WARNING TO SENSITIVE: The following post is about rape, specifically rape of girls and women by a minority of Pakistani men living and working in the United Kingdom.
It may seem like I live a charming and romantic existence in the beautiful city of Edinburgh, and indeed to a large extent I do. This is partly because I work from home and therefore do not have to suffer the hurly-burly of public life to make money and survive. The only crap I have to put up with, personally, is not getting a "kill" fee or not being paid for months on end. My principal editors are very nice guys. My parish priest is reasonable and urbane. The man who most often tells me what to do is my dear husband. Life rocks.
There are times, however, when I leave the house, which is exciting but has its downside. The biggest downside is the possibility of being attacked by two or more drunken men or women, for Edinburgh abounds in drunken men and women after 5 PM. And there is also the very remote possibility that I will be targeted for rape by some opportunist, say a solitary chap walking his Staffordshire terrier in the woods around the Historical House or the guy driving my cab. It is indeed a remote possibility, but a rather devastating one, and so whenever I leave the safety of home, I do occasional, quick risk assessments. How many dog-walkers are likely to be in the woods at this hour? Is my cab driver a sexist, racist yahoo who thinks all white women are sluts?
If you don't live in the UK, you probably don't know this, but we have been rocked by scandals involving Pakistani men running sex crime rings that target white English girls. The two biggest ones involve Rochdale and Rotherham. In both scandals, the rapists got away with their crimes for so long because they were from the British South Asian minority and the white British (presumably mostly of indigenous pre-1200 AD origin) social workers, police and councilors were too afraid of being called racist to do much. Meanwhile, there have also been a number of scandals involving South Asian cabdrivers who rape their customers.
My first introduction to the apparent dangers of British Pakistani men in cars came via the ladies' toilet in some Edinburgh pub. The ladies' toilet in an Edinburgh pub is as much a locus of public health warnings as it is of anonymous remarks. And one public health warning at the time was against drunken driving. It said something like "Who will be seeing you home tonight?" with the inference that it should be a cab driver.
In response, some anonymous woman wrote on stall wall, "Don't go home with a [derogatory word for Pakistani] in a minicab." And I was shocked because (A) where I come from, we don't use that word, (B) I had no idea what a minicab was, and (C) it had such a euphonious rhythm for such a blunt, eyebrow-raising remark: Da da da da-da DA-da da da DA-da-da.
I made inquiries, and lo and behold, a mini-cab is a "private hire" taxi, not a proper taxi-cab that you can hail on the street or find at a cab rank. As all women in the UK are taught, you should never, ever, ever, ever get into a stranger's car or cab in the UK that is not a proper taxi cab.
But, alas, sometimes drivers of proper taxi cabs also rape customers. And, lo and behold, a number of them belong to what is called "an ethnic minority." I myself belong, by British standards, to "an ethnic minority," and I will certainly be ashamed if I find out about any Canadian cab-drivers in the UK raping anyone, especially if racism may be a factor. (I am already ashamed when I hear about really disgusting Canadian tourists.) Where I come from, racism is a major social sin, rendering even rape somehow worse.
Thus I find myself all of a swither when I need to take a cab home because my anti-racist training tells me that it is BAD to racially profile my cab driver and my sense of self-preservation says that in the northern areas of the UK, at least, it would be SMART to racially profile my cab driver.
I have gone alone into a car with a South Asian cab driver exactly once in the past five years. He was fine. I was fine. I probably called up my husband on my mobile, which I often do, just in case the native Scottish cab driver thinks my foreign accent means I don't know how long it takes to get the Historical House.
Now that I think about it, I have an equal-opportunity suspicion of cabbies when it comes to ripping me off. However, I do worry more about being attacked by a South Asian driver than by a native Scottish driver because I watch, hear and read the news about white women and girls being attacked by South Asian men, some of whom drive cabs, in the UK.
I also aware that one way migrants try to feel less helpless about our surroundings, or cope with women who behave or dress differently than women back home (or who, annoyingly, look more confident than we feel) is to try to cut the women "down to size" by deciding that most of them are sluts.
I have been on both sides of this: having to hear that "Canadian girls are whores" from migrants and myself raising an eyebrow at what young Scottish girls think is acceptable dress in public. (It is startling, especially on cold days when any halfway sensible girl would wear a full-length parka.)
But I don't come from a culture that says such girls are sluts, let alone "asking for it." And my culture doesn't say that drunk girls are "asking for it", either, although I do know some men, in many cultures and sub-cultures, think drunk women deserve to be raped. Obviously rape has nothing to do with the rapist's skin colour; it is all about his attitudes, which he has most likely to have absorbed from the men he knows and likes. His father and uncles, for example. His brothers. His cousins.
Which leads me to many questions. Is it considered okay by men in Pakistan to rape girls and women? If so, which areas of Pakistan? What professions or classes of Pakistanis? And/or is it considered okay in some British-Pakistani communities to rape girls and women? Or just white girls and women? Or just drunk white girls and women?
To what extent am I justified in racially profiling my cab drivers? Does it make a difference that I was trained as a child to never get into a car with a stranger? Is a migrant stranger more a stranger than a born-and-bred Edinburgh man? Do migrants think the local women are sluts? Are steps being taken to stop migrants from deciding that the local women are sluts?
Speaking as a migrant, my answer to that last question is "No.". No government body, not the Living in the UK textbook, no-one and nothing has told me, an adult migrant, that just because the local women don't dress like women back home and seem to drink more in public, doesn't mean they are less worthy of respect than women of my country of origin. And I am sorry about that. I certainly was asked often enough if mine was an arranged marriage.
It's a truly terrible moment, that moment at the kerb when I stare into the windshield to assess the hue and facial features of the man into whose car I am proposing to climb. Before I moved here, I never gave it a moment's thought in Toronto, and in Edinburgh I frequent shops and post offices owned or run by South Asians without a qualm. It would never occur to me to worry about whether or not my greengrocer could be a rapist. But when confronting a queue of taxi cabs by myself on a British street late at night, I think I DO have to worry, and that annoys me.
In high school, part of our anti-racism training was to hear of white men in the American South who were paranoid about young black American men, i.e. "they want to rape our women." I agree that it is provincial and nasty to believe any such thing about an entire group, not to mention claiming ownership over women. However, as a white woman, if it turns out that certain men in my community believe, for cultural reasons, that it is okay for them to rape white girls and women, I want to know what is being done to thwart their racism and sexism.
A final note. Various circumstances led me to having a talk with a pretty young Polish girl about the sexist racism of some South Asian men in the UK. I was so embarrassed, I put it off for months. But finally something happened that made me have the talk, and I was vastly relieved when she said she had already been told--by her good South Asian British male friend. He had said he was terribly embarrassed by the behaviour and attitudes he had heard from other [South] Asian men about white girls. I hope he tells them off, too. Men influence other men for good and ill. Rape won't stop until men stop it.