I have been talking openly on Twitter for some days about having some empathy with Shamima Begum’s situation, and so was delighted to find an article in The Guardian’s First Thoughts, Shamima Begum was groomed.
Should you have missed the news, Begum, one of three Bethnall Green teenagers who left to join the so-called Islamic State (IS) (Isis, ISIL,Daesh )
at aged 15, wants to come home to the UK
Taking a deep breath…
Begum’s situation is a political hot potato and I’ll win no friends for saying this. But I hate loathe and detest grooming and groomers, and I would be untrue to this if I didn’t point out the role of grooming in a high profile, thoroughly divisive case.
Given the amount of abuse that any campaigner gets when speaking out about women’s issues (yes, grooming is a male issue as well, but I’ve spoken out on behalf of numerous women), adding in something as divisive as this seems foolhardy. So please feel free to express an alternative view in the comments box, but anything personally offensive will not be published.
The Brutalisation of Begum
So….turning the clock back, Shamima was 15 year old girl when she left England. She was above the age of criminal responsibility, and under UK law, make no bones about it, she needs to be held to account for any harm she’s done. Coming back, she will face the penalties for breaking UK law and joining a dangerous and proscribed organisation.
She is still a teenager. At 19, she has been raped by a man she was married to four days after arriving in Syria. (Yes, having sex with someone under 16 is statutory rape.) She has lost two babies. Giving birth is traumatic enough, doing it in an Isis camp… we can only imagine. And we know she has seen the heads of decapitated people.
We cannot judge the video clips we’ve seen at face value. We know they’ll be selective. We know that the young woman is still in Syria, and in a refugee camp. I’m not sure I’d be happy to openly criticise my abusers in her shoes. She is not safe. We can be sure that there will be Isis members in that camp. She may well even be one. Therein lies the danger
She is nine months pregnant. She has family here who are happy to bring up her third baby, due any day. I’m not sure that this is the best solution. That poor child will always be tainted by the past, and born into the same conditions that Shamima fled, but that’s not my decision to make.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of what she has done, she is a British citizen who has a right to return, whether we like it or not. And when someone apparently shows no remorse it’s very, very hard to empathise.
But I’ve seen enough trauma now to know that she’s desensitised. GOOD therapy may break through this, but she’s going to have to be ready to face reliving it. That’s a lot of brutality and bereavement to get over. It’s sometimes hard enough to be ready to deal emotionally with a single rape. I cannot begin to imagine her emotional state.
Shamima was Groomed
Grooming is insidious. She was widely considered ‘brainwashed’ when she left. We need to hold the people who groomed her into leaving to account.
The girl was traumatised by life before she left. Her family was, by all accounts, in chaos. I don’t know them. I only know what has been reported through a selective media lens. In all likelihood, so do you.
We have to, as a society, look at what we can learn from Shamima. Her life here was so poor that she was lead to believe that life with a violent organisation in another country would be better than what she experienced here.
And she appears to have been vulnerable, looking for a sense of belonging and love. This is fabulous, fertile ground for groomers.
Shamima seems to me as much a victim as a perpetrator. Whilst we absolutely need to hold her to account, and take steps to protect wider society, we also need to learn. And, moreover, condemn the situation, and find and hold to account the groomers who lured a teenager overseas (three of them) to be brutalised.
The fact that she was intelligent and strong does not mean that she wasn’t vulnerable to grooming. We all are.
A whole lot more research is needed into adult grooming, and tackle both grooming and groomers.
This radicalisation is a very specific form of grooming, but grooming it is, grooming it was, and it needs to be tackled.
Join the campaign against Adult Grooming: here