Following a Times article that describes Shamima Begum as “bloodthirsty and fanatical” sexual violence trainer and campaigner Sara Amanda asks why is grooming and vulnerability not part of the discussion?
Having worked in the area of domestic and sexual violence for nearly 20 years, I doubt strongly that Shamima Begum was groomed for war, it is much more likely both her and her friends were groomed for sex. Shamima herself has confessed that she was married shortly after her arrival in Syria, something that could not have happened here in the UK as she was legally a minor and under the age of consent.
Shamima spent four years in Syria, having babies and watching them die according to her Times interview. From the refugee camp, Shamima spoke about the corrupt and oppressive ‘battlefield’ she had fled, fearing for the life of her unborn child. In the caliphate she witnessed torture and suffering, including the death of her friend. Women who are involved in terror groups are not soldiers, they often live in squalid and poor conditions, used for sex and live in places where rape is weaponised as an act of war to control and terrorise.
Yet story hungry journalists seek to take snippets of her interview and paint a narrative of someone who is unremorseful, and who would have willingly stayed with ISIS had she not been pregnant. Shamima has it seems not had any contact with therapists and doesn’t have the benefit of consular advice or an advocate yet is being grilled by an experienced journalist. If she is suffering from PTSD or liable to criminal proceedings is it ethical to interview her without some sort of legal representation? If Shamima was white would these moral/ethical guidelines be crossed?
“It is without question that these girls were vulnerable and at risk. In 2015 the NSPCC reported that online grooming had increased by 50% and girls were much more at risk that boys”
In 2015 when the girls first went missing Heidi Mirza, Professor of Race, Faith and Culture at Goldsmith’s College wrote ‘three British-born Muslim teenage girls, Shamima Begum, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana, absconded from Mulberry’s neighbourhood school, Bethnal Green Academy. They secretly travelled to Syria to join ISIS, groomed through social media, drawn by the excitement, romance and promise of immortality as ‘mothers’ of a new Islamic caliphate. In the wake of the high profile and sensationalist coverage of their ‘radicalisation’, powerful, unrestrained Islamophobic discourses of risk, surveillance and fear freely circulate in our educational spaces. We are now openly being told Muslim girls are both ‘dangerous’ and ‘in danger’ in British schools. Muslim young women are seen as a potentially threatening religious/racialised group in the professional, public and political imagination.’
It is without question that these girls were vulnerable and at risk. In 2015 the NSPCC reported that online grooming had increased by 50% and girls were much more at risk that boys. In addition it reported that a child can be groomed in under less than 45 minutes.
Grooming is a psychological and manipulative tool used to coercively control. According to the NSPCC, grooming is when “someone by building an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or trafficking”. In the cycle of abuse there are four stages “flight, fight, freeze and friend”. Most victims of sexual trauma use ‘friending’ to both cope and survive the experience. Most young victims don’t even know that they are victims. So I ask you how as a human can we not see that Shamima whether she acknowledges it or not, is a victim?
Listening to all the commentary from the mainstream media since the interview Shamima Begum gave, especially the opinion piece written by Janice Turner at The Times, “Shamima Doesn’t Look Like Anyone’s Victim” one wonders what or who the perfect victim is? To Janice she doesn’t look like one. Why? Because she is brown and Muslim? Because she fled the country with the aid of a groomer? Or is it because she is not the type of victim that Janice values? In August 2018 Turner wrote of “the brave Labour MP Sarah Champion, who take on issues the right feasts upon like grooming gangs”.
Yet a few months later she dismisses the Stockholm Syndrome as nonsense and a girl who was married at fifteen as ‘bloodthirsty’ calculating and cruel. But how else is a teenager meant to understand and process the gravity of her experiences? Her words however strange to us, must be heard in context. They must be understood to be those of a young person who for four years has lived in an environment, unlike anything we here can envisage.
