Over the holidays the English Defence League organised a march in Oxford protesting against “Muslim grooming gangs”. In the same week Katie Hopkins attacked Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk for posting a photo of himself at a Pakistani flag raising ceremony, tweeting, “Your Pakistani friends saw young white girls as fair game when they abused them.” Both cases reflect the discourse and lexis of the vitriolic right-wing tabloid press, where through constant focus on “Asian sex gangs” the implicit assertion is made that sexual abuse of children is a problem indicative of ‘Asian cultures’ and not what papers like the Daily Mail would term ‘traditional British culture’.
What makes this so insidious is how the mid-to-far right tabloid papers are attempting to use the exploitation of children as a tool to create fear and hate of minority groups by developing false, racist narratives. Underlying these attacks is an incredible failure to recognise that the problems they cite are universal. While the recent cases of Rochdale and Oxford are horrific, sexual abuse of children takes place around the world and is perpetrated by people of all cultures and ethnicities. This is just as true of white men born in England as of people born in other countries or of different races.
I saw this for myself last summer. Sitting in a bar on a beautiful Cambodian beach at sunset it would be easy to describe the scene as idyllic. However, the feeling was anything but. In the next bar along a group of loud, English men were surrounded by a larger group of small Cambodian women (most didn’t yet look adults). Sitting long enough to finish my drink it became fairly clear that the English guys were probably going to end up sleeping with some of these (very) young sex workers.
Pattaya, a city on the Thai coast, receives around 1.5 million Western visitors; famous for its sex industry the Thai government estimates a large minority travel to the city for that reason. The sex tourism industry, born when US soldiers left a demand vacuum behind after the Vietnam War, is booming. And with totally unregulated prostitution in very poor countries comes abuse.
This is acutely relevant to the discussion of child abuse because it is thought that one third of prostitutes in Cambodia and over one in six Thai prostitutes are children. The demand for pre-adolescents has been highlighted in cross-national surveys in which 38 percent of women and girls in the industry reported that they had entered it when their virginity had been bought. The result of this demand is that there are now estimated to be over 40,000 child prostitutes in the region, thousands of whom have been illegally trafficked away from their homes to touristy areas.
Although it is true that the demand is not purely Western, it is the money of Westerners which makes the industry so profitable and hence so hard to shut down. While in most cases the grooming is done by those born in these countries, the fact remains that some travel each year to abuse children in the region.
The crimes committed by British tourists in South East Asia demonstrate how the problem of sexual exploitation of children is one which cannot be accurately depicted as one peculiar ‘Asian groups’ and not to the Mail’s conception of traditional British groups. In a desperate attempt to stigmatize non-white communities the mid-to-far right reveals its total disregard for reality in their assertions that sexual predation in the UK has foundations in culture or ethnicity. As a result, it seems clear that it is quite simply lies when we read that with greater immigration these problems will be further introduced into our society, because quite clearly they are already here.