As if to delight news channels across the country, August vomits up the moral panic of the inquiry into child exploitation and sexual abuse in Rotherham. 1400 children abused or exploited over 17 years by abusers, some of whom were Asian males. This is a news story with perfect components:
POLITICAL DRAMA!!!! Should Labour be blamed? After all it’s a Labour Council isn’t it, and its Social Services Department is probably staffed by bearded do gooders more likely to remove a child because their parents want to take her to Sunday School than challenge Asian people. Labour grab this chance to score endless home goals by demanding the resignation of the Police Commissioner or else they will suspend him from the party! Oh yes, that’ll show everyone. And anyway, isn’t this the Tories fault for introducing these Commissioners roles in the first place with their £120k salaries and then finding out no one can remove them. All of these points may or may not be true, none of them have any relevance or any prospect of making things right for the victims.
RACE AND MULTICULTURAL DRAMA!! Up pop UKIP, making sly digs about different cultural values and even sensible people mutter that this is what Islam is like, painting non Muslim White women as whores and this is where it all ends. People who have never read the Qu’uran feel qualified to pronounce on religion, at least other people’s religion, foreign religion that doesn’t belong here. Nigel Farage must have wept with joy that a UKIP MEP in Yorkshire is Pakistani and could be wheeled out to condemn his own community. Look, a Pakistani person thinks this is a race issue, so it must be right, just as it is when a woman condemns feminism. This makes it TRUE!
USELESS PUBLIC SERVICES DRAMA!! Police, Councils, they’re all the same. Sitting on their gold plated pensioned arses, doing sod all except soaking up taxpayers money. Sack ’em all! Ok, sack quite a lot of them. Well, please for the love of God can we sack some of them so that we can all convince ourselves that this is sorted and has gone away and will never happen again? Can’t we? Isn’t this how it works?
Well, sadly no. Sexual abuse of women and children isn’t like a flu pandemic. It happens every day in every city, town and village in every so-called civilised and not so civilised country. It’s perpetrated by black men, white men, religious men, atheist men, rich men and poor men. Handsome men and ugly men, successful men and men who have failed in every other part of their lives. But you will see there is a common thread. It’s men, abusing women and children over whom they have some power. Or power imbalance. Because while it can often be the power of the priest, the politician, the famous radio star or the children’s entertainer which prevents their victims from speaking out or being believed if they do; sometimes it’s the powerlessness of the victim, a Looked After* Child (*yes, I do use the term wryly) or so often simply the powerlessness of the child that depends on its father for a home and security.
Sexual abuse exerts power and control, most of all by shrouding the victim in shame. It’s easy to spot a bruise or a burn on a child – but how does any teacher spot the signs of sexual abuse. The psychological impact is often profound or over sexualised behaviour can make the child stand out but to make the link to abuse is close to impossible unless the child speaks out. And then, as we have seen all too well, so many men are capable of swaggering while protesting their innocence and damning their accusers and achieving a successful prosecution is beset with difficulties. And is that even what victims want? Most of all they want it to stop, for it never to have happened in the first place and for the shame and guilt to be removed, feelings that overwhelm, like Lady Macbeth dabbing futilely at blood and only being amplified by having to recount every detail in court to a man in a wig determined to show you and your 12 year old self as a slut and a liar.
The incidence of sexual abuse, shown by surveys of adults shows it is shockingly high and massively undiscovered. 1400 children in seventeen years in a town the size of Rotherham is the screaming headline figure. Why don’t we poll towns of the same size over the same period and ask the questions we never ask and see how high those figures are? Perhaps we might find out what we don’t want to know – that sexual abuse is rife in every community, that it is entirely equality proofed in every way, except gender. While we’re asking awkward questions, could we also consider whether we want families to be less ‘private’, more subject to scrutiny without screaming Nanny State! While we’re at it, do we want children to be able to talk freely about sexuality without shame from a very young age without having paroxysms of outrage?
Wow, if we were to have really difficult discussions, could we talk about patriarchy? Could we talk about how our male dominated society tells us sex is something men want and women give, that girls are sluts while boys are ‘lads’ and every day a national newspaper publishes pictures of women’s breasts for a bit of fun and how all of that might, just might, determine how many men view all women?
Could it be that if video games allow young men to rape prostitutes or kill them, it might be evidence of something really, really wrong? We are told equality is a battle long won, look, we had a female Prime Minister. Let’s just forget that for every year she was in power it was lawful for Denis Thatcher to rape her, a law repealed in my adult lifetime.
Actually, that’s all a bit difficult isn’t it. Tell you what, let’s get back to political mudslinging, baying for sackings and making dark assertions about race. Sexual abuse happens to the others, not us and is perpetrated by evil monsters, not that nice chap next door. Let’s continue with our time-honoured hand wringing and say over and over “This must not happen again”. Except, it already is. Right her, right now and will continue until we start to name the real problem. Patriarchy. Or just Power, if that’s not as scary. Either will do, but once again those in power choose Pretence.