communities.
During the discussion young people expressed alarm at how high profile incidents of radicalisation and CSE are reported by media. Whether it is coverage of those who have fled overseas to join IS or reporting on cases of CSE with ME perpetrators, young people expressed the view that the finger of blame is too often pointed at ME communities as a whole. It is a familiar argument but based on the outcome of this discussion it is one that seemingly persists – unbalanced media coverage leaves many ME groups feeling unduly pressured to answer for the actions of a select few.
Young people need more opportunities voice their opinions on these issues, and for these opinions to be heard.
Exploiting, Exploited was a tremendous success and the responses we have had to it from all sectors have been extremely positive. This combined with the thoughtful and insightful contributions received from the young people involved makes it clear that events like this should be a regular occurrence. Indeed, this was the sentiment frequently expressed by those who took part, with many stressing the importance of meaningful dialogue on both topics as being crucial to overcoming the challenges they pose. For our part, roshni will actively seek to work colleagues in the third sector and national agencies to facilitate further platforms for discussion and debate across the country.
Of course, openly talking about these issues is only one important step in addressing them. We also need measured, collaborative and creative solutions. In this vein, we at roshni have recently announced our intention to engage with both the UK and Scottish Government with a view to securing their support for a peer counselling hotline. The youth-led hotline would act as a resource for young people to access vital information and to talk and access support, all in a non-judgemental and confidential setting.
A brief report detailing the findings of Exploiting, Exploited are available. If you would like a copy please email firstname.lastname@example.org with this request, or on any other aspect of the varied work we do with Scotland’s ME communities.
Youth Network Officer