Alyas Karmani is the director of STREET (Strategy to Reach Educate and Empower Teenagers) UK Ltd, a counselor and an Imam.
Like the vast majority of people of Pakistani Muslim background, I was deeply outraged and appalled by the high profile stories about child sexual exploitation and sexual violence that have been perpetrated by men of Pakistani origin.
This prompted me to develop and deliver our ground breaking workshop programme with young people at risk of sexual violence in London and West Yorkshire, as well as send out a strong and clear message that sexual violence in all its forms is unacceptable and needs to be vigorously challenged by the community.
Regrettably, there have been cases of sexual violence in the Pakistani Muslim community and my view is that one case of rape and sexual abuse would be too many. However, there is a worrying pattern of increased numbers of cases across the UK in localities which have a high percentage Pakistani population.
Let me affirm that by highlighting these cases I am in no way saying this behaviour is endemic in the Pakistani Muslim community in the UK, but let's be honest and not live in denial. In my interaction with Muslims across the UK many Muslims I talk to have some knowledge of abuse and sexual violence cases like these and are aware of similar incidents in their communities.
Of course, no one wants to talk about the elephant in the room but surely even if there was just one case a year this is one case too many.
Yes, we could say these cases are one offs but equally we cannot live in denial. The same denial we had in relation to drug dealing and drug abuse issues in sections of the Muslim community across the UK that have now become commonplace and reflected in the wildly disproportionate numbers of Pakistani Muslims in the criminal justice system for drug-related crime.
I ask: can we remain in denial of the worrying trend of increased sexual violence in the Pakistani Muslim community? I have decided to proactively address the issue from its root causes through our workshop 'Sexual Violence and Street Grooming' and by sending out a loud and clear message that sexual violence is unacceptable in the Pakistani Muslim community and the Islamic imperative is one that protects and safeguards women from violence in all its forms as well as sexual grooming, and actively works to prevent the risk factors that cause sexual violence.
What kind of a society is it that cannot protect women, daughters, sisters, mothers, aunties and elders? In Islam, we recognise that a woman is the mother of her nation and if she is not safeguarded then the whole nation is violated. By extension, the distorted notion that somehow 'other women' are lesser and not as deserving of protection has no basis in Islam. All women are to be seen equally and afforded the same protection and we cannot dehumanise and discriminate one group of women to the exclusion of others.
Our workshops are unique in that they address challenging sex and relationship education (SRE) issues with groups that are perceived by many as 'hard to reach' and 'socially conservative', where SRE issues are seen as a taboo issue that are rarely addressed in an open and uninhibited forum.
We create an emotionally safe space for young people to explore SRE issues facilitated by experienced counsellors and mentors who have an in-depth understanding of the lived reality of young people, issues at the street level as regards 'at risk' behaviour, an ability to connect with young people through motivational workshop resources and materials and a deep understanding of cultural sensitivity.
Through this approach we have demonstrated that our SRE workshops have had a direct impact on challenging negative 'at risk' behaviour, developing resilience to sexual violence and developing positive attitudes and behaviours relating to sex and relationship issues.
Our workshop on sexual violence and street grooming addresses the following:
- To establish a clear and strong message of the unacceptability of sexual violence and how to be resilient to it and how to challenge it in society.
- How to develop positive, caring, emotionally supportive and protective relationships with women.
- Developing self esteem to challenge peer pressure and negative social influences.
- To explain what is sexual violence and what the moral, legal and social implications of it are.
- The reasons why sexual violence occurs.
- The forms of sexual violence.
- Focussing on rape and the forms rape takes such as date rape, statutory rape and gang rape.
- The impact of sexual violence on victims.
- To explore the risk factors associated to sexual violence and who is 'at risk' of perpetrating sexual violence and sex offending.
- Understanding what 'street grooming' is, and what forms it takes.
- The sexual grooming process and the victims of grooming.
- How to prevent sexual violence and 'street grooming'.
- Exploring 'pimping' and prostitution.
- Exploring men's view of women and the impact of over-sexualised society.
- Clarification of moral, legal and social boundaries.
- Exploring issues from a cultural and Islamic faith perspective.
Evaluation by workshop participants has shown that 90% of participants rated the workshop sessions as very good to excellent, 85% rated them as their preferred format for receiving guidance on SRE issues, 80% felt that they would be able to educate and raise awareness amongst their peers relating to SRE issues and 80% of participants felt more confident to challenge 'at risk' behaviour among their peers.