Have you ever tried to explain to a 14-year-old girl that she does not have to have sex with all her boyfriend’s friends to show that she loves him? That she has, in fact, been raped? Have you taken her on the bus to get her contraception, only to watch her throw the pills out of the window on the way back?
I had to do this, when young myself and working as a residential care worker. It was my duty to report a child missing if he or she did not come back to the home at night. For some girls, that was most nights. The police and my co-workers cheerily referred to these girls as “being on the game”.
If you want to know about ethnicity – as everyone appears to think this is key – these girls were of Caribbean descent, as were their pimps. The men who paid to rape these children, they said, were mostly white.
That was London in the 80s, so the whole “child protection is in tatters” number is not news. Child protection services have not worn down: they have been torn apart. Care has never been a place of safety, and anyone who wanted to know that could do so. Just look at who is in prison, who is homeless, who is an addict and ask how good our care system has ever been.
I had wanted to stay in social work, but after a placement answering calls on what was known as the frontline I realised that most of my work would be sorting out emergency payments for food and heating. People needed money, not cod psychoanalysis. It was also obvious that social work systems were not only failing, but under attack. First they came for the social workers (bearded do-gooders), then they came for the teachers (the blob) … this is how neoliberal ideology has been so effective in running down the public sector.
Now we are to feign suprise that the victims of this failure emerge, and they turn out to be girls of the underclass. Slags, skets, skanks, hos: every day I hear a new word for them.
The report on Rotherham is clear-eyed about who targeted the girls: men of Pakistani and Kashmiri descent, working in gangs to rape and torture girls. The men called the girls “white trash”, but white girls were not their only victims. They also abused women in their own community who had pressure put on them never to name names.
Certain journalists, including Julie Bindel, have been covering this story for years and have never shied away from describing the men’s ethnic origin. Ethnicity is a factor but there is also a shared assumption beneath the police inaction and the council workers’ negligence: all of them deemed the girls worthless. The police described them as “undesirables” while knowing they were indeed “desired” by both Pakistani and white men for sex. They were never seen as children at all, but as somehow unrapeable, capable of consensual sex with five men at the age of 11.
Heroin use, self-harm, attempted suicide, unwanted pregnancies, all of this was reported to the authorities. Meanwhile, “care” was being outsourced and some of these girls were moved to homes outside the area. This just meant the rapists’ taxis had to go a bit further.
The running down of children’s services to a skeletal organisation in an already deprived area is spelled out in the report, which talks of “the dramatic reduction of resources available … By 2016 Rotherham will have lost 33% of its spending power” compared with 2010. Buckinghamshire, by contrast, will have suffered a 4.5% reduction.
It is as if everyone has agreed who is worthless and who isn’t; who can be saved and who can’t. The police, the local authority, the government, and indeed the grooming gangs, appear to share the same ideology about sexual purity – and its value.
The rightwing likes the cheap thrill of an underclass woman, drunk and showing her knickers, and now blames rape on political correctness gone mad, as though a bit of robust racism is the answer to misogyny.
OK. So let’s join the dots to Savile and the other recent sex-abuse scandals. We have the police in on the case; we have institutions basically offering up the most vulnerable as victims; we have a protection racket centred around fame rather than ethnicity. At the top we have abusive men, at the bottom powerless young girls and boys. So the bigger picture is the systematic rape of poor children by men. Not all men – I have to say this to be politically correct, don’t I?
The right can make it only about race. I have no problem in calling certain attitudes of certain Muslims appalling. I just can’t see them in isolation from class and gender.
The macho environment in which the girls were not listened to, or even seen as children, is part of a continuum of thought in which girls, once deemed sexually active, even if it is against their will, are seen as damaged goods. Thus they can be bought and sold in a market that has made it apparent it no longer considers them worth protecting. Where is the profit in that?
Whatever resignations are proffered, what is horrifying is this wholesale resignation to an economic caste system. Our untouchables turn out to be little girls raped by powerful men.
I read the Jay report into child exploitation in Rotherham from cover to cover. As I did, I remembered my own experience as a Channel 4 News reporter in Bradford after the 2001 Manningham riots. It may have been young men throwing bricks and petrol bombs, but I wanted a deeper understanding of what was going on in a town that seemed to simultaneously becoming more religiously and racially segregated, while manifesting the familiar and growing British urban malaise of drug addiction, gang culture and underage prostitution. It was there that a white social worker accused me of being racist for wanting to ask British Pakistani girls about abuse.
