TV investigative reporter Tazeen Ahmad on why brave Safia is the first to speak out over vile exploitation of young women
Gangs of Asian men who groom white girls for sex may also be targeting British Pakistani kids. Reporter Tazeen Ahmad, who has investigated sex gangs, has long known that these girls have been victims but that their fear of dishonour, scorn and retribution has kept them silent – until now.
Shaista Gohir, director of Muslim Women’s Network UK, has been told about 35 cases of exploitation but is sure that is “just the tip of the iceberg”. Safia is the first woman of Pakistani descent brave enough to speak up. Here is her story…
Courageous Safia’s life has been destroyed by evil sex gangs who have enslaved her two sisters. The young woman wells up with tears as she tells the heart-wrenching story of how she lost contact with her elder sisters.
Safia is convinced they are being exploited by Asian sex gangs and fears for their lives.
She said: “It’s a living nightmare what they’ve done to my sisters. They’ve torn us apart with their violence and aggression. Now it’s just me and my mum, the only ones who didn’t fall into their sex slavery.”
Safia is in her mid-20s and moved to Lancashire from Yorkshire. To give more identifying detail may put her and her mother’s life in danger.
After the death of Safia’s businessman dad in 2002, the family, living in a traditional Asian community without a patriarch, was left vulnerable.
Safia said: “Having no men in your family, that’s hitting the jackpot for the gangs.”
Safia noticed her eldest sister started changing after she began going out with a Pakistani man. She said the sister was taken from their home at all hours, would sleep all day and became secretive, aggressive and hostile.
The boyfriend’s sisters would give her gifts and pick her up so as not to arouse suspicion, said Safia. “My sister would bring back expensive jewellery, necklaces, rings and I’d wonder, ‘Where did she get that from? She can’t afford that’.”
The eldest sister, who had been quite Westernised, started wearing traditional Asian clothes and covering her head. Safia said: “She would get scared every time her phone rang and she’d be out the door like a shot on his command.
“Her voice would shake when she was on the phone to him. She’d go out all day, come back for a short bit and then unexpectedly be gone again. I suspected she was drinking and was borrowing large sums of money, her credit rating was disastrous as she had taken out so many bank loans for him.
“After three years, she had changed completely and was totally in their grip. She’d say his sisters had hurt her and complain his uncle was also violent. They were intimidating and scaring her to make her comply. He had a really posh car and he would take her to London and elsewhere.”
Safia suspects the car was used to traffic her sister around the country for sex.
“When I saw her with him she was always submissive and quiet, her head would hang down. He’d insult me in front of her and watch to see if she defended me.” Safia suspects this was a tactic to drive a wedge between them.
“Her language was vulgar, my two sisters would fight like animals and the eldest would walk the streets at night and didn’t care it was inappropriate behaviour for a Muslim woman.
“Her health was horrendous and she was on lots of medication. She changed her name, started wearing a headscarf and traditional Asian clothes and stole money from us.”
One day she even kicked Safia in the stomach. Safia believes her sister’s captors orchestrated this attack to divide the family.
“She also started coming back with injuries – bruises around her neck – which she covered up. On some occasions she came back ‘high’ and one of these times I saw so much blood coming out of her in the toilet that I wanted to call an ambulance.”
“She put two locks on her door and hid all her underwear so there must have been blood on them too.”
Safia’s mum moved the family but the eldest sister left a year later. They found dozens of condoms in her room. Safia said: “One time she ended a phone conversation by saying, ‘Now I have to go be a prostitute’.”
But while all eyes were on one sister, the other was also changing. Safia’s middle sister started showing a similar pattern of troubled behaviour.
“She didn’t turn up for work. She was up all night. She was progressively aggressive. I couldn’t get a hold of her for days at a time. Then she told me, out of the blue, she wanted to be crushed by a lorry.”
Safia and her mum say she started coming and going at night and became extremely secretive. Eventually she too moved out. What has happened in Safia’s family is shocking but not surprising. Shaista Gohir believes groomers will target females of any age with obvious weaknesses – a difficult family life, a disability, living alone, even someone looking to get married. In this case the absence of male protectors made the family easy prey.
Safia, who is now wary of all men, reported their fears to Lancashire police in February 2011, but claims they neither cared nor understood about their problems. In frustration, in August 2011, they filed a complaint with the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
The police also told them Safia’s eldest sister was fine. The police met with them again in May 2012 after the women instructed lawyers.
The police’s response was that the sister told them she was fleeing a forced marriage by her family. Safia strongly denies this saying there is no history of arranged marriages in the family and her parents wed for love.
She has not seen or heard from her eldest sister in over two and half years. Her middle sister is now trying to break off contact.
But despite all their heartbreak Safia says she and her mother will not move. “What they’ve done to my family is ruthless. But if no one is here to say enough is enough, they’ll just carry on.”
A spokesman for the IPCC confirmed a complaint had been filed. A Lancashire police spokesman said they were unable to comment about the case but encouraged anyone with concerns about sexual exploitation or grooming to come forward and they would be treated seriously.