April 7, 2023 Abdul Haqq

Do You Believe in Monsters?

The latest media headlines revealing the ‘biggest ever’ child sex ring are alarming, however, they should not come as a surprise.[1] Contrary to more dominant narratives asserting Asian grooming gangs as being the most prevalent perpetrators of this type of offence, the reality is altogether different:

“The majority of child sexual abuse gangs are made up of white men under the age of 30, an official paper has said.

The report, which covers England, Scotland and Wales and summarises a range of studies on the issue of group-based child sexual exploitation (CSE), also known as grooming gangs, said there was not enough evidence to conclude that child sexual abuse gangs were disproportionately made up of Asian offenders.

High-profile cases including in Rotherham, Rochdale and Telford have involved groups of men of mainly Pakistani ethnicity, fuelling a perception that it is an “Asian problem”.

As a result “Asian grooming gangs” have become a cause celebre for the far right, with a number of high-profile figures mounting campaigns across the country.” [2]

In view of this 2020 Home Office report, it is disconcerting to note the latest home Secretary, Suella Braverman’s comments disproportionately targeting a particular minority – Pakistani men in this instance – for child sexual abuse:

“What’s clear is that what we’ve seen is a practice whereby vulnerable white English girls, sometimes in care, sometimes who are in challenging circumstances, being pursued and raped and drugged and harmed by gangs of British Pakistani men who’ve worked in child abuse rings or networks…” [3]

No, Ms Braverman, your assertions are not clear and are contradictory to a predecessor’s authorised report. The ensuing criticism she received for expressing such tone deaf comments was unsurprising, as were the demands for her to apologise for what is tantamount to racism. It is important to state at this juncture that the abhorrent child sex crimes, like those committed in Rotherham[4] by a minority from other ethnic groups cannot be obfuscated by this latest news. Those crimes are equally egregious, in fact, more so when considering the faith-based communities some of them apparently resided amongst. However, we should not forget a particular personality, once considered a pillar of Britain’s entertainment industry and a darling of the nation – the prolific paedophile, Jimmy Saville, who subjected hundreds of young vulnerable children (often during hospital visits where he even had a private room) to horrific sexual abuse for more than six decades. Feted by the late queen, other royalty and even a pope, “He groomed a nation…[5] He was, like the latest child sex abuse gang, quintessentially white, British and able to perpetrate his crimes in plain sight. Reverting to the original import of this article, one learns about the depravity of the cabal of 21 criminals, including among them 8 women, who inflicted abhorrent and cruel offences for more than a decade:

“Paedophiles involved in the biggest-ever child sex abuse ring in the West Midlands have been sentenced to more than 145 years. A total of 21 people have been convicted of sickening crimes against seven children up to the age of 12…

It is the biggest investigation of its kind in West Midland Police’s history, with one detective branding the ‘systematic’ abuse as the ‘most shocking’ he has ever seen.” [6]

Normalisation of the Abnormal: We need to fix it (because Jim didn’t)

There is a strong argument that posits society is being conditioned to accept ideals once considered abnormal:

“The difference between willful ignorance and true self-deception is subtle, but important. Willful ignorance tends to be more adaptive than self-deception. Willful ignorance is a cognitive strategy that people adopt to promote their emotional well-being, whereas self-deception is less controllable and more likely to be detrimental. Although willful ignorance and self-deception sometimes help individuals to avoid unpleasant facts, in the long run, it is usually better to confront reality than to avoid or deny it.” [7]

Contrastingly, detractors from the above claim would assert society is in an era of hyper-normalisation. British documentary maker, Adam Curtis, falls into this particular camp:

““HyperNormalisation” is a word that was coined by a brilliant Russian historian who was writing about what it was like to live in the last years of the Soviet Union. What he said…was that in the 80s everyone from the top to the bottom of Soviet society knew that it wasn’t working, knew that it was corrupt, knew that the bosses were looting the system, knew that the politicians had no alternative vision. And they knew that the bosses knew they knew that. Everyone knew it was fake, but because no one had any alternative vision for a different kind of society, they just accepted this sense of total fakeness as normal…

…although we are not in any way really like the Soviet Union, there is a similar feeling in our present day. Everyone in my country and in America and throughout Europe knows that the system that they are living under isn’t working as it is supposed to; that there is a lot of corruption at the top. But whenever the journalists point it out, everyone goes “Wow that’s terrible!” and then nothing happens and the system remains the same.” [8]

Perhaps the ensuing question in light of the above positions will be, how can paedophilia ever be normalised or even accepted? When considering the current societal climate and, reflecting on the degree of change, moral decay and resultant mental health issues over the past 2 or more decades, we should not be surprised to learn of advocates continuing to seek loopholes in existing legislation to normalise child-adult sexual relationships. As the following abstract from an academic publication highlights, such entities seek to identify and attempt to exploit such legislative gaps where possible:

“This chapter examines the threat of sexual molestation. It demonstrates that up until the 1970s this was a far less significant factor behind the segregation of children than was traffic. Indeed, the language of paedophilia and widespread alarm over sexual abuse of children only became commonplace after the mid-1970s. Psychology initially tended to downplay the danger, accepting the sexuality of the child, viewing criminal procedures as psychologically damaging, and casting suspicion on the reliability of the child voice.

