I originally posted on the topic of institutionalised sexism about the Rotherham cases on Monday, September 1st, 2014. I am re-visiting this post for three reasons:
The horrific accounts of the sexual exploitation of white, working class girls in Rotherham and Rochdale, in combination with the people who were paid, and failed, to protect them, is a shocking blight on our whole social system. The labelling of 11 and 12 year old white girls arrested by police and called ‘slags’ was an absolute disgrace. In reality they should have been protecting them from the desperate situation where they were systematically abused by a gang of middle aged, Asian men. This remains a terrible indication of how the white working class have become demonised and marginalised. Our only hope is that this is a major wake up call, and we can learn from such terrible mistakes. Although, the failure of the people in power, to firstly help, then to resign, serves little comfort to the girls. The general public can have little faith that anything will truly change when such people seem to have no true appreciation of how their lack of action, and heir inability to take any responsibility is shameful. It demonstrates little respect for the girls who they failed to help, and the general public they are supposed to serve.
As a teacher, I have had to deal with some terrible cases of abuse, but it is very clear, we pass these cases on to more specialised teams in social work, and sometimes the police, because we are not trained. We have to hope that there is a proper system in place for these children to be passed on to. Unfortunately, despite the cases being highlighted, there are still some horrific cases coming to light, and more needs to be done to protect our girls.
On a positive note, I had to deal with a case relatively recently where a young working class white girl disclosed some very serious issues she was experiencing. Her mother’s reaction – when I eventually managed to speak to her- was truly shocking. She basically said, ‘Well that’s what happens to girls like her’ – she was 13 years old! I spoke to the community officer, and we decided we had to get the police involved. I agreed to give a statement, I also agreed to go to court if necessary. In this instance the police were great, they conducted a full investigation, collected CCTV evidence, witness statements and created a case that was so tight it did not have to go to court. The man admitted the offences, and he got a prison term. What I am saying is that with a combined effort is possible to punish such behaviour, and protect the girls, not the perpetrators.
Unfortunately, for schools the cycle of problems become a major issue when the behaviour of the girls due to drink, drugs and phsychological and physical abuse becomes so bad that it is impossible to manage them in a school environment. It then becomes even worse for these girls, because they can become lost out of the system altogether. We need a safety net of prevention, where we work with girls in their early teens to make them aware of the dangers, particularly when it comes to sexual grooming. They cannot be expected to be streetwise enough at such a young age. These girls are targeted because they are vulnerable, we need to minimise their feelings of vulnerability through specialised support.
There was a call recently for money to be invested in white boys. Surely the issues highlighted in Rotherham is a wake-up call for everyone; the girls need some help too. The decline of proper sex education, and the rise of unmonitored use of the internet has left teenage girls in a moral wilderness where they do find it difficult to have a true moral compass. They need some direction and some help and support, and schools can play a major part in this. I remember one particular girl, who constantly and openly and inappropriately boasted about her numerous sexual experiences at 14. I tried to talk to her about ‘self-respect’, she just said ‘I don’t know what you mean, everyone behaves like this, they just don’t say it openly.’ They don’t all behave in this way, but when the sexual behaviour of some of the girls is not challenged, a model of promiscuity is established and normalised, and this is something we need to fight against.
Unfortunately, many parents do not take the sexual education of their children seriously. In 2013 I had a brilliant group of feisty, clever girls in Y11. I taught the co-ed class the Relationship cluster for the poetry. The girls said to me then that I was the only person they had who had ever spoken to them openly and informatively about sex and relationships. In a mini survey to the class I asked whose parents had discussed sex education with them – there was 3 out of 33! The girls are crying out of for something – they need us to create some boundaries for them. We are also in the process of devising parenting classes where we will use our combined professional qualifications to provide supporting classes that will provide intensive and appropriate advice for parents.
Teaching Literature is a great way of discussing relationships and introducing moral and social dilemmas for students to discuss and relate to.
Ultimately, it is time to start looking very closely at how girls are treated and educated, but it needs to be people who truly understand them and have an insight into their lives who create the policy and the strategy. A report from Singapore from faceless grey suit in Whitehall trotting out yet another initiative is not good enough this time. We need to work together to wipe out institutionalised sexism where these girls are perceived as ‘deserving’ the abuse. It can be done.