Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

So what... [fill in blank here].

A FIFTEEN year old girl goes missing. So what?

Normally that leads to a police hunt, appeals for information, and hopefully finding her safe and well.

A child goes missing with an adult, and alarm bells normally ring. If the adult is a teacher, the worst is soon presumed.

But a fifteen-year-old goes missing with her teacher and people queue up to say this is not a problem. That there is little difference between fifteen and sixteen, that these things happen, who hasn't dreamed of either a school girl or a teacher, and idiots say "so what".

Physically an adult but emotionally still a girl, she is regarded as a sexual being with the requisite experience and judgement to choose her lovers wisely. If any blame is apportioned, it is hers.

Then we have an official report about something that happened to another fifteen-year-old. She went missing, too.

She went missing quite often, and eventually told the adults who were responsible for her she had been abused.

She said she had been sexually assaulted by more than one man, and asked for help.

The social workers to whom she complained did not tell the police, and did not take her seriously. Instead they told her parents she need to be given "boundaries", because if she was having sex it must have been her choice.

No-one presumed the worst. Yet the worst was what was happening.

The abuse - carried out with threats of violence, psychological pressure, drink, drugs and bribes - continued and the girl became pregnant.

No alarm bells rang.

A year after her first complaint she went back to the authorities and asked them to help again. The police gathered enough evidence to charge several men, and found other girls had been victims too.

A month later our girl withdrew her statement, on the grounds she had been threatened by her abusers and she did not believe social services would protect her if she went ahead.

Normally if a child tells the police they've been threatened they take notice. Usually when a girl says she's too frightened of an attacker to give evidence the Crown Prosecution Service will proceed against them anyway, to get them off the street.

Not in this case. The CPS dropped the charges despite having three other victims who could testify, and social services ended their involvement with the girl. She was no longer, in their minds, "a child in need".

She was described as an "unreliable witness", which is apparently her fault and nothing to do with the fact someone who's been systematically abused for years, plied with drink and drugs, bullied, terrified and raped often winds up a bit screwy.

She had the body of an adult so it mattered not in the least whether she was able to make choices in the same way as a 30-year-old. It was her fault, she was old enough to know better, and they thought 'so what'.

The girl self-harmed, she used drink and drugs, she ran away. No-one gave a toss.

A year later another man was arrested because of the girl's evidence and he said enough to the right people for local police to launch a full-scale probe in to the organised sexual exploitation of children in Rochdale.

In May - four years after that fifteen-year-old first said she'd been abused - the gang was finally jailed.

There is of course a world of difference between the case of Megan Stammers, a schoolgirl who's run off with her 30-year-old teacher, and the girl known as Suzie by the Rochdale Safeguarding Children Board whose report into exploitation has today revealed a shocking series of blunders which allowed rapists to attack a string of vulnerable girls for years.

There are different causes, villains, methods, and official mistakes.

But at a fundamental level these two fifteen-year-old girls have been treated by the world at large as being much the same - as a kind of prostitute, someone who knows all about sex, makes a choice and must accept the consequences.

Because they've entered puberty, they can be trusted to go shopping on their own or cook a meal, then whatever happens to them is, somehow, seen as their entirely-independent decision.

Have you forgotten what it was like to be fifteen? The feeling that no-one understands you, the self-loathing, the wish to fit in, to escape, to grow up? The fact that you can get away with buying booze but you don't really like it and drink it just to show your mates you can? The way people talk about sex and you laughed and joined in because you didn't want them to realise you had no idea what they were on about?

Yes, your body's doing all kinds of interesting stuff. It sprouts hair and wobbly things which you half want to hide away and half want to boast about. It doesn't mean you have much of a clue what to do with it, or more importantly what you ought to do with it.

Peer pressure has you by the throat, hormones twist up your insides, and as much as you want to be an adult you're not quite there yet.

When I was 15 my gran died, and I held my mum when she cried and felt very old indeed. I grew up a lot in those few weeks, but it didn't make me an adult. I acted as though I were, but I still cried like a baby when I thought no-one would notice.

Perhaps part of the problem is our attitude to when childhood starts and finishes. We say you can have sex and join the army at 16, drive a lethal metal box on wheels at 17, but you can't make your own mind up about things or vote until you're 18.

Yet the age of criminal responsibility was as low as ten for the two boys who abducted and killed Jamie Bulger, and they were tried as adults despite the fact they probably needed as much if not more care than Jamie's grieving parents.

Pubescent teenagers were jailed for taking part in last year's riots, yet when girls of similar age are married in minority cultures it's widely regarded as wrong. Perhaps we ought to just set one age for all those things, and end the confusion.

Too many people say 'so what' and leave it there, when they ought to follow it up with 'are we doing about it?'