“When words like ‘radicalisation’ are used, the majority think of Jihadi Johns, not young vulnerable children who have been groomed online by terrorist groups, and certainly not the countless white boys and girls groomed for white terror sects, such as the EDL”
Whilst the mainstream press focuses on her having ‘no regrets’ about joining ISIS, I go back to my first point, Shamima was groomed. After the national tragedy of the Rotherham sex trafficking gangs, the government began a campaign into grooming awareness. For those of us who worked in the sector we already knew the risk of child grooming and that it is not just related to sex gangs and trafficking. It is linked to radicalisation and gang affiliation.
However the general public are not told the whole story, just the part that fits the increasingly sensational headlines of most of the national papers. So when words like ‘radicalisation’ are used, the majority think of Jihadi Johns, not young vulnerable children who have been groomed online by terrorist groups, and certainly not the countless white boys and girls groomed for white terror sects, such as the EDL or even the laughable Britain First.
“She wants to come back for benefits” scream memes on social media, yet as a British national, regardless of her faith she is entitled to welfare and public assistance just like all the undesirables that live here, you know, the racists, woman beaters and child molesters. Whilst Shamima might fail the ‘habitual resident test’ this is still her home county. The British government have so far spent £11 million of public funds looking for Madeleine McCann but not a single penny was spent to retrieve the Bethnal Green Three.
When she left this country Shamima was 15, she was a child by law and definition. Legally she could not consent to sex, marriage or vote. Whilst she does not look like the worthy victim to some, she is nonetheless a victim of sex trafficking and grooming, and these are crimes in British Law. Shamima has a two day old baby who is innocent and shouldn’t suffer for the actions of his mother.
Unfortunately, the UK government has now suspended Shamima’s UK citizenship. This is despite the fact she has not be even be arrested, tried & convicted of any crime. This is both racist & also sexist as they have allowed men to return to the UK. It feels as though there is a deeper, more sinister motive, which is is to appear tough on immigration, tough on terror & tough on non white people. The rule of law should not be suspended retrospectively because the court of public opinion and careerist politicians demand it.
Sara Amanda is a Birmingham creative, social justice activist and domestic and sexual violence trainer, she is best known for leading the Boycott the Human Zoo Campaign in 2014.Follow @sarz_world
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5 thoughts on “Shamima Begum: What does the perfect victim look like?”
Thank you for writing this. The hate and disgusting comments about Shamima on social media are unspeakably dreadful.
Great article well written and argued. Keep up the good work!
Great article. I couldn’t believe it when I heard how the British government just cut this young girl loose. 15 years old when she was manipulated and brainwashed online, 4 years in absolute psycho land, and because some politician wants to look tough on terrorism, she is left totally alone in complete limbo. Add to that the British government wants to pass the buck on to Bangladesh…. one of the worst, cruelest acts of a British government this century…. Let’s hope this decision will be reversed. What kind of example is this? Little teenage girls make mistakes and there is zero forgiveness. Cold, cold, cold…
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Thank you Sara for restoring my faith in humanity.
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Someone who can be “groomed” or “radicalised” to a particular ideology “in under less than 45 minutes” is probably already almost at the point of transformation. It is like St. Paul on the road to Damascus, waiting for the moment of revelation without knowing it.
Women in the ISIS caliphate may have been breeding-machines for cannon-fodder, but as someone from the UK and someone who chose to go there Shamima Begum was also a privileged colonist and possibly a person with power within the women’s area, which may have been restricted, but did have an independent identity under ISIS. It was the duty of active woman supporters of ISIS to supervise other women – often women whose houses and property they had taken over or slaves – and ensure that they lived according to the dictates of islam as interpreted by ISIS. Someone of Shamima Begum’s age, obvious naivete and child-bearing obligations probably was not much involved in such activities, but people with no power over their own lives before they enlisted with ISIS may have enjoyed their new-found powers over other people, however restricted its scope.
These are general points. I don’t apply them specifically to Shamima Begum, although reports of her experience raised them. That said, to judge someone who has undergone her experiences on what she said without thought in a refugee camp is no reasonable basis for the decision to deprive her of British citizenship and for a politician, subject to external pressure, to have the power to deprive someone born and raised in the UK of British citizenship without any formal examination of the case – if they can do it at all – is contemptible and disgraceful.