That attitude seems connected to the strange hierarchy of rights exposed by a key finding in the Rotherham report: that police and council officers were widely felt to be playing down strong evidence of sexual abuse, mostly against girls, for fear of upsetting community relations.
Back in 2001, the London charity Southall Black Sisters, which has been campaigning against domestic violence since the 1970s, put me in touch with a social worker who had recently been transferred to Bradford. She told me how she had found herself the only woman at a post-riot “community relations” meeting where, she claimed, community leaders asked the police to pass any complaints of domestic violence from Pakistani women straight to them. They would “sort it” themselves. The worker said she challenged this, but felt that if she hadn’t been there the police would have agreed.
It is this attitude – a “bullying and macho” deal-making culture involving the local authority and the male, self-appointed leadership of the Pakistani Muslim community – that the Rotherham report pinpointed. Did a fear of losing votes also influence council (in)action over the years in towns with large Muslim populations?
The victims weren’t only white girls, but the police and council focus on talking only to older male Muslims meant they weren’t aware of this. Women and girls living on their own were being targeted by Pakistani landlords and forced into sex with other men, afraid to report their abuse for fear of social stigma. The report found: “One of the local Pakistani women’s groups described how Pakistani-heritage girls were targeted by taxi drivers and on occasion by older men lying in wait outside school gates at dinner times and after school.”
Too many news reports approach these kind of complex stories as being about either race or gender; this compounds the problem. A rare exception is the BBC’s Asian Network. After the Oxford child sexual exploitation case, this was the only outlet I heard that bothered to talk to local British Pakistani women. They described a culture of sexual intimidation by some local men as they walked down the street.
“Every so often this sort of scary report does need to come out to show the world what is going on,” says Poonam Pattni of the Southall Black Sisters. “But as a society we are still disbelieving young girls, turning a blind eye, calling it racism, calling it all sorts of other things, but not dealing with the issue head on. The absolute tragedy is that at the same time this report is coming out, women-trafficking programmes are being cut, the independent sector of support services, the whole women’s movement is being damaged by funding cuts.”
It’s worth also pointing out that many of those expressing righteous fury at the cover-up now were once outraged at the very idea that such things were going on in Britain. In 1997, Peter Kosminsky made the award-winning ITV drama No Child of Mine, about so-called “conveyor-belt” sexual grooming. He told me in 2012: “When we were researching No Child of Mine, the victims – those that had the guts to speak up – were viewed with scepticism, ignored or accused of making false allegations to discredit individuals against whom they had a grudge. The woman behind No Child of Mine was publicly branded a liar.”
So yes, the Rotherham scandal, as in Oxford and Rochdale, is about race. But look deeper and it’s really about wider attitudes by some men to women and girls. Or “slags”, as I notice in the search terms that people use everyday to find articles about these cases. And that might be the most uncomfortable truth.
that angry feminist stereotype is 100% accurate. we have every right to be angry. tbh, if you call yourself a feminist and YOURE NOT angry, you probably need to do some more research into why feminism exists in the first place
QotD: “I think women really for the first time began to see men as equals and the problem was that men did not reciprocate”
The current pornography industry really is rooted in the 60s. Initially, pornography was seen to be a vehicle of liberation simply because it violated laws and the laws were associated with the repressive adult generation and anything they tried to stop us from doing we did and pornography was part of that.
The notion was that what would emerge would be this free loving and again equal kind of sexuality. Women in the counter-culture were incredibly idealistic. I think women really for the first time began to see men as equals and the problem was that men did not reciprocate.
The pornography industry grew and grew and grew, these people got rich, they made a lot of money and suddenly they weren’t so anti-capitalist anymore. Most of the guys [pornographers] you can trace their histories back to the 60s.
They were in some way or another part of the 60s counterculture scene. What they [pornographers] did was to take the sexual freedom that we had been fighting for and they turned it into a profit making, product oriented,
woman hating industry.
At some point we began to notice and it was the kind of disappointment that either forces you to cave in or forces you to rebel. A lot of women did cave in but a lot of women rebelled and those who rebelled became feminists.
About 1,400 children were sexually exploited in Rotherham over a 16-year period, according to a report that concluded “it is hard to describe the appalling nature of the abuse that child victims suffered”.
The uncompromising report on events in the South Yorkshire town between 1997 and 2013 said in more than a third of these cases the youngsters were already known to child protection agencies.
