On July 20 2016 a group of Christians and Muslims in Luton launched FACES – Faiths Against Child Sexual Exploitation. It was the first milestone in a journey where a group of us had come together to engage with one of the great scourges of our society, the sexual abuse of children and young people by men, women, and sometimes their fellow youth.
Representatives of the Christian and Muslim communities spoke, as did local researchers from the University of Bedfordshire who work in the field, and a parent whose child has experienced exploitation. There were attendees from the local authority, police, charities and faith groups; all of whom had a clear sense of commitment to tackling the problem of abuse.
A Muslim and Christian in conversation about Child Sexual Exploitation
Peter Adams, a Christian leader in Luton and director of the St Marys Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, and Tanvir Mounir, Secretary of Luton Central Mosque, talked together about Christian and Muslim opposition to Child Sexual Exploitation.
This is what they said.
Tanvir: Peter and I have been given the task of speaking to you all about how we respond to child sexual exploitation – as people of faith, specifically as Muslim and Christians. It is a difficult subject to speak about, and it’s human nature to want to avoid talking about things which give us pain – but we must talk about it.
These past few months, as the FACES working group have been meeting to talk over this issue, we have found we can talk honestly together; that we share one mind on CSE, and that we are determined to stand together to oppose it. Our hope is that others will be able to join us in that, so that even the most horrible and divisive issues we face in our nation can be dealt with together.
Peter: Child sexual exploitation – people doing horrible things to children and young people. Its not a Muslim thing. Not a Christian thing. Not a Hindu thing or a Jewish thing or a Sikh thing or a Buddhist thing. It’s not a secularist or humanist thing.
Let’s be very clear. It’s a human thing. Something done by men – and women, and sometimes young people themselves – who’ve lost touch with their shared humanity, their responsibility as adults. Occasionally its done by people who seek to hide behind their faith, to lurk in the shadows of places of worship and conspire, by people who use their faith to cloud and obscure and ultimately may try to justify it from their faith.
Tanvir: Peter is absolutely right, CSE is a human problem. A human problem that people of every nation, tribe, culture, faith can be drawn into. Sometimes those people use the traditions of their culture or the structures of their faith to promote it, or legitimise it. They are wrong. There is no honest interpretation of either of our faiths that endorses this behaviour.
Peter: As a Christian I need to be clear in my denunciation of all forms of child sexual exploitation, even when it has found places to thrive in and around the the church –through pastoral involvement with children, in the context of a choir, in church run children’s homes and the like. I’m deeply saddened by the fact that it seems week-by-week we read in the media of senior church leaders who are convicted of, or strongly implicated in sexual exploitation of young people.
Tanvir: As a Muslim, I too am unequivocal in my condemnation of child sexual exploitation. It’s sad that these things need to be said, it should be a given, but awful things have been done in towns and cities across the UK; from Rotherham and Rochdale to Oxford and Telford, by Muslim men. Like Peter, I too am disgusted and angry at their actions, and am determined to do something. I know that I’m not alone. And although their actions are in no way a reflection of the teachings of our faith, it has produced a sense of shame that has devastated my community. The behaviour of those men was grotesque and inhuman.
Peter: Thank you Tanvir. Thank you.
We are united in saying that true faith condemns CSE. It offers no refuge. It takes seriously the terrible impact on young lives whoever they are, wherever they come from, whatever creed, ethnicity, gender, class they are from. I have seen tears in the eyes of my friends here as we have talked together over these months. We are determined that we will do all we can to highlight this evil that devastates lives. And, that as people of faith, we will reach out to the victims, the survivors, those whose lives have been violated by the horrors of it all, and speak hope and restoration.
Tanvir: True faith also offers men and women a way out of sexual exploitation, to face up to what they have done, it gives them inner strength to resist the pull to abuse, and shows a different way of living. As faith leaders we want to show that our beliefs can and should be part of the solution, not part of the problem. We’ve brought you all here to today to ask you to support us in this work.
Peter: Our name Faiths Against Child Sexual Exploitation says it. We bring the perspective of our faiths to this issue. But we realise that sometimes faith leaders can hide behind their faith. Our acronym FACES makes sure we never forget the faces of all the young lives devastated by this evil. (By the way, we know the letters are in FACES are not quite in the right order, but who is going to let go using an acronym that reminds us powerfully of the individuals whose lives are devastated by abuse?)
We are putting a stake in the ground. We hope we have made our intentions to do something about this clear. But we cannot deal with this alone. We invite you to join us in our opposition to any form of Child Sexual Exploitation that might become evident in our community. We will continue to speak out together, to make known our united opposition to it.
We need to show that in Luton we are one in opposing this cancer in our society. So, whoever you are we would ask you to join us today in a pledge:
1) Support the work of FACES to oppose child sexual exploitation
2) Work together as members of all faiths to stop abuse happening
3) Speak up and act on behalf of victims
In summary, we want to ensure that Luton is a place of zero tolerance of CSE.
Tanvir: All who are leaders in the Christian or Muslim community — imams, mosque leaders, church leaders, lay or ordained, please join us. We have started this journey as Christian and Muslim leaders but we now invite other faiths to join us. Members of community groups, public sector bodies, voluntary sector groups, individuals of faith or not, we need you too.
Thank you for being here today!