FOLLOWING THE ROCHDALE CASE – DOES ETHNICITY PLAY A ROLE IN SEXUAL ABUSE? ARE ASIANS MORE PRONE TO SEXUAL ABUSE?

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ARE ASIANS MORE PRONE TO SEXUAL ABUSE?

RAJ PERSAUD CONSULTANT PSYCHIATRIST

A gang of Asian men sexually abusing a group of white girls has planted the spotlight firmly on the issue of ethnicity – is it a factor in sexual exploitation?

Linda Kalof, a sociologist from George Mason University in Virgina USA published one of the very few surveys available comparing sexual assault rates across ethnic groups. Entitled ‘Ethnic Differences in Female Sexual Victimisation’, the research published in the journal Sexuality & Culture, found that one third of a sample of almost 400 young women in a very cosmopolitan society (the USA) had experienced some form of sexual assault during college (22% of whom reported that they had been raped), and 52 percent had experienced unwanted sexual activity before the age of 18 (17.5% of whom reported that a family member or trusted family friend asked for or forced sexual activities).

Substantial differences emerged among the Black, White, Hispanic and Asian women. Black women had the highest and Asian women the lowest incidence of forced intercourse through verbal threats or pressure. The author also cites research into incest which finds that past studies have found Asian women experience the lowest rate of childhood sexual abuse compared to all other ethnic groups.

The study found that alcohol use was affected by your ethnic background and was a powerful predictor of whether you were likely to be sexually assaulted. This in no way is saying that women who are sexually assaulted are ‘asking for it’, but those who are more prone to drinking heavily or getting drunk appear much more vulnerable to sexual assault. In this research, Asian women were twice as likely as white women to

not drink alcohol while on a date or at social occasions. Ethnic influences your lifestyle, and it’s lifestyles which are actually the vital factors.

Your lifestyle is also dramatically influenced by your economic circumstances.

In a paper entitled ‘Sexual slavery without borders: trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation in India’, Christine Joffres and colleagues from the Simon Fraser University, Canada, collaborating with various Indian colleagues, for example at the Bihar Anti-trafficking Resource Centre, conclude that 800 000 women and children are trafficked each year across international borders, all over the world. Eighty per cent of the trafficked are destined for forced sex work. The review is published in the journal ‘International Journal for Equity in Health’, and concludes that India now appears to be one of the key international hubs for commercial sexual exploitation.

Joffres and colleagues report that girls from deprived and marginalized groups (like Dalits) are ‘recruited’ by brokers, sold to pimps or brothel owners (most of whom are ex-prostitutes), and coerced into prostitution. Brokers may be neighbours known to victims’ families, pretending to be helpful. Recruitment strategies include deceptive promises of paid work; persuading families to part with their children in exchange for clearing of crippling debts. Abduction and arranged marriages are also rife.

Under-age girls are ‘married’ to grooms who pay poverty-stricken parents a dowry. But once married (marriage makes this form of trafficking particularly difficult to challenge under the law, points out Joffres and colleagues), wives are either forced into prostitution directly by their husbands or abandoned or divorced and sold to a broker, who resells them to a brothel. Joffres and colleagues report common destinations for these women include Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and the United Arab Emirates.

Another form of sexual exploitation Joffres and colleagues report on which appears rife and increasing in India, includes sex tourism. Street children appear particularly vulnerable with charges per sexual act varying from 50 to 200 Indian Rs and can reach up to 1000 Rs when victims remain with their clients overnight or longer.

The Rochdale case which dominated the headlines for so long involved around 50 white girls and was an utterly reprehensible and sickening crime. Joffres and colleagues quote a recent report commissioned by the Indian Department of Women and Child Development which estimated the number of persons trafficked for Commercial Sexual Exploitation in India to be around 2.8 million, an increase of 22% from an earlier estimate.

These alarming figures don’t actually tell you very much about ethnicity, but they do illuminate the horror of poverty. It’s no accident that the girls involved in the Rochdale case have been repeatedly described as ‘vulnerable’, which may mean they were also impoverished.

It’s fascinating to see how easy it is to distract the opinion formers by waving the red flag of race, as opposed to pointing the finger at the real crime we all need to do more about, poverty. The danger is if the correct lesson isn’t able to be learnt because of all the shouting about race, the crime won’t go away.

REFERENCES

Sexual slavery without borders: trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation in India Christine Joffres, Edward Mills, Michel Joffres, Tinku Khanna, Harleen Walia and Darrin Grund. International Journal for Equity in Health, 7:22

Ethnic differences in female sexual victimization. Linda Kalof. Sexuality & Culture Volume 4, Number 4, 75-98

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