The second half of the chapter looks at how this situation changed in the 1970s. It examines an extraordinary moment in which the paedophile rights lobby mistakenly saw an opportunity to publicize their cause. The resulting outcry was significant in helping to draw to a close a radical stream of thinking about child freedom that came to the fore in the early 1970s.” [9]

More recently, the Scottish Chief Constable, Iain Livingstone, referred to a project whose main agenda was:

“…to develop understanding and approach to avoid the victimization of children by engaging Minor-Attracted People (MAPs) and providing them with the necessary support, treatment and guidance to help prevent criminal activities.”[10]

Unsurprisingly, the introduction of this new, seemingly insipid terminology in an attempt to replace the more commonly known descriptor, paedophile, did not go unnoticed, with several media outlets, MPs and campaign groups claiming it could normalise paedophilia.[11]

Place and Time: A Question of Context?

In today’s 21st century context, controversy abounds regarding the legality of adult-child sexual intimacy, particularly where ‘marriage’ is concerned. Medievally, practices such as child marriages were considered normal across many societies and religious practices. For example:

“At what age did girls usually get married in the Middle Ages?

You could get married as soon as you hit puberty – and parental consent was not required. Marriage was the only acceptable place for sex in the medieval period, and as a result Christians were allowed to marry from puberty onwards, generally seen at the time as age 12 for women and 14 for men.” [12]

Child marriages are generally frowned upon today for a number of reasons, among them being scientific, technological and socioeconomic advancement, not forgetting improvements in health care to name a few. However, we continue to witness this practice in a few societies today, including the U.S. Academic, Jonathan Brown, provides a scenario while considering parallel contexts:

“Even more ironic is that in every US state couples can marry under eighteen (usually as young as sixteen) with their parents’ or a judge’s consent. Twenty-seven states have no minimum age in such situations. These facts are controversial, as much recent reporting on child marriages in the US demonstrates. But they remain facts nonetheless. Allowing the marriage of minors in the US with parental consent introduces a third, real problem: where exactly is the dividing line between the autonomy of the individual–the idea of what he or she thinks is best–and the influence and priorities of those whom that individual loves and values?

Imagine this situation: an American parent assents to their fifteen-year-old daughter getting married to her twenty-five-year-old boyfriend. In this case, a minor, who cannot consent according to our moral and legal conventions, is able to marry because her guardian believes she is making a decision that is good for her. But what if this parent, the person who has been making decisions on what is best for their daughter for fifteen years, suggests to her that marrying a certain man would be good for her. And the daughter agrees. That would be legally acceptable in American society, too. This becomes even more complicated when we move outside what we imagine to be Western liberal society, either in space or backwards in time, before mass urbanization and the fracturing of societies into disintegrating nuclear families.

Let’s continue with the case of the hypothetical American parent and daughter, except now the parent is not American but a farmer in rural Yemen. This father decides to marry his daughter to his neighbor’s son because they are part of the same clan, whose integrity is essential for all their lives and feelings of community. His daughter does not know or particularly like the boy, but she so honors her father and so trusts him to do what is best for their entire family, herself included, that she agrees to the marriage. Is that an instance of consent? How is it different from the previous hypotheticals?” [13]

Restricting the Permissible?

The juxtaposing of the two examples posed by Brown can be, perhaps, emphatically addressed by implementing a principle introduced in Islam to tackle similar religio-societal challenges of any given era; that of effectively restricting what was commonly considered permissible in order to protect particular citizens and/or minorities, the sole objective being to achieve improved societal cohesion and harmony:

“By the 1600s in the Ottoman Empire, it was not uncommon for the state’s official school of law, the Hanafi, to reference sultanic edicts in its main lawbooks. Within this acknowledged purview of state legal authority lay the power to administratively restrict. Not to declare something haram in the eyes of God, but illegal according to the state.

What this meant was that, by the 1300s, a concept later referred to as restricting the permissible (taqyīd al-mubāḥ) had coalesced in Islamic legal thought. In short, it held that a Muslim ruler (or state) could restrict what was otherwise permissible if this had some basis in the objectives of the Shariah, such as promoting some common good. In a region in which one school of law predominated, this might mean applying the school’s more restrictive ruling….” [14] 

To emphasise this point, Brown provides additional insight:

“Restricting the permissible expanded into a more robust and oft-invoked principle in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in part due to controversial issues like slavery…

The Tunisian master Maliki scholar Ibn ʿAshur…invoked this authority when asked if a Muslim government could ban polygamy. ‘The ruler can prohibit (yamnaʿa) the people from doing this permitted act,’ he replied, ‘due to the existence of some harm in it. And Islamic history is full of examples showing this . . .’” [15]

Within today’s context and, irrespective of opposing views (religious or otherwise), this legislative position could provide an overarching solution for what is considered by many (but not all), a medieval practice – abusive at the most extreme end of the spectrum and out-dated at the other.

