Challenging Stereotypes of Muslim Women, Islamic Divorces and Cultural Expectations in Child Sex Abuse Cases

Letter to the CPS following a recent child sex abuse trial




West Yorkshire



Crown Prosecution Service

Jefferson House

27 Park Place




Regina v Amer Rafiq


Dear Sir/ Madam


In late 2015, Amer Rafiq was arrested and charged with a number of offences relating to the sexual abuse of a number of minors (definition of offences: “Involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening”)

A retrial took place last week at Bradford Crown Court, and Rafiq gave evidence in his own defence which I found, at best, to  be dangerously misleading, and at worst, utterly untrue.

One of the key defences offered by Rafiq was the fact that he had had an arranged marriage at the age of 17 or 18 years of age. Throughout the rest of his testimony, he kept on reiterating the fact that his marriage was turbulent and unhappy but his wife could not leave due to it being arranged by the families. In short what Rafiq was trying to imply was that his marriage was a forced marriage and that his wife was therefore trapped and could not leave. Not once did Rafiq use the term ‘forced marriage’. Instead his use of the term ‘arranged marriage’ implied that all arranged marriages are in fact forced marriages and that all women subjected to such marriages were trapped and unable to leave whatsoever.

Rafiq further told the court that in his religion (Islam) only the men are allowed to give a divorce to women. This is a blatant untruth as women in Islam have the free will to divorce their husbands on a number of grounds including lack of provision, psychological and emotional abuse and substance abuse. This is known as a ‘khullah’. Furthermore, Rafiq’s was aware of a ‘khullah’ as his own sister had undergone one when she divorced her second husband. This untruth was not challenged whatsoever by either the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) prosecutor or by the judge himself, thus leaving the jury, which was predominantly Caucasian, with a deliberately skewed version of Islam. It was therefore crucial for the judge or the CPS prosecutor to point out this glaring untruth. Had Rafiq been challenged on the spot, it would have immediately undermined his credibility as a witness.

The nature of Rafiq’s testimony and the wider implications it is has for other court cases involving Muslim men is deeply concerning. By stating that only men can give divorces under sharia law, he implied his wife was desperate and trapped. By lying about the sex abuse, Rafiq alleged, his wife could have him removed from her life without a divorce. Rafiq played to the obvious and most damning of stereotypes surrounding Muslim women; that Islam subjugates and controls women; women have no rights under Islam, women are the property of men etc etc.

These are deeply dangerous grounds for defence and if unchallenged, will make it impossible for other Muslim women to come forward to report new cases of sex abuse within the family.  It takes a great deal of bravery and strength for a victim to come forward and reveal what is happening to them. This is made even harder when there are deeply entrenched cultural and religious expectations of females to stay pure and virginal until marriage within the community.

It is paramount therefore that those who are involved in the prosecuting of such cases where the defendants are from a Muslim background are given immediate training around divorces under Islamic law, the differences between forced and arranged marriages, as well as the pressure that families face to keep the honour of the victims intact so that they can challenge without hesitation or without a fear of appearing racist any misleading testimony that defendants such as Rafiq offer in order to walk free from child sex abuse cases.


Yours faithfully,


Aisha Ali-Khan