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Institutionalised Sexism?

We need action in schools to support the sexual and moral education of white working class girls.

The horrific accounts of the sexual exploitation of white, working class girls in Rotherham, 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 caught in a desperate situation with middle aged men, arrested by police and called ‘slags’, is a terrible indicator 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 their inability to take any responsibility is shameful, and shows 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.

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, terror and psychological scars caused by the 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.

There was a call recently for money to be invested in white boys. Surely the issues highlighted in Rotherham is a wakeup 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 about 3 out of 33! The girls are crying out of for something – they need us to create some boundaries for them.

How we can help…

Teaching Literature is a great way of discussing relationships and introducing moral and social dilemmas for students to discuss and relate to. The restoration of English Literature as a premium subject will hopefully go some way into promoting such discussions.

Proper PSHE – an approach that looks at how to develop and maintain relationships, not just functional sex education. They need a moral code, even if it just something to rebel against. 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, but we have to start now.