The Oxford sex ring shows how the sexual manners of a new place can be tragically misinterpreted

The case of child abuse in Oxford has been much covered, and from a number of angles. A gang of individuals abducted young girls and raped them repeatedly. Some of the girls were introduced to crack cocaine and heroin to make their dependency on the men stronger. Others were branded to show that they belonged to one of their abusers, or given home-devised abortions. The police were slow to take action, despite being very regularly approached by victims and those who knew what was going on. A guest in a hotel was so disturbed by the noise he heard from the room next door that he phoned the police. That is one way of putting it. Another is to draw attention to the fact that here, and in a case in Rochdale last year, the abusers were mostly of Pakistani origin and all Muslims. The victims were all young white girls. There are cases pending for more gang-related grooming and rape offences where the same is true. The police and some media outlets, including the BBC, declined to draw any attention to this fact. You might point out, too, that there are plenty of white abusers and rapists, and conclude that the race of these abusers is of no significance. Or you might go down the BNP route and imply that there is something rotten at the heart of Islam itself. Between the well-meaning liberal account and the ugly BNP version, the truth lies. Race was clearly an important factor for the rapists themselves, who targeted white girls. But it is ridiculous to suggest that there is anything fundamental in the culture prizing the rape of children. Manners of sexual exchange are notoriously changeable from one society to another, and notoriously difficult to interpret. When a gay cardinal forces himself on a junior, we may guess that a shadowy and unsocialised life may not have trained him in the manners of request and acceptance. All he has to go on is what he wants. We have to talk about race in the Oxford and Rochdale cases – we mustn’t pretend it wasn’t an important feature. But race was not the defining feature. What drove these men was deracination: a detachment from one culture, and a failure to attach or understand another. At some level, they believed that they could get away with this because nobody cared about these girls, abandoned in care homes. At another, they no doubt believed, or said to each other that they believed, that white girls were all whores, that anyone who dressed and behaved like that would be happy to be given heroin and have sex with half a dozen men before she was 13 years old.