The systematic sexual abuse of young girls

Sexual Abuse

The Independent Inquiry CSE into Rotherham revealed that approximately 1400 children were sexually exploited in the borough situated in the South of Yorkshire, between 1997 and 2013.

“In just over a third of cases, children affected by sexual exploitation were previously known to services because of child protection and neglect. It is hard to describe the appalling nature of the abuse that child victims suffered. They were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten, and intimidated. There were examples of children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set a light, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone. Girls as young as 11 were raped by large numbers of male perpetrators.”

Rotherham has become notorious because of the systematic sexual exploitation and abuse of young girls. The CSE report details how frontline staff and police refused to act because they feared they would be branded as ‘racists’ as the majority of the known perpetrators were of Pakistani-heritage. However, Rotherham is not an isolated case in regards to the mishandling of sexual abuse victims by the police, regardless of the race of the perpetrator. As reported by the Telegraph, “A series of reports on 21 forces across England and Wales exposed serious shortcomings in the way police handle allegations reported to them by members of the public.” Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) carried out an inspection between February and August 2014 into how 43 police forces in England and Wales recorded crime data. The ‘Crime recording: A matter of fact – interim report’ found that “serious sexual offences not being recorded – HMIC identified 14 rapes not recorded” and “a lack of victim focus by the police when making crime-recording decisions.”

Director of the charity ‘Parents Against Child Exploitation (PACE)’ told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme “…that without doubt there are thousands of families being affected [by child exploitation] today…this type of child abuse is in every town.” Presenter Tom Bateman explains how Fleur Strong says that too often child abuse is “written off by the [attending] police officer or social worker… as nothing more as wayward adolescent…” A mother interviewed for the programme who’s daughter had been a victim of grooming, trafficking and exploitation since the age of 13 explains how they received “no help from the authorities” and the “blame culture” perpetuated by officers asking her daughter – “what do you keep going back for, you must like what you are doing.”

Following Professor Alexis Jay’s independent inquiry into child exploitation in Rotherham ten police officers are going to be investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) because of their handling of the reported abuse. Allegations that police officers lost evidence, failed to investigate reports of rape, and criminalised victims have surfaced. In far too many cases it has been revealed that the people who had been endowed with the responsibility to protect, not only failed to do so, but also ignored what was in plain sight. It is evident that the neglect and disregard for child victims of sexual exploitation goes far beyond the frontline staff’s fear of being tarnished as a racist, and the ‘turn a blind eye’ attitude and blame culture was and is deeply entrenched in authoritative structures up and down the UK.

Ann Coffey, MP was commissioned by Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd, to produce an independent report on child exploitation in Manchester, to help safeguard children in future, following the conviction of nine men in 2012 who were involved in operating a child sex ring in Heywood and Rochdale. The report was published in October 2014 – It found that the criminal justice system was failing to keep children safe; out of the 12,879 recorded crimes (which includes nine sexual offences) against children under the age of 16 in Greater Manchester, only 2,341 defendants were ever proceeded against, and a minuscule 1,078 were found guilty. Coffey’s report states that the sexual exploitation of girls has become a “social norm” in some communities in the United Kingdom.

On the 30th October Ann Coffey was interviewed for BBC news, and it is worthwhile looking at the language she used to discuss the sexual exploitation of children. Coffey addresses that public attitudes need to change, however she links this with the appearance of girls “…people look at 13 year old girls and look at the way they dress and treat them as young adults”, unintentionally she used victim-blaming language. Coffey pulls focus onto the child, the use of the word “people” generalises and not at any point does she mention the word “men” or “male” in reference to perpetrators.

Everydayvictimblaming.com wrote a compelling post in response to a headline in ‘The Scottish Sun’ about the abuse of young girls in a care home which read ‘Kid’s home girls in sex party probe’, and how language can be used to blame the victim, and why this is dangerous and can cause serious harm. In response to the lack of the word ‘perpetrator’ in the headline they ask, “where are the perpetrators? The children are not raping themselves” and explain how if the Scottish Sun was concerned for the wellbeing of child exploitations victims the article would read,

“…Deal with child sexual exploitation, grooming and the increased vulnerability of young girls in the care system. It would also discuss the failures within the system to protect young girls, named the perpetrators and used the term child rape.”

The headline uses language that alludes to enjoyment, consent and partying; language such as this can “make it more difficult for [child victims] to access non-judgmental services.”

In December 2014, a jury found Stuart Kerner, 44, a former religious studies teacher at Bexleyheath Academy in Kent, guilty of two counts of sexual activity with a child by a person in a position of trust; he was however cleared of four counts of  similar offences. The jury heard how Kerner took the girls virginity, then a pupil at the school, alleged to be 15 at the time, on a yoga mat in a room at Bexleyheath Academy. Kerner continued to engage in sexual activity with the young girl for 18 months. It was said to the jury that Kerner had, as reported by the Telegraph, “…once told the teenager their relationship was “written in the stars” and he carried a condom in his jacket pocket, telling her, “This is in case you become too irresistible.”

