One of the questions I was offered to comment upon was, “Members of her family have challenged her account of growing up in squalor moving home 14 times in under two years”
Followed by the most disturbing statement I’ve been asked to respond to, which is one about the abuse my mother suffered which reads, “her account of physical and sexual abuse suffered by her mother at the hands of Mohammed Azam was rejected by the court of appeal in her appeal case”
Before I get to the more important points in this article, let me clarify a couple of things. I was 6 years old when we first moved. Between the ages of 6-8 I didn’t count the number of times we moved, but I do remember we moved often. I remember the outside toilet because I was afraid of the dark as well as the neighbour’s dog at the back of our back to back house. I remember the bath in the kitchen and seeing a rat running across it which frightened me as to me it seemed enormous. I remember going on holiday with social services because we were poor and I hated sleeping in a dormitory. So dear Daily Mail, my apologies if I can’t give you the 14 addresses with postcodes – I don’t have many happy memories of that time. I have plenty that no child should ever have and I try not to remember them.
I’m not going to catalogue my mother’s abuse here as it is well documented, certainly in the court papers that the Daily Mail have most probably trawled through like Galloway did. But what I will talk about is the court dismissing her as incapable of belief.
My mother didn’t tell her story because of the concept of “honour”, as it brought shame upon the wider family and very little was understood about it, so when she did finally find the courage to speak out back in 1997/8 she wasn’t believed. However, it is well documented that when reviewing and subsequently reducing her tariff from 20 years to 12 years, in 1998/9, Lord Chief Justice Bingham acknowledged my mother was a desperate woman in desperate circumstances.
It has taken years of campaigning by women’s rights groups to help people understand this issue of “honour based violence”, a patriarchal mindset and culture which is prevalent in parts of some communities.
This is no different to the change in attitudes that has taken place to begin to understand street grooming.
We have to accept that it was only in 2015 that the terminology “child prostitutes” was removed from government literature. And one of the biggest reasons we never saw any prosecutions was because these victims and their stories of horror were not believed. It was the approach which Nazir Afzal, the Chief Crown Prosecutor applied at the time which led to convictions in Rochdale and other cities. Why? Because he believed these girls.
I have always acknowledged that we have a particular model of abuse, street grooming, which is pertinent to a minority of British men of Pakistani heritage who work in the night time economy. It is a fact, a fact that we cannot and must not hide away from. In doing so we must also be mindful not to fuel the fire of hate and vilify a whole community with sweeping statements.
So this brings me to my understanding of The Daily Mail. A paper which claims to be on the side of victims.
The only motive I can fathom for this personal attack upon me and my character by the Daily Mail, is because I dared call out the racism and fascism of a right wing tabloid.
But the saddest and most important issue isn’t this attempted attack on me, but the fact that in and amongst all of this conversation we’ve stopped talking about the victims.
How do we change attitudes and challenge this misogyny and abuse to stop it?
How do we empower our young people to be resilient and address issues of safe guarding, because all these victims have a common denominator which is their vulnerability?
We should be renewing the call for research so we can better understand what we are dealing with, whilst supporting these young girls, these survivors, to rebuild their lives having relived the horrors of the evil abuse to get justice.
The truth is that I have no idea what this potential news story about me will finally look like in tomorrow’s paper, or even if it makes it to print. But the fact is that The Daily Mail questioned my mother’s abuse, a victims account, and in doing so have undermined years of work women have campaigned upon across this country and beyond. This in my eyes is not only disgraceful but unforgivable. I cannot and will not allow this to go unchallenged, not only for the sake of my own mother, but for the sake of every victim who isn’t believed.
So, Dear Daily Mail, whilst you trawl through records and question my mother’s abuse, a victim’s narrative, whilst peddling hatred and division, I and countless others will continue to do what we do. Concentrate on the issues that matter, with a dialogue of unity not division.
Finally, as a woman, a survivor, a daughter and a mother, I will be damned if I allow a right wing sexist tabloid tell me what my experiences are. Like every other survivor, I own my own narrative. People like my mother and I, and so many other victims, have had their accounts questioned. I have been fighting this battle all my life. So bring it on, because I will not be silenced.
Member of Parliament