The Bexleyheath teacher, the judge’s comments, and our construction of victims and villains

cross-posted from bottomfacedotcom ~ Proud owners of lady parts

orig. pub. on 14.1.15

Back in my early teenage years I had this intense desire to become a singer. This lead onto singing lessons and my taking a GCSE in music (which I couldn’t complete due to my health). I had two teachers who worked with me on my voice. One was a guy who looked like Pike from Dad’s Army, and the other was a woman. She had red flowing hair down to her waist, and alabaster skin. She looked like a pre-Raphaelite painting. Over the course of our lessons I developed a crush on this teacher. Occasionally we would sneak out after class together and have a cigarette, and she had a tendency to treat me more as a peer than as a student. It made me feel so special and grown up. I didn’t know anyone else who had such a close relationship with this woman whom I entirely idolised. I’m glad to say that, though inappropriate, this was as far as our relationship went. When I think back to my school years I find it difficult to remember any girl friend of mine who didn’t have a crush on an older person. I tell you this story only to offer a glimpse into the mind of a teenage girl, hopelessly smitten with a teacher.

Today a judge, sentencing in the case of a teacher who had a sexual relationship with a teenage pupil, placed all of the onus for this relationship upon the pupil. The judge stated, “If grooming is the right word to use, it was she who groomed you, (and) you gave in to temptation.” This was a 16 year old girl, who had an entirely normal, if persistent, crush on a 40 something year old man in a position of responsibility. This man’s wife had had a miscarriage the day he took this young girl’s virginity on the school grounds. This man took blankets and condoms to the school. This man took this pupil to his home where he had sex with her. This man took a normal teenage girl’s crush upon a teacher and exploited it entirely, yet the judge felt the need to describe this child as “intelligent and manipulative”, despite acknowledging that she was a particularly vulnerable child, and identified the perpetrator as “emotionally fragile”. The semantic fields here are revolting. The perpetrator is emotional, fragile, gave in to temptation; thus he is painted as submissive. Meanwhile the child he chose to have sex with is a stalker, a groomer, manipulative and intelligent. All of which paint her as the aggressor. Despite the guilty verdict being handed to this man, the judge has created a situation whereby she describes the man who chose to sexually exploit a child as a victim, whilst the child who was exploited is described as a villain.

This gives us an important glimpse into rape culture. I’ve spoken before about how I was blamed for being raped. Three times I was blamed- it was my fault for having dinner alone with a male friend, it was my fault for not taking a rape alarm into a private property, it was my fault for being alone with a black man ( the last being from my racist ex husband). Other people I know have been blamed for equally tenuous reasons- what they were wearing, which taxi they climbed into, what they had to drink, where they worked. I’ve known of looked after children (children in care) who have been sexually exploited by grown men, yet the system has turned a blind eye to it because “that’s what those girls are like”. I’ve also seen rape and sexual exploitation ignored because of where people are from, and how they spoke. On the one hand, we have a gendered acceptance of sexual assault- with the premise that men are incapable of controlling their sexual urges and that women are the gate keepers of this. Then on the other, we have these terrible classist notions. In the above case the girl’s “troubled past” was noted. This is a classic example of this notion of the “chav” or “little slags”. The moment a victim can be identified as troubled, sympathy for them diminishes because then they no longer neatly fit the archetype of the “perfect victim”.

This archetype dictates that the perfect victim be a girl, white, middle class, virginal, young, cis, and straight. She is a “good girl” from a “good home”. Studies have shown that such victims generate more column inches and with more onus placed upon the perpetrator’s actions, with little information regarding the victim’s clothes, alcohol intake, sexual history etc. The name of the study escapes me, but if I can find it I will link to it later, but one study compared the media attention given to a white girl abductee and two black girls who were abducted. The two black girls together didn’t receive half of the media attention (nor police hours) the white girl did. We can see this same pattern regarding class with the media reaction to Karen Matthews and Kate McCann. Though obviously we now know the outcome of the Matthews’ case, it is still worth noting the way in which the media initially reported the case, with far more intense speculation being placed upon the general lifestyle of Matthews. Her class immediately set up the media in opposition to her.

The composition of our society means that we construct victims and villains along gendered, racial and class lines. These constructs feed into the way in which victims are treated in greater society, within the media and within the justice system. Facts rarely get in the way of the negative opinions of those who come from oppressed groups. This leads us to the point where the eventual victims and villains we are presented with, by the media and the judiciary, are often a poor reflection of reality. It would be nice to be able to be shocked by the judge’s comments regarding this young girl, but this is not the first time children have been victim blamed (as we can see in the case of childhood sexual assault in various children’s homes, and in the Rotherham grooming cases), and I am certain it will not be the last.

 

bottomfacedotcom: proud owner of lady parts: Writes, makes vulvas, swears. Past caring. Home ed. Parent of child w/ ASD ADHD. Has ME & FMS. Lucy tweets at @LUBBottom. She also has an etsy page: Little Shop of Vulvas

 

 

The Great Big Patriarchal Shaped Elephant In The Room #RotherhamAbuse by Outspoken Redhead

(Cross-posted from Outspoken Redhead)

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.