- Top Muslim writer persuaded the families of jailed rapists to share their stories
- But behind their veils, the wives say they blamed the girls and their parents too
- One woman described victims as 'filthy' and said they dressed without respect
Speaking out: Some of the wives of the jailed gang members condemn the men's victims
It is a rainy day in June and I am in a terraced house in Manchester. It belongs to an acquaintance who I will call Mrs Soni, a retired Asian school teacher.
She is shaking with nerves and I, too, am feverishly anxious as we wait, repeatedly peeping out through heavy red curtains.
Our guests had said they would come at nine in the morning, after the children had gone to school. The street is quiet. Few Asians live here, which is important.
I am meeting the wives of three men convicted of a terrible crime – of grooming and raping dozens of white girls. Nila, the 18-year-old daughter of one of them, will be there as well.
It was Nila who had approached me in Leeds when I gave a talk earlier this year. Small for her age, softly spoken, she had beautiful, green-brown eyes, Kashmiri, like her mother’s.
She was upset. ‘My dad is in prison because he was with others raping small white girls,’ she told me. ‘I hate him. He made my mum pregnant eight times even when she didn’t want to do it. I heard her crying. Six babies died. He did that to her for so long. But never went to prison.’
Since reports of a gang of Pakistani-British sexual predators in Rotherham first emerged in 2011, there has been a string of horrific cases: in Rochdale, Peterborough, Bristol, Aylesbury and at least 20 other towns across the country.
Even now white girls, many from troubled homes, are being violated by men who profess to be good Muslims. Such are the explosive racial and religious implications that, to our shame, many refuse to face the problem.
Look at what happened to Sarah Champion, Labour MP for Rotherham, who was sacked from the shadow front bench for saying just this. Or take the case of Amina Lone, a Muslim councillor from Birmingham, who rightly defended Champion but was then told she cannot stand for re-election.
Jailed: Shabir Ahmed (top left), Adil Khan (top right), Abdul Aziz (bottom left) and Qari Abdul Rauf were members of a child sex grooming gang
Yes, sexual predators come from all classes and races. However, in organised group rapes, such as those in Rotherham and Rochdale, the issues of race and ethnicity are undeniable. They must be addressed.
As a female British-Muslim writer, I am deeply troubled by the Muslim men who work in packs and entrap and ravage young white girls and teenagers.
Thanks to the procession of disturbing court cases and the BBC drama Three Girls, based on the Rochdale scandal, we now know the gruesome details of the crimes.
But we know nothing about how these rapists behaved behind their own closed doors.
They had wives and children – how could they commit such abhorrent crimes?
And now, at last, I was getting access to the family members. I had to promise their names would be changed and that none would be identified. The consequences, if discovered, would be unimaginable.
A car arrived. Two women in grey headscarves got out timidly. The third, Nusrat, had a long plait and was modestly dressed in trousers and a top.
The driver was Nila, her daughter. They went to the back sitting room.
It will be a long time before I forget the three hours of emotional chaos, disorientation and pain that followed. I learned that they, too, had been subject to despicable sexual abuse.
But I also discovered that, trapped in a world of obedience and ignorance, too many also blame the white teenaged victims for leading their abusers on.
These predators – and the wives who seek to justify their behaviour – must understand that women are not white or brown flesh to be consumed at will
Nila’s mother, Nusrat, was the most confident. She was born in Britain and married a relative, as expected.
Three years ago, he divorced her – punishment for opposing his plans to force Nila to marry his second cousin. Today, she works as a dinner lady.
The other two women, Homa and Mariam, came as young, virgin brides from villages in Pakistan. Arriving here, they spoke no English and their mothers-in-law treated them like slaves.
The women would not discuss the intimate parts of their lives at first, resorting instead to vague words and platitudes: ‘Muslim women must give husband,’ said one of them. ‘He want, she don’t like but must give.’
But bit by bit, they opened up, describing a world of loveless sex on demand, of domestic violence, routine debasement.
‘He did it hard, it hurt,’ said Nusrat. ‘It was always painful. He say I am his toy. I say no, he pushed me down, made me cry. He was like a dog.’
Homa’s husband was, she says, a kind man when she first came over. He worked for an ironmonger’s.
When it closed, he became a cabbie and changed. He stayed out all hours, hit her, shouted at her and insisted on sex just a few days after she had given birth. Once she fainted with the pain. There was a lot of blood.
Did she complain? These are not matters that are commonly discussed among Muslim women.
I tried to dig further down. How, exactly, did their relationships work?
The men, always controlling, had become more so with time, angry as they grew older and as the children grew up. These were marriages with no hugs or kisses, with little overt love and a great deal of fear.
A portrait emerged of a generation of men torn between two cultures – and they were angry about it. They are more alienated than the older migrants, their fathers and grandfathers, who chose to come here to build new lives and felt more respected.
As Nila said: ‘Men like my dad hate freedom. They punish us for something that they can’t change.’
Did the wives know about the criminal abuse committed by their husbands, or at least suspect? They all claimed not to, and I believed them. They could not discuss, let alone question, their husband’s movements.
As one said: ‘He is a man. He comes and goes as he wants. He doesn’t answer to me.’
Perhaps what took place was beyond their comprehension.
They do not seem to understand the concept of consensual sex. In their world, the sex drive is a male urge that must be satisfied. Their men took the white girls as they took their wives.
And from all the evidence, it is clear the men in question still blame the victims and feel no remorse. They are sexual psychotics.
Yet, painful as it is to say, it became clear, too, that the men are not alone in blaming the victims.
I asked the women how they would feel if their children had been drugged and raped. They agreed it would break their hearts. But, Mariam said: ‘It can’t happen to our children because they are not in the streets. We look after them.’
Only Nusrat and Nila were prepared to condemn the abuse without reservation.
The others, it seemed, privately blamed the girls and even their parents. It became clear they had a very confused sense of morality.
Nusrat fought back, saying: ‘You know our girls are raped by uncles, fathers, brothers and imams. My neighbour’s daughter had a baby when she was 12. It was her uncle. They blamed her. Sent her to Pakistan. We don’t see the truth.’
But later, at a separate meeting, I encountered Suju, the wife of another jailed groomer. She was afraid of him but she, too, thinks white girls are: ‘Filthy. How they dress. They have no shame, no fear of Allah.’
Was it OK to hurt them the way the men did?, I asked. ‘No. You can’t hurt people. Allah does not want that,’ she replied. ‘But it is the girls who should be careful.
They did something to him, maybe bad magic. I am now alone, no money, no life.’
It is wrong to suggest all Asian men are sexual predators. The Muslim men I know love and take care of their wives and are deeply shaken by the convictions.
Muslim activists fear talking about the abusers encourages racism.
They may be right. But the grooming gangs are responsible for much greater racial hostility. Progressive Muslims must make this crime socially unacceptable.
The communities which shelter and defend these men must be confronted.
We need research into why a disproportionate number of Pakistani Muslim men in Britain commit this crime as well as offer compulsory re-education for those who have been locked up.
These predators – and the wives who seek to justify their behaviour – must understand that women are not white or brown flesh to be consumed at will.