On the relative irrelevance of sex offender demographics

This piece was originally written for the press and published in September 2014. The delay in posting it here has been my own.

From Jimmy Savile to Rochdale: sometimes, it feels as though the news over the past couple of years has been about little other than the sexual abuse and rape of children. Major institutions have been charged with failing to investigate accusations of impropriety and of covering up the ‘open secret’ of celebrities having sex with minors. More recently, there have been the Rotherham scandals, involving gangs of men grooming and sexually assaulting young girls subject to the care system – a system which, quite obviously, failed to care for them adequately. It’s certainly not the case that everyone in care is preyed upon and exploited but a cursory glance at the facts suggests that care sometimes falls short: children in care have poorer educational outcomes, are more likely to have poorer emotional and behavioural health and to use substances than their peers who are not cared for by the State. Rates of criminality, mental health problems, teenage pregnancy and homelessness in adulthood are also higher. Frequently, children in care will have experienced early adversity, be it parental substance use, domestic violence or a history of abuse or neglect. These are often vulnerable individuals and they are likely to require enhanced support compared to other children their own age.

But all that has been forgotten. The press is busy describing the Rotherham offenders as ‘Muslim’ or ‘Pakistani’ or ‘of Pakistani origin’ or something similarly designed to tarnish all members of one or other community with the same brush. Cue counter-pieces stating, rightly, that not all paedophiles are Muslim, Pakistani or of Pakistani origin. The overwhelming majority of sex offenders in prison are white, though it would be incorrect to assume that the rates of reporting and conviction are the same across ethnic groups. Ethnic minorities, particularly those from Asian backgrounds, are less likely to report abuse because the dual burdens of shame and stigma continue to act as a deterrent. The effect is that ever-increasing numbers of children are raped and that rapists get away with it.

Personally, I have no interest in the demographics of paedophiles. You don’t violate a child because of your ethnic background, nor because you notionally subscribe to a particular faith. You violate a child because you disregard the rights of that child to only engage in consensual sex. It’s not about being Asian, or Muslim, or white, or Church of England. It’s simply about being a rapist.

As for the girls? Who knows? What we do know is this. Children who are sexually assaulted are more likely to experience mental health problems, including eating disorders, and to self-harm. They are more likely to misuse drugs and alcohol and to attempt suicide. They are more likely to have difficulties in forming and maintaining relationships and to be in violent, emotionally abusive relationships. The impact is often devastating, and may be life-long. But, what with all our hand-wringing over our religious and cultural identity, we have forgotten that there are children, violated children, at the centre of this.