Reports and Campaigns
Reports and campaigns:
Abuse: Cuts have robbed us of the time to talk to these young people
The recent horrific report on the cover up of large scale child sexual abuse in Rotherham was analysed in the last issue of the Socialist (issue 823). This week we have a powerful view written from personal experience.
Ok, so here goes... I'll start with the hardest bit, for me anyway, my dirty little secret, because that's what it feels like, that's how they want you to feel. I was groomed. The friend who asked me to write this didn't know, nor do any social workers or police or my family really, but I guess I'm cheating still by writing this anonymously. I am now in my 30s, a qualified social worker and have supported young girls who were in situations not unlike those you'll have heard about in the news, and some of them will have been part of the report.
What has been reported about Rotherham has shocked everyone. The inevitable resignations have been called for, promises have been made and the news has been reflecting, regurgitating and talking to "victims." This is not the first report about child exploitation in Rotherham or elsewhere, and not the first time it's been in the news; but it's the first time that the scale of abuse appears to have been recognised.
1,400 young mostly, but not exclusively, girls are reported to have been affected over a period of 16 years. In a majority of cases, the men involved appear to be of Asian or Pakistani origin. The professionals involved, apparently scared of the repercussions of appearing racist, did nothing that had any real effect.
Most of the young girls were white. But Asian girls were also affected, probably far more than were identified partly due to cultural ideas around honour. A girl who is known not to be 'pure' may have difficulties finding a husband, whether it was her 'fault' or not. It is seen as bringing dishonour on the whole family, to the point where girls have been disfigured with acid or killed by their own families, unwilling to accept the shame.
Who are abusers?
The man who took an interest in me was not Asian and neither were all of the men targeting the girls I worked with. It is vital that our communities are not further divided. The right-wing media seeks to imply that, by association, all Asian men groom young girls. It worries me that if people concentrate on the racial aspect of the case, then those of us who have been, or will be, groomed by men from other ethnic backgrounds get pushed aside in the clamour to demonise the bogey man. We need to recognise that perpetrators of abuse can be anyone, even those celebrities put on pedestals.
There is a debate about class and abuse. But for me class is not a defining feature. You would probably describe me as upper middle class, yet the girls I have worked with are from all backgrounds; the children of people on benefits, of accountants, of university lecturers and children in care. We shouldn't apportion blame to those jobless, feckless parents that the government and right-wing media would have you believe were at the root cause of all our country's ills either.
The men who groom young people know it takes time. You have to find a vulnerable young person and gain their trust. Most use alcohol and drugs or treats and presents in order to build a sense of excitement, a sense of shared naughtiness and things that need to be kept secret: "just between us".
The use of substances also helps to make the young person an unreliable witness if they do try to tell... "so you'd drunk how much?" ... "and you admit you were taking drugs at the time?" ... These things used to go through my mind as responses from anyone I told: "Can you really be sure that's what happened?" or even worse "it's your own fault for getting in that state."
I thought it was grown up and fun, to start with. It takes time. From meeting this man, to the night he tried to "break me", was about 18 months. The "breaking" is when they think they've got enough hold over you to make you do the things they want. For me it was a gun in the face and a choice between sex (rape) and death. He made me decide on the place too. I made all the decisions that night; he made sure of that, so it felt like it was all my fault.
And on that night I didn't feel scared, I just felt so very lonely and stupid. Stupid as a whole world of realisation, of the lies, of the gift of kittens he gave me, of his mates that looked at me in that funny way, of that other girl I met and the look in her eyes I couldn't quite place. For others it's different, but usually violence or threatened violence is involved. But the one thing it always takes is time.
So what do we need to give the people working with these young people? Well I'd suggest we need time too. It's the hardest thing knowing you only have an hour or two a week to speak to a young person and these men have all the time they want. That's what cuts to services have robbed people of. As case-loads grow and staff numbers shrink, we are losing the battle of time. As workers we have no choice but to prioritise, which is maybe the most heart-breaking bit.
There just aren't enough of us. To support someone rebuilding themselves, their self-esteem, their feeling of worth can be done, but not in 12 visits of an hour each. Even before these cuts were introduced we were still failing these young people. It seems our society is prejudiced against them: hanging around in parks, drinking, making a nuisance of themselves. They have no voice, they do not vote and the adults in their lives are often busy desperately trying to get by in whatever world they live.
It is so shocking, why would anyone want to accept it goes on? And the feelings I have towards those who have tried to cover up any kind of abuse can't be said politely enough to include here. But we have to get on with helping the young people still in trouble and I'm not sure apportioning blame helps with that.
I am not a victim, it was not my fault, I am not lonely anymore and I am not stupid. Although on bad days, I'm still all of those things. I hope people are shocked and appalled. I hope that this helps to change how our society depicts beautiful young things as commodities, as sex objects to sell products.
I and the other people trying to support these young people will fight for more resources and probably work ourselves into the ground doing it, in the hope we may actually be able to, just occasionally, win the war over time.