Conclusion: Are you afraid of monsters? You should be

It has been necessary to provide the type of detail elucidated upon on this occasion due to the gravity of the challenges faced today, especially as it concerns our children’s emotional, spiritual and physical wellbeing. Society is failing them while criminalising parents in the process as we endeavour to nurture and adequately prepare them for their respective futures. It is important to not lose sight of parental rights in order to continue challenging the ever-diluting values, shifting sands and changing goalposts. Indeed;

“There is a continued fascination with all things monster… Monsters serve as metaphors for anxieties of aberration and innovationmonsters represent evil or moral transgression…

Monsters in contemporary culture, however, have become more humane than ever before. Monsters are strong, resilient, creative and sly creatures. Through their playful and invigorating energy they can be seen to disrupt and unsettle. They still cater to the appetite for horror, but they also encourage us to feel empathy. The encounter with a monster can enable us to stop, wonder and change our attitudes towards technology, our body and each other.” [16]

Beware of monsters; you probably already know one.





[1] Bagdi, A: Faces behind ‘biggest-ever’ child sex abuse ring as they are sentenced to 145 years,’ Black Country, 5th April 2023: https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/black-country/faces-behind-biggest-ever-child-26638671

[2] Grierson, J: ‘Most child sexual abuse gangs made up of white men, Home Office report says,’ The Guardian, 15th December 2020: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/dec/15/child-sexual-abuse-gangs-white-men-home-office-report

[3] Garton-Crosbie, A: ‘Home Secretary accused of ‘parroting far-right myths’ about British Pakistani men,’ The National, 2nd April 2023: https://www.thenational.scot/news/23429688.home-secretary-accused-parroting-far-right-myths-british-pakistani-men/

[4] Scheerhout, J: ‘Who were the men in the Rochdale grooming gang and what happened to them?’ Manchester Evening News, 3rd July 2017, updated 10th June 2020: https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/men-rochdale-grooming-tariq-jail-13035428

[5] Holden, M: ‘Prolific sex abuser Savile “groomed a nation”: UK police,’ Reuters, 11th January 2013: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-savile-idUSBRE90A0C320130111

[6] Bagdi, A: Faces behind ‘biggest-ever’ child sex abuse ring as they are sentenced to 145 years,’ Black Country, 5th April 2023: https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/black-country/faces-behind-biggest-ever-child-26638671


[7] California Cogntive Behavorial Institute: ‘Normalizing the Abnormal,’ https://theccbi.com/normalizing-the-abnormal/ accessed 7th April 2023

[8] N.B: ‘The antidote to civilizational collapse,’ The Economist, 6th December 2018: https://www.economist.com/open-future/2018/12/06/the-antidote-to-civilisational-collapse

[9] Thomson, M: ‘Sexual Danger and the Age of the Paedophile,’ Oxford Academic, pp. 153-183, published September 2013, https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199677481.003.0007 & https://academic.oup.com/book/9885/chapter-abstract/157191825?redirectedFrom=fulltext accessed 7th April 2023.

[10] Miller, A M: ‘Scotland deflect blame after being blasted for report describing pedophiles as minor-attracted people,’ New York Post, 31st December 2022: https://nypost.com/2022/12/31/scotland-police-deflect-blame-after-being-blasted-for-report-describing-pedophiles-as-minor-attracted-people/

[11] Donaghy, G: ‘Police Scotland hits back over claims it is trying to ‘rebrand’ paedophiles,’ Irish Post, 1st January 2023: https://www.irishpost.com/news/police-scotland-hits-back-over-claims-it-is-trying-to-rebrand-paedophiles-245165

[12] Calendar-UK: ‘At what age did girls usually get marries in the Middle Ages? Calendar-UK: https://www.calendar-uk.co.uk/faq/at-what-age-did-girls-usually-get-married-in-the-middle-ages accessed 7th April 2023.

[13] Brown, J: ‘Slavery and Islam,’ https://amzn.eu/bMxLy0H

[14] Ibid: https://amzn.eu/19dLsce

[15] Ibid: https://amzn.eu/4Ms9Wgj

[16] Erle, S & Hendry, H: ‘Monsters: interdisciplinary explanations in monstrosity,’ Humanities & Social Sciences Communications, Palgrave Communications 6, Article number: 53 (2020): https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-020-0428-1 & https://www.nature.com/articles/s41599-020-0428-1#citeas


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