NY Times ROCHDALE, England — Shabir Ahmed, a delivery driver for two takeout places, did not have to go looking for young girls. Runaways and rebelious teenagers would show up at the restaurants, often hungry and cold. He slipped them free drinks and chicken tikka masala. “Call me Daddy,” he would say.
But soon, Mr. Ahmed, a father of four, would demand payback. In a room above one of the restaurants, according to testimony and evidence in later legal proceedings against him, he would play a pornographic DVD and pass around shots of vodka. Then, on a floor mattress with crumpled blue sheets and kitchen smells wafting from below, he raped them, and later forced them into sex with co-workers and friends, too.
The girls were too scared of him to talk. And when they did, no one believed them. Once, a 15-year-old got so drunk and upset that she smashed a glass counter. Mr. Ahmed and his colleagues did not hesitate to call the police. After she was released, she was coerced into sex four or five times a week, sometimes with half a dozen men at a time, in apartments and taxis around Rochdale, a town in northwest England near Manchester. [...]
The recent revelations that at least 1,400 teenage and preteenage girls had been sexually exploited over 16 years by so-called grooming gangs in another northern English city, Rotherham, stunned the nation because of the sheer scale of the abuse. And it put an uncomfortable spotlight on issues of race, religion and ethnicity in an increasingly multicultural nation: Nearly all of the rape suspects are Pakistani men, and nearly all of the victims are white. [...]
In a country already fiercely debating issues of immigration and national identity, the cases have prompted anti-Muslim demonstrations by far-right groups and some soul-searching generally. Why do British-Pakistani men figure so prominently? Were they deliberately targeting white girls and staying away from their own community? Did police and local officials turn a blind eye for fear of being accused of racism, losing votes among immigrant groups or stoking the kinds of tensions that have unleashed periodic rioting in other British towns? [...]
A powerful culture of shame and honor surrounding premarital sex, including rape, among some Asian Muslims, may also have skewed the victim statistics. Honor and shame certainly proved an effective tool when Mr. Shabir blackmailed his Asian victim into silence during a decade of regular abuse. “You are damaged goods,” he would tell her, threatening to force her into marriage if she spoke up, Mr. Afzal recalled. Asian victims of sexual abuse are three times less likely to come forward than white victims, he said, citing Home Office data.
“They fear not just their rapists,” said Shaista Gohir, chairwoman of the Muslim Women’s Network U.K. “They fear their own community and their own family: They fear honor crime, forced marriage and being shunned and ostracized for bringing shame to their family.” [...]