A British lawmaker was forced to resign Wednesday after writing a controversial column in which she asserted “Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls” -- a claim that sparked a debate about child abuse in the country.
Sarah Champion resigned nearly a week after her column appeared in the wake of the convictions of 18 people who sexually abused women and girls as young as 15.
"Britain has a problem with British-Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls," she wrote in The Sun. "There. I said it. Does that make me a racist? Or am I just prepared to call out this horrifying problem for what it is? For too long we have ignored the race of these abusers and, worse, tried to cover it up."
She later apologized for her "extremely poor choice of words," and quit her position as shadow equalities minister.
One woman and 17 men were convicted of, or admitted to, charges including rape, supplying drugs and inciting prostitution in a series of trials that ended last week at Newcastle Crown Court in northeast England.
The crimes followed a pattern that has become grimly familiar in cases across Britain in the last few years. The convicted men mostly come from South Asian Muslim backgrounds. Their victims — who were plied with drugs and alcohol before being abused at parties, in taxis or in back rooms — were mostly white.
The prosecution of child-grooming gangs in Rochdale, Rotherham, Oxford and now Newcastle has raised uncomfortable questions in Britain. Some allege the crimes were long ignored by authorities afraid they would be branded racist or fearful the allegations might inflame ethnic tensions.
Champion has previously said the causes of abuse weren't being tackled "because people are more afraid to be called a racist than they are afraid to be wrong about calling out child abuse."
While her comments were met by fierce opposition from her own political party -- including Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn, who insisted his party would not "demonize" any particular group -- others say there should be an "honest open debate" about child abuse.
Communities Secretary Sajid Javid tweeted Thursday: "Corbyn wrong to sack Sarah Champion. We need an honest open debate on child sexual exploitation, including racial motivation," Sky News reported.
Corbyn had originally backed Champion in the wake of the article being published, saying last Friday: "She has stood up for her city, she stood up against those that have abused children."
He added: "That's why she said what she did and I support her in her work as a shadow minister and I say to everyone, if you think there's child abuse going on, report it, and I say to the police, don't be afraid of any way you're going to investigate."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.