Kerner was found guilty of sexual activity with a child – categorised under the Sexual Offence Act 2003. The Crown Prosecution Service advises “any breach of trust arising… from the offender’s professional or other responsibility for the child’s welfare, will make an offence more serious.” Moreover “…older children may also suffer serious and long-term psychological damage as a result of sexual abuse.”

Following this in January 2015, almost opposing the advise by the Crown Prosecution Service, Kerner walked free after receiving an 18 month suspended sentence. Judge Joanna Greenberg QC told Kerner, “If grooming is the right word to use, it was she who groomed you, [and] you gave in to temptation.”

The language used by Judge Joanna Greenberg in the sentencing of Kerner is synonymous with the deep-rooted idea that women and girls are temptresses with the ability to sexually seduce men into destruction. Such as the biblical ‘temptress’ Delilah, as Elizabeth Wurtzel explains in her book ‘Bitch’, ‘brought down’ the almighty powerful Samson through her sexual allure and beauty or take for example Jephthah who slaughtered his innocent daughter then claimed “she made him do it.” Whilst these examples are from the Old Testament, it is an indication of how the conceptualisation of the female temptress and victim blaming have been well-established in traditional thought – and furthermore the notion a virginal young girl grooming, and tempting her teacher more than double her age is quite ancient – she ‘groomed’ him, she made him do it.

In addition when the mainstream media reports of adult men engaging in sexual activity, full sexual intercourse, or sexually abusing their female teenage pupils the word “affair” is often used. The word affair signifies – consent, love and romance. It does not connote abuse or criminal offence. The conviction of Simon Parson, 52, once head of drama at Castle School in Thornbury, who pleaded guilty to five courts of sexual activity with a child by a person in a position of trust – was reported by BBC News and other news outlets as an affair. In both the Parson and Kerner cases the victims were both said to have had a ‘girl crush’ on their teacher; a word that insinuates obsession, infatuation, and immaturity.

Sexual activity with a child is a sexual offence; however the language used by the authorities, within the courts and by the media is one of consent and victim blaming, how as a society can we expect the systemic sexual abuse of young girls to end if we can’t talk about it without blaming the girls themselves and depicting them as infatuated temptresses?

The use of victim blaming language and the constant full focus on the victims in the media is distractive and apathetic – it fails to acknowledge that perpetrators were involved, that the perpetrators were men and the possible reasons why such barbaric sexual crime is occurring under our noses, in our towns and by the people we trust.

It is stated by the NSPCC that ‘1 in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused’ based on published statistic from ‘the report Child abuse and neglect in the UK today’, which interviewed 6,000 young adults, teenagers, children and parents of younger children and looked at their experience of abuse and neglect.  The report found:

“Teenage girls aged between 15 and 17 reported the highest past year rates of sexual abuse.” And that “the majority of perpetrators of sexual abuse were males, either adults or other young people, who were known to the child or young person.”

Male perpetrators are sexually abusing young girls and the young girls know the male perpetrators. This shatters the illusion that strangers only commit sexual abuse; it does however reinforce the idea that these men have the opportunity to over time manipulate, groom and eventually exploit and abuse.

Gail Dines, professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College, in her book Pornland references an interview she carried out with a child rapist in a Connecticut prison, “…[he] told me how he carefully and strategically groomed his ten-year-old stepdaughter into “consenting” to have sex with him, and then he casually mentioned that his job was made easy because “the culture did a lot of the grooming for me.”

It is imperative that contemporary society as a whole takes responsibility for the unconscious contributions it makes toward the systemic sexual abuse of young girls – whether it is the language we use to discuss victims of sexual abuse, not challenging entrenched misogynistic sexist ideas about young girls and women or turning away from sexual abuse. It not enough to express disgust once sexual abuse of children surfaces; we must ask why men sexually abuse children, and how are we allowing this to happen, Dines interviewed seven incarcerated sex offenders, “Some accidentally came across child porn while surfing porn sites, and other sought it out to masturbate to something other than the usual porn. The average length of time between downloading the first child porn and sexually assaulting a child was one year. Most men told me that before becoming addicted to Internet porn, they had not been sexually interested in children.”

It is not as simple as categorising the sexual abuse of young girls under paedophile, because paedophilia is not the only reason why men are sexually abusing young girls.

“…Our culture’s fascination with the virginal victim – is understandable. In these oversexed times… it is only the girl who knows nothing about sex, perhaps doesn’t even know where babies come from, who can guarantee that a man will feel his dominance, and will experience himself as breaking and entering. After residing in this erotic grey zone of date-rape confusion, with seduction and sexual harassment and who made the first move all constant questions, there is something so nice and safe about sure-fire violation, about fucking a child… the relief of certainty, since they are not even in a position to express, experience or exercise volition.” – Elizabeth Wurtzel, Bitch.

* The term sexual abuse in regards to the NSPCC report (2011) Child abuse and neglect in the UK today, includes any unwanted sexual activity, criminal sexual activity with an adult, and/ or where physical contact took place.