‘This is not the time to bury heads in sand’

Labour MP Naz Shah, Bradford West.
Labour MP Naz Shah, Bradford West.

Now is not the time to “bury our heads in the sand”, senior figures in Bradford have warned, saying that clear conversations must be had about tackling child sexual exploitation (CSE).

Bradford West MP Naz Shah said good work is being done to deal with challenges. But there is no time to be complacent, she said, and there is much to be done to ensure children are protected.

The scale of child sex abuse in Bradford

The scale of child sex abuse in Bradford

“I don’t feel people are shying away from it,” she said.

“We are starting to talk about CSE and rightfully so. This is a huge concern – any form of child abuse is a huge concern. There is an issue. We can’t ignore it, we can’t bury our heads in the sand.

“I’ve shared these very concerns that have been highlighted. Bradford Council and West Yorkshire Police are working hand in glove. Bradford is ahead of the game right now.

“What’s important is how we deal with it, and how we respond to it. There is some work to be done.”

There have been calls for an inquiry into what has happened in Bradford, but she said she can see little benefit from this.

“In Bradford, we have this week had a serious case review –that should go a long way. Yes, the figures are shocking.

“But it’s not necessarily the case that we have more abuse happening.

“If anything, because we are educating children more, we have more awareness. Do we need to put our resources into an inquiry, or do we focus on strengthening what we’re good at?”

The latest figures show that, of those suspects in Bradford whose ethnicity is known, 55 per cent are Asian, a significant number given that around a quarter of the district’s population is Asian.

This model is particularly prevalent around the issue of street grooming, Ms Shah has said.

Now a Muslim community group, set up in West Yorkshire to tackle street grooming, says what’s pivotal to tackling CSE is engagement with communities rather than apportioning blame.

“There is a lack of awareness still,” said Together Against Grooming (TAG) spokesman Ansar Ali. “We are going around talking to community groups – it’s not that long since we had a meeting with 80 to 100 women in Manningham.

“We were talking to them about the victims and they were shocked – but we were shocked that the women weren’t aware what was happening.

“There is a need to raise awareness. But there’s a way of engaging with the community.

“The wrong way is to apportion blame.”

There is a disproportionate number of people from Asian backgrounds involved in street grooming, he said, but, likewise there is a disproportionate number of white people involved in online grooming.

And while professional organisations such as the police and social services have only in recent years seen this as a priority, he said, Asian communities are catching up.

He added: “It’s going to take a while. This is a priority. But getting the community on board rather than apportioning blame is really important.”

The figures put Bradford into stark contrast compared to the rest of South and West Yorkshire.

But MP Naz Shah claims what is happening in Bradford is indicative of what is happening across the country.

“Is there a culture of abuse in Bradford?” she said. “It’s no different to the culture of abuse in football that is now engulfing us, to the culture of abuse within the church.

“However, in Bradford, we have a model of street grooming abuse which is pertinent to Pakistani men and that is something we need to address. We know as a country we have issues with child abuse. Bradford is heading in the right direction.”