The long running sexual exploitation case in Tyne and Wear, Operation Sanctuary, broke in the press recently. The public were made aware, after successful prosecutions, of what has been kept under wraps for the sake of the criminal justice process– many young women and girls in the region have experienced horrific sexual exploitation and abuse, at the hands of organised groups of perpetrators.
The public discourse has been one of horror and shock, that women and girls have endured this for so long and that our communities face similar challenges to those in Rotherham and Oxford.
It has also, however, stoked a fire of stereotyping by nationality and religion as the majority of perpetrators, of whom we are aware, are of Asian descent. Former Labour MP for Rotherham and Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, Sarah Champion, for example, resigned after claiming that “Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls".
Statements such as these sadly mask the whole truth of sexual violence in our society and empowers the far-right. This type of discourse emboldens those would have us believe in this dangerous stereotype, rather than examining the society wide problem of misogyny, and targeting of the vulnerable. The English Defence League (EDL) thus called a national demonstration in Newcastle on 9th September.
Show Racism the Red Card worked with Newcastle Unites to counter this demonstration with a message of hope for survivors and rejection of the divisive tactics of the EDL. We called for 'Justice for Survivors - Don't Let Racists Divide Us'.
Labour MP for Newcastle Central, Chi Onwurah, spoke at the demo alongside Newcastle Unites, Show Racism the Red Card, Stand Up To Racism, Unite Against Fascism, Imam Mohammed Roziur Rahman, Newcastle Stop The War, North East People's Assembly and National Assembly of Women.
The demo, supported by Jeremy Corbyn, attracted approximately 600 members of the Tyne and Wear community, who stood in solidarity with survivors and rejected the EDL’s 70 strong presence in the region.
Here’s what we said;
“Massive thanks to you all for joining us here today to drive the EDL and their supporters out of our region.
We’re here to tell them that their hate is weaker than our hope and their divisions weaker than our solidarity.
I’m here today speaking on behalf of Show Racism the Red Card, but also having previously supported survivors of sexual violence for two and a half years, from Operation Sanctuary and beyond.
The EDL are in our city today, trying to speak about the colliding of my two worlds. They do not have the knowledge, skills nor the aptitude to discuss these matters with any credibility.
It is a fact that sexual violence and abuse has no religion, nationality or skin colour. Rather, at its core is misogyny and patriarchy. These are factors that sadly permeate all communities and affect women and girls from all backgrounds. We are all responsible for challenging this, not solely one group or perceived community.
What perpetrators have in common, beyond all else, is their exploitation of the vulnerable. They target women and girls who are seen as already broken, who do not fit the ‘good girl’ stereotype and whom they see as easy targets.
Sadly, it is these same characteristics that resulted in the silence of survivors over years of exploitation and abuse. It is the same reason that these women and girls were often not listened to by the authorities involved in such cases.
Thankfully, there has been a shift in thinking amongst authorities and communities, and we hope that this means survivors will have access to both justice and recovery.
We know that these things do not end with a guilty verdict or engagement with the criminal justice system. Many of those affected by these crimes will never come forward and talk to police, we extend our hope and support to these women and girls.
Recovery goes beyond the criminal justice system, the survivors journey continues and we want them to know that we stand in solidarity with them.
Survivors deserve more than the divisive tactics of the far-right. They deserve our hope and support.
We are here today to demonstrate that we are sickened by the crimes they have experienced and will not allow their stories to be further exploited by the far-right.
It is the truth that the Operation Sanctuary perpetrators, of whom we are aware, are mostly of Asian descent. It is also true, however, that 89-90% of convicted perpetrators of sexual crimes against children in this country are white men. Their style of grooming is often different but their crimes remain vile and abhorrent.
I highlight this to show you that the media portrayal of sexual violence is unbalanced. I urge you to think critically about this and question the purpose behind it.
Make no mistake- the EDL and their supporters do not care about the rights of women and girls.
They are the same people who threatened a friend, who challenged their racist views, with a barbed wire lashing and aggressively chased away a young woman in Sunderland when she dared to stand alone in protest against them.
These are not the actions of people who care about the rights of women and girls.
They are, however, the actions of people who use the historic rhetoric of the dark skinned predator, coming for whoever they deem ‘their’ women to be, to justify their abhorrent views. It is the same un-evidenced rhetoric used from the time of the transatlantic slave trade until now to dehumanise black men. It is the same rhetoric used in pre-Nazi Germany, to dehumanise Jewish men.
This rhetoric is not without consequences. It has created stereotypes that still supports the discriminatory treatment of individuals, groups and whole communities today. If we buy into the EDLs tactics, we risk starting this process again.
We owe ourselves more than to fall into this trap.
We must learn from history, reject the divide and rule tactics of the far-right and focus on healing a community which is reeling with shock that exploitation happens amongst us.
I urge you to be vigilant to exploitation, be vigilant to the tactics of the far right. Commend the strength of survivors and do not let the racists divide us.”