A fifteen-year-old can be raped. They can be abucted, they can be cajoled, coerced, persuaded just as any child - or any adult, come to that - can be. They can be very mature for their age, they can be from nice homes or bad ones, they can put their personal grief to one side to comfort their mum, but it's just a step on the road to being grown-up.

Prostitutes can be raped. People who are drunk can be raped. People who think he loves them can be raped. A girl of 15 years and 364 days is not magically better at making decisions about boys 24 hours later, or 24 years later for that matter.

Childhood ends at different points for everyone, but it's generally when you realise the world can be a horrible place. That moment should be put off for as long as possible, and when it happens there's ideally an adult nearby who can help you adjust to the idea, not exploit it for their own ends.

Not just shrug, and say 'so what'.

Because what would that make you?


Neil Rhodes said...

So very well put, there is no more to say... I hope 10 million people read this and comment just to get this message out there. Well done Foxy. :)

washingupfairy said...

I really can't understand the people saying "so what?" Having worked in a secondary school for six years, I am aware that teenagers seem to be more savvy than ever and some can behave and dress more "maturely" than they perhaps should, or are.
I also feel that teenagers experimenting sexually with each other is pretty normal and although, personally, I was 17 and in a relationship when I felt the time was right, that wasn't the attitude of everyone in my group of friends. But for the most part, they were not forced into anything they didn't want to do, they were with people of similar ages to themselves, and they don't regret having started a little younger than 16.
One instance from my teenage years which does still disturb me was hearing that an acquaintance of mine had slept with one of the coach drivers (in his thirties) on a school trip to France fifteen years ago when we were 15. I had kind of assumed it was a rumour and that this sort of thing couldn't really have happened on a school trip. I didn't know her very well at the time...not well enough to ask her about it, but we have since become friends and I brought the subject up a while ago and she confirmed that it was true and that at the time she had been willing and didn't exactly feel forced into participating, but now, when she looks back on it, she feels betrayed and let down by the man, and the school. She said she now sees that she was just a child trying to seem grown up, but that he really was a grown up and should have known better and definitely shouldn't have been working for a school in a position of trust. It never got reported and I do not know if the man went on to repeat his actions.
Knowing how my friend now feels made it easy for me earlier this year when a girl in the school I work in told me one of her friends (15) was in a secret relationship with a 35 year old friend of her father's. I immediately passed along the information I knew to my superiors, the girl's parents were informed, and the girl has been stopped from seeing the man. I know from further conversations with the girl who confided in me in the first place that the relationship is over. But the girl is very upset at the moment and she is still refusing to give the police any details of their relationship. I hope that as she matures, she realises that everyone acted in her best interests and that this man did not.
Teenagers are very impressionable. We all know this. Adults, especially adults who have been trusted with caring for and protecting young people, should do just that, and that does not involve getting caught up in their infatuations or encouraging feelings when guidance about appropriate behaviour would be more pressing.

Anonymous said...

I agree, both cases are very bad
BUT the schoolgirl with the teacher may, if not hauled back and he thrown into prison, go off him in the normal course of things and not be badly traumatised for the rest of her life
(I make no excuses for him, he is exploiting her, without a doubt)
Very different situation to a young girl plied with drugs, drink, ignored and abused by both random bad men, social services, police and cps in other words the state - the crown - has failed to do its job in any way

Anonymous said...

Brilliant piece, as a mum, I'd be devastated if the response I was getting that my 15 yr old daughter had not only run away with a man twice her age, but her teacher too, was "so what"! The point is exactly that she is 15, may think she knows what she wants, may be caught up in love and the romantic idea of being on the run.....but she's 15, a child and need protecting, from men who, no matter what his feelings are for her, abused his position, but also from herself, so she can have a life and achieve everything in life she may not even know she wants.

Anonymous said...

Another excellent piece, which actually informs and is not judgmental. Many thanks.

Simone said...

I'll comment & be another 1 towards your 10million. so well said

Anonymous said...

I had an affair with my teacher when I was fifteen. I wish to God someone had stepped in and stopped it, but this never happened. Two very brave friends tried, and told their parents and our school about the affair, but I lied very convinvincingly and the matter was dropped,the affair continued for a year. It has tainted my life in every possible way and each day that passes without me finding the courage to report the relationship as historic abuse only makes me feel ashamed and cowardly. The experience of placing trust in an adult that twenty years of hindsight teaches you was misplaced is honestly horrific.

Anonymous said...

I remember, vividly, my classmate taking off her bra from under her school shirt in a geography lesson, and placing it on her desk in full view of the male teacher - it shocked everyone, and I can't imagine how disturbing it must have been for the teacher. It is not always the adult grooming the child... However, it IS inexcusable, regardless, to take advantage of such a situation. As far as I know, no advantage WAS taken in this case, but there will always be the other side of the story.