Warning also of “blatant” collective failures by the council’s leadership, the report by Professor Alexis Jay prompted the resignation of the council’s Labour leader.
Roger Stone, the leader, said: “Having considered the report, I believe it is only right that I, as leader, take responsibility on behalf of the council for the historic failings that are described so clearly in the report and it is my intention to do so.
“For this reason, I have today agreed with my Labour group colleagues that I will be stepping down as leader with immediate effect.”
Despite Stone’s resignation, chief executive Martin Kimber said no council officers will face disciplinary action.
Jay said she found examples of “children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone”.
Jay said: “They were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten and intimidated.” She said she found girls as young as 11 had been raped by large numbers of men.
The report said failures of the political and officer leadership of Rotherham council over the first 12 years she looked at were blatant, as the seriousness of the problem was underplayed by senior managers and was not seen as a priority by South Yorkshire police. Jay said police “regarded many child victims with contempt”.
QotD: “my mom has been a cop for over 20 years and she is the one who constantly warns me about police aggression and young male cops”
my mom has been a cop for over 20 years and she is the one who constantly warns me about police aggression and young male cops and told me that if you’re ever alone on a rural road and a cop throws their lights on to put on your four ways and drive to the next gas station before stopping because so many cops are scum and it’s not worth the chance of getting hurt. the fact that SHE feels the need to tell me this shit scares me to death
dannerzz (original post no longer up)
Some men push the button as far as saying that porn is actually ‘feminist’ because women make more money than men in the industry. To which I reply that men in porn are paid to orgasm, while women are paid to suffer, which is why they deserve and receive a higher monetary compensation. But money is a bad substitute for dignity and body integrity.
QotD: “When women kill to save their own lives, they assert that they matter, that their lives count”
Battered women are morally entitled to kill their abusive partners, even those who are passed out or asleep, says a respected University of Ottawa law professor.
Elizabeth Sheehy raises the provocative idea in her new book, eight years in the making, called Defending Battered Women on Trial. It will be published Dec. 15 by UBC Press.
“Why should women live in anticipatory dread and hypervigilence?” she writes in the book’s concluding chapter. Would it not be just, Sheehy asks, “to shift the risk of death to those men whose aggressions have created such dehumanizing fear in their female partners?”
In an interview with the Citizen, Sheehy — who received a prestigious award from the Canadian Bar Association for her scholarship on women and the law this summer — answered that question in the affirmative.
Battered women can justly kill abusive partners “because a woman in that circumstance has already lived in captivity,” she said. “She’s already lived in a form of imprisonment and enslavement in a relationship like that.”
Sheehy likened women in abusive relationships to prisoners of war. “We would never say of a prisoner of war that it’s not just that she or he kill their captor to escape. It is just to kill to escape that kind of enslavement.”
Battered women’s “moral courage,” Sheehy writes in her book, “deserves our respect.
“When women kill to save their own lives, they assert that they matter, that their lives count — even more than the lives of their abusers.”
After all their abusers have done to them, “they have somehow taken a stand for their own humanity and saved themselves,” she writes. “And for this we should also be grateful.”
QotD: “Secure accommodation may well remove the immediate risk of violence, exploitation, homelessness and so on … It may be possible to do many things with a young person in secure accommodation, but the social, psychological and material privations surrounding their sexual exploitation will never be addressed”
Almost half of the young people in the prison system’s secure children’s homes have not been convicted of any crime, but have been placed there by local authorities for their own protection, the Observer has established.
Penal campaigners, childcare experts and leading charities have expressed alarm at the proportion of innocent teenage girls and boys held alongside convicted juveniles.
Child-grooming scandals in Rochdale, Telford, Derby and Oxford have made local authorities far more aware of the plight of vulnerable young people, often those who are in care or come from chaotic backgrounds and have mental health or addiction problems. The exposure of high-profile celebrity abusers, such as Jimmy Savile, has also moved the issue of child protection centre stage.
Failures in standards of care, identified in serious case reviews, have seen councils become more interventionist in their approach to child protection, with the result that there has been an increase in the number of children being locked up “for their own safety”.
“No council wants another Rochdale on their hands,” said Jo Phoenix, professor of criminology at the University of Leicester, who questioned the effect that incarceration was having on children with severe sexual and mental problems. “Secure accommodation may well remove the immediate risk of violence, exploitation, homelessness and so on,” Phoenix said. “It may be possible to do many things with a young person in secure accommodation, but the social, psychological and material privations surrounding their sexual exploitation will never be addressed.”
