LONDON – A judge in northwest England is set to sentence nine men for luring girls as young as 13 years old into sexual encounters using alcohol and drugs — a case that has stirred racial tensions and sparked claims that authorities are failing to protect vulnerable children in state care.
Because all the defendants were of Pakistani or Afghan descent, and all the victims white, the case has been seized upon by far-right groups, who protested outside the trial in Liverpool.
More measured voices have pointed out that the majority of sex crimes in Britain are committed by white men. But some say there is a specific problem in northern English communities, where a toxic combination of alienated men — from countries such as Pakistan and India — and vulnerable, unsupervised girls has allowed exploitation to flourish.
Twenty-six men were arrested in the investigation, which identified 47 potential victims. Eleven men were charged and nine convicted of charges including rape, assault, sex trafficking and conspiracy.
The men, aged between 22 and 59, will be sentenced Wednesday by Judge Gerald Clifton at Liverpool Crown Court.
Martin Narey, former chief executive of the children's charity Barnardo's, said men of South Asian descent were "overwhelmingly represented in prosecutions" for sexual exploitation offenses in some northern English towns such as Rochdale, 170 miles (275 kilometers) from London.
"That is not to condemn a whole community. Most Asians would absolutely abhor what we have seen in the last few days in the Rochdale trial, and I don't think this is about white girls," he told the BBC. "It's sadly because vulnerable girls on the street at night are generally white rather than more strictly parented Asian girls, but there is a real problem here."
The men abused the girls in taxis, kebab shops and apartments. The men used various defenses, including claiming the girls were prostitutes. Several said they did not know the age of consent in Britain, which is 16.
British police and the Crown Prosecution Service have apologized for delays in investigating the case. One of the victims first spoke out about the incidents in 2008, but prosecutors failed to press charges after concerns that a jury might have questioned the girl's credibility.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating why that decision was made.