in category Politics

Is there a Muslim sexual grooming problem in the UK?

1 Answer
1 Answer
8 Helpful
1 Unhelpful
In January 2011, the British newspaper 'The Times' claimed to have uncovered a new crime threat of 'on-street grooming', with a front page expose titled 'Revealed: Conspiracy of silence on UK sex gangs'. This led to extensive and emotive debate around an alleged 'Asian sex gang' problem in the UK.

There have been a number of articles critiquing the validity of such claims, examining their foundations and exploring possible causes and consequences.

Grooming is not a distinct offence but an ill-defined subset of child sexual exploitation. Claims of a uniquely racial crime threat are not only ill-founded but Asian and Muslims are overrepresented and overexagerrated. The current fixation with grooming and 'Asian sex gangs' have been shown to further a political agendum and legitimise thinly veiled racism, ultimately doing victims a disservice.

Impartial and critical discussions around child sexual exploitation are urgently needed in public debate, especially that conducted by the media and policy. Information on victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse is difficult to come by. Where cases do come to light the characteristics of those involved are not always recorded or are recorded in unhelpful, or possibly even discriminatory ways. Where statistics are cited they are assumed objective, the underlying methods and assumptions are not scrutinised resulting in distorted claims being widely disseminated and shared.

Media Statistics

The Times newspaper's reporting of sexual grooming as a new "racial crime threat" relies on questionable foundations comprising anecdotes, opinions and spurious statistics.

Its alleged proof sexual grooming was racial in nature was of fifty-six offenders who were convicted three were white whilst fifty-three were Asian, fifty being Muslim, a majority being Pakistani.

Despite their severity, seventeen cases is not a 'tidal wave of offending' as it claimed, disproportionate to the original threat but important for inducing a moral panic.

An exploratory academic study was also cited. The authors were forced to publicly clarify their unpublished work had focused on two cases only. The Times had de-contextualised their work and deliberately over-extended it seeking to characterise an entire crime type. The Times' statistics were unfortunately widely disseminated, repeated uncritically with sources rarely addressed.

The Times' also cited figures from press coverage from 1997-2011. They extracted convictions where two or more men sexually abused girls aged 11-16 years met locally. These inclusion parameters excluded male victims and are little more than self-serving designed to provide evidence for a predetermined 'Asian model'. Reliance on press coverage to measure crime naturally echoes media biases about newsworthiness, including the tendency to over-report offences involving lower-class or ethnic minority offenders.

Official Statistics

Two large-scale government studies were undertaken due to the public moral panic arising from the media reporting. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre's (CEOP) assessment of 'localised grooming' and the Office of the Children's Commissioner for England's (OCCE) study on 'child sexual exploitation in gangs and groups'.

These studies measured not convicted/charged suspects but simply those highlighted by data-providers as suspects. Consequently, the degree of active engagement with CSE locally is likely to impact upon the level of CSE identified. There has been no single study covering all forms of CSE.

University College London researcher Ella Cockbain summarised each of these studies findings regarding suspects' ethnicity noting both reported considerable data deficiencies, including missing or incomplete data.

"Addressing the UK as a whole, CEOP measured 'localised grooming': the name echoing the new grooming debate, a clear example of media influence shaping official responses.

Like The Times, CEOP focused on community-based CSE, specifically excluding familial, peer-on-peer, professional35 or primarily online abuse. Unlike The Times, CEOP removed limitations on victims' age and gender and covered both solo and group offenders. Of the 31 per cent (N = 753) of suspects for whom race was known, 49 per cent (N = 367) were white and 46 per cent (N = 346) Asian.

Meanwhile, the OCCE included all forms of CSE in England, both online and offline, but was restricted to offenders acting in groups of two or more, the exclusion of solo offenders seriously undermining its claim to provide the 'most thorough and comprehensive collection of information' on CSE to date. The statistics presented in the report are often confused and incoherent, exacerbating methodological shortcomings and understandable data deficiencies. What can be disentangled is that only a minority of submissions to the call for evidence included any information on suspects.

Of a total of 1,514 suspects thus identified, race data were available for 84 per cent (N = 1266). For those suspects where race was known, 43 per cent (N = 545) were white and 33 per cent (N = 415) Asian.

These studies clearly demonstrate that, contrary to popular opinion, CSE is not a uniquely Asian threat: in both cases the single largest ethnic group among suspects was white. At first sight, however, the large proportion of Asian suspects is concerning, since Asians comprise just 7 per cent of the British and 6 per cent of the English population. Yet, at least one, if not both, of these studies relied overwhelmingly on a few geographical areas for their suspect data. Consequently, it would be more accurate and informative to compare the demographic (including racial) composition of the suspect group to that of these areas alone. Neither study included such analysis, nor did they provide information on the geographical provenance of their limited data that would have facilitated independent analysis. Instead, this was a missed opportunity to reduce confusion, alleviate claims of institutional cover-ups and ultimately make a meaningful contribution to the race debate."


Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, Out of Mind, Out of Sight: breaking down the barriers to understanding child sexual exploitation (London, CEOP, 2011).

Office of the Children's Commissioner for England, 'I thought I was the only one. The only one in the world': interim report from Enquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups (London, OCCE, 2012).

The Times, 'Revealed: conspiracy of silence on UK sex gangs', published online (5 January 2011), available at: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/uk/crime/article2863058.ece

Cockbain, E. (2013). Grooming and the 'Asian sex gang predator': the construction of a racial crime threat. Race & Class, 54(4), 22-32. https://doi.org/10.1177/0306396813475983

User Settings

What we provide!

Vote Content

Great answers start with great insights. Content becomes intriguing when it is voted up or down - ensuring the best answers are always at the top.

Multiple Perspectives

Questions are answered by people with a deep interest in the subject. People from around the world review questions, post answers and add comments.

An authoritative community

Be part of and influence the most important global discussion that is defining our generation and generations to come

Join Now !

Update chat message


Delete chat message

Are you sure you want to delete this message?