To the girls who unwittingly find themselves in situations they cannot control and cannot find solace and protection from, I hope, one day, your lives become easier. If I find a way can help you, I will...

Lois said...

I was appalled when watching the news today and heard that the children in the Rochdale case had been described as making a lifestyle choice and as prostitutes. These were CHILDREN who were being ABUSED. What were those social workers thinking and who gave them their qualifictaions???
As for Megan Stammers that teacher should be hunted down. He is twice her age and in a position of trust. She is a child and should be protected from people like him. Yes teenagers these days seem more wordly wise and mature than 20 years ago when I was a teen myself but appearances are deceptive. I hope they find the pair of them soon and that Megan is OK. Why didnt the school do something sooner, after all they were told about it in January weren't they?

Anonymous said...

If it was my fifteen year old daughter who ran off with an older man I'd want to kick the s**t out of the guy.

He's old enough and should be mature enough to know not to get involved with a young girl if their love or however they define the relationship is real he should be able to wait until she is legally old enough and mentally mature enough to know this was not a good idea and that they could wait till she left his school.

From the outside I'd say she looks like a lovestruck teenager with a crush on an older man and he's no better than a child molester he has taken advantage of her.

He has in no way behaved like a sensible adult, at the minimum he should be barred from working as a teacher of with kids in any capacity forever.

Anonymous said...

At the very least, the man's actions suggest that he's not emotionally stable. What grown man, in control of himself, would just take off with an underage girl? He cannot be thinking clearly. For that reason alone, I am worried.

HerbsandHags said...

You have no idea which teenager will be traumatised by their rape for the rest of their life and tbh your post sounds like it is setting up a hierarchy of rapes and also categorising rape survivors by class of rape. please don't, it's no one else's place to put expectations on the behaviour or responses of any victims of sexual assaults

Anonymous said...

Good comments, fleetstreetfox.
Now let's put some common sense into the matter:

He purchased a return ticket for the ferry. One can assume that he did this so that if she had cold feet, and decided that she wished to go home to Mum, then that could easily be done.

He took her to France, where the age of consent is fifteen (personally I consider that too low, remembering both myself and my daughters at fifteen). However that is the law in France. If the British media disapprove of that age of consent, then they should be crusading for it to be raised.

East Sussex County Council told the BBC that this relationship had been discussed with the mother "some months ago". It seems curious that the mother is now stating at Press conferences that she knew nothing about it. It would appear that she has her own reasons for being so dramatic.The cynical would say that she is anticipating emotional well paid interviews with red top newspapers but I think there must be another reason.

The BBC report that SOCA, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, has got involved. This incident doesn't strike me as either serious or organised! It is good to see that serious crime is so rare in UK that SOCA can afford to put time and resources into this incident, shame that they were so noticeably absent in the Rochdale scandal which was serious and organised.

The Sussex police have informed the BBC that they have now permanently based a police Inspector in Paris. What's wrong with email? With email you get reports in writing, much more useful than "word of mouth" translated either well or badly. Any discussions can be by telephone.

In conclusion, everyone is reacting as if this was the first time ever that a girl of fifteen has had a crush on her teacher. I've got news for you - a number of girls at my all girls school had crushes on their teachers.

The teacher was an absolute idiot, has betrayed the trust required in him by the law, and has certainly ruined his career. However is this drama worth a vast expenditure of taxpayers funds?

Anonymous said...

When I was 15, I got into a relationship with a man of 25 that my parents didn't know about. He used to tell me I was so mature (as did many other adults), he really connected with me and no one else would understand and so I revelled in the illicitness and the idea that I was more grown up than my peers. Then he started hitting me and reminding me that everyone would find out and if I was so mature, I'd sort it out myself. I was terrified everyone would find out how stupid I'd been, so I stayed until he tired of me crying everytime we had sex because I was scared he'd hit me again.

Then I started going out with his friend who appeared to be my Prince Charming and want to rescue me from this violence. Unfortunately his idea of doing so was ask me to sleep with his friends to pay his drug debts. Still terrified of being hit or raped, I spent months having sex with strange men when told to. Only when I got to the age of 25 and looked back to see what I would have in common with a 15 year old did I realise I had been groomed, coerced and raped repeatedly as a teen. I thought it was just growing up.

But it explained why from the age of 16, I drank heavily, took every drug near me, legal or otherwise, developed an eating disorder, became very depressed and highly promiscuous. That unhappiness still taints my life at 33 but I'm finally starting to it all more clearly thanks to people like Suzie speaking out.

anonymous said...

You have taken a very brave first step right here.

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