The Howard League for Penal Reform said it was aware that the Secure Accommodation Network – the body responsible for allocating places in secure children’s homes – was now receiving several calls a day from councils trying to place vulnerable children, but a shortage of rooms had meant that many attempts had been unsuccessful.
Frances Crook, the league’s director, said she was aware of one case in which a girl was held in a police station for three days because no alternative accommodation could be found. “We have a history of locking up women for their own good, girls who get pregnant. Mental hospitals are full of women who self-injure,” Crook said. “We need a victim-led policy.”
According to official figures, of the 229 children being held in secure children’s homes in the year to 31 March this year, 45% were placed by local authorities on welfare grounds. This compares with just 28% in 2011. More than four out of 10 of those held on welfare grounds are girls.
The sharp rise is understood to have triggered concern within the Department for Education (DfE), which has discussed the issue with the Association of Directors of Children’s Services.
Some experts said local authorities faced a difficult dilemma and that incarceration was the “least bad” option. An absence of alternative accommodation and the fact that some vulnerable children keep running away means a place in a secure children’s home is better than leaving them vulnerable to predatory gangs.
Sheila Taylor, chief executive of the NWG Network, which tackles child sexual exploitation, said it was not until Operation Retriever in 2010, the prosecution of a grooming gang in Derby, that the issue of child sexual exploitation became widely recognised. “It’s an area that professionals are only just coming to grips with,” Taylor said. “As a result, we don’t have enough of the right places to send young people to.”
Taylor said she knew of one young girl who had been forced to have sex with 43 men in one night. Over a number of years, this could translate to hundreds of men. “We need to understand how we can help these children repair and recover,” Taylor said. She said that the Netherlands operated a specialist refuge for trafficked children, something the UK might seek to emulate.
Locking up innocent children is legally questionable. A 2012 briefing from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner said: “Authorities, parents or even young people themselves cannot give their own consents for a child to have their liberty restricted. Therapy and behaviour management do not provide a reasonable excuse for restricting the liberty of a child in a children’s home which is not approved as secure accommodation.”
The DfE said it was vital that young people at risk of exploitation were identified and protected. “Councils have a legal obligation to provide children in their care with a safe and secure home,” the spokesman said. “We continue to work with councils to review how the care system can best meet the needs of young people.”
Wendy Shepherd, Barnardo’s national implementation manager on child sexual exploitation, said secure accommodation should be used only when alternatives had been exhausted and called for the creation of safe houses and an expansion in the number of specialist foster carers.
“Children and young people need to feel a level of care that some of these perpetrators who abuse them manage to offer them,” Shepherd said. “We need them to understand that they are not to blame for what has happened to them and to ensure they do not end up mad, bad or sad.”
I’d like to add this from the comments thread as well:
I’m a practitioner within a Youth Offending Team and have worked with a handful of young females who have been placed in secure settings for welfare rather than criminogenic reasons, including self-harming and significantly risky behaviours leading to sexual exploitation. This decision has never been taken lightly by the social care teams involved, and I’d make a few observations from being involved in these cases:
- One of the saddest things is that, once secured, the young people involved are often initially relieved to be somewhere they feel safe and contained. Importantly though, they want to know that this is respite, and only temporary. And so it should be.
- The providers who claim to be able to cope with these behaviours in small home community settings (the ones I know of are private rather than local authority run) often struggle to adequately contain and protect these young people, despite the significant financial cost to place a young person in their care. Sometimes the geographical setting of such placements (within large cities) is unhelpful, sometimes staff appear overwhelmed, sometimes the cohort formed when ‘risky’ young people are placed together in one home is simply unworkable. I would question whether this model is effective, and…
- I would agree that specialist foster care would absolutely be the most appropriate place for these young people to thrive. However, this would cost money, and we just do not invest enough to help our most vulnerable young people (despite the fact that help at a younger age may well enable these children to live more fulfilled and self-sufficient lives as adults, thus saving money in the longer term). In an age of ideologically driven austerity, I don’t see this situation changing anytime soon.
QotD: “The oppression of women knows no ethnic nor racial boundaries, true, but that does not mean it is identical within those boundaries”
The oppression of women knows no ethnic nor racial boundaries, true, but that does not mean it is identical within those boundaries.
Audre Lorde, “An open letter to Mary Daly”