LONDON, Jan 8 (Reuters) - Former Labour home secretary Jack Straw said on Saturday some young Pakistani men regard white girls as easy targets for sexual abuse, drawing criticism from the Muslim community and other MPs.
The Blackburn MP made his concerns public after the jailing of a mainly Asian gang who raped girls in the Derby area.
On Friday, Mohammed Liaqat, 28, and Abid Saddique, 27, were jailed at Nottingham Crown Court for raping and sexually abusing several girls aged between 12 and 18.
In an interview with BBC television Straw said he believed there was a specific problem in some areas of the country, including his own, where Pakistani men were deliberately targeting young white women because they were viewed as morally inferior.
He accused them of treating white girls as "easy meat" ripe for sexual abuse, while women in their own community remained off-limits to them.
"Pakistanis, let's be clear, are not the only people who commit sexual offences, and overwhelmingly the sex offenders' wings of prisons are full of white sex offenders," he said.
"But there is a specific problem which involves Pakistani heritage men ... who target vulnerable young white girls," he added, saying there was no point in denying it was an issue and had been for years.
"We need to get the Pakistani community to think much more clearly about why this is going on and to be more open about the problems that are leading to a number of Pakistani heritage men thinking it is okay to target white girls in this way."
The two jailed men were the leaders in a gang of street groomers who targeted vulnerable girls on the streets of Derby, then abused them. Sentencing them the judge said he believed this was not a racial crime, but it is the latest in a series of criminal cases involving Asian men and young girls.
Straw's comments were criticised by Keith Vaz, chairman of the House of Commons home affairs select committee, and some community groups who said they smacked of racial stereotyping.
Mohammed Shafiq, director of the Muslim youth group the Ramadhan Foundation, said in a statement it was dangerous to say such abuse was "ingrained" in Britain's Pakistani community, but said it had been an issue.
"I have been clear in instigating this debate that these are criminal matters and should be seen in this way, no community or faith ever sanctions these evil crimes and to suggest that this somehow ingrained in the community is deeply offensive." (Reporting by Stefano Ambrogi; editing by Myra MacDonald)