Child sex convictions spark UK debate about race and abuse

Britain is wrestling with a volatile nexus of crime, race and religion, after 18 people were convicted of sexually abusing women and girls as young as 15.

One woman and 17 men were convicted of or admitted to charges including rape, supplying drugs and inciting prostitution in a series of trials that ended this week at Newcastle Crown Court in northeast England.

The crimes follow a pattern that has become grimly familiar from cases across Britain in the last few years. The convicted men mostly come from South Asian Muslim backgrounds. Their victims — who were plied with drugs and alcohol before being abused at parties, in taxis or in back rooms — are mostly white.

The prosecution of child-grooming gangs in Rochdale, Rotherham, Oxford and now Newcastle has raised uncomfortable questions. Some allege that the crimes were long ignored by authorities afraid they would be branded racist or fearful the allegations might inflame ethnic tensions.

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Sarah Champion, a British lawmaker from Rochdale, said Thursday that the causes of abuse weren’t being tackled “because people are more afraid to be called a racist than they are afraid to be wrong about calling out child abuse.”

Ken Macdonald, Britain’s former chief prosecutor, said some of the blame lay with particular communities who regarded “vulnerable and disordered young girls (as) just opportunities for sexual abuse.”

“It is a disease of racism and sexism that will not abate until it is confronted culturally in homes, schools and places of worship as a question of dignity, respect and equal rights,” he said.

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