By Tony Harrison
I was recently at the annual child protection meeting that I attend as part of my job. We were informed that child exploitation was on the rise and that it was important to be aware of the signs. Children suddenly having expensive items that would normally be beyond their means, talking about “parties” with “boyfriends”, changes in behaviour that seemed out of character in the young people (not just girls).
This reminded me of a girl I went to school with, who often boasted of her sexual antics while we sat in mute, goggle eyed silence. She was 15 like us and her boyfriend was about 7 or 8 years older. She told us with glee about this relationship and all its sordid details. This was not a healthy teenage relationship and I remember at the time feeling massively uncomfortable and in the next English lesson, discreetly sitting elsewhere.
New technologies and social networking have contributed massively to the rise in awareness of this nasty sordid crime. Groomers can give their victims mobile phones and use them as tools to facilitate this abuse, and run under the radar of parents. The offence itself is as old as the hills.
Then the meeting moved on to extremism, and how to be aware of young people who were involved with this. Not just religious extremism, but the threat from organisations like the EDL. The person sitting next to me nudged me and whispered “Who are the EDL?” Who precisely.
So back to this week. What a lot we have heard about demonstrations by the far right splinter groups against “Muslim paedos”. Personally, I am totally willing to accept that there is a massive cultural issue about this. Not only the culture of the perpetrators, who prey on the vulnerable and see them as easy and fair game, but that of the victims, who may have endured inadequate parenting, or been exposed to sexualisation at a young age. There is NO EXCUSE whatsoever for these crimes but there are a wider series of issues that society needs to accept responsibility for. These victims are totally innocent and blameless. They are still children, and we have a duty of care to protect them. The recent cases in the media demonstrate a massive failure by many different agencies and changes need to be made. However I do not believe, and I cannot stress this enough, that religion plays any part in this activity at all.
In the past couple of days, there has been a massive reaction to Tommy Robinson’s tweets to an underage Muslim girl who defended her faith on Twitter. As a committed atheist, I can only imagine how offensive it is to constantly have your religion derided and to be dehumanised by the EDL. Someone really ought to stop Robinson from tweeting, he has gained a large army of followers who pour disdain on his every tweet. He has opened himself up to a whole new world of ridicule on a forum where everyone can see him. If you can’t believe that the #creepingsharia was the least embarrassing thing to trip from his keyboard, then you really need to check out the complete unadulterated bollocks that spews forth with every tweet. It is a fine portrait of a very stupid man who listens to no one but himself, believes his own hype and has no interior monologue.
Tommy has refused to believe that this girl is 15 despite her birthdate being on her twitter profile and a picture of her and several friends in school uniform emerging. None so blind as he who will not see.
And this morning I logged on to Facebook to find an additional dubious incident involving another EDL splinter group and their support of a 25 year old member who has a 15 year old girlfriend. This brought back the memories of the girl in my class and I was horrified by the response of his fellow extremists. “He is in a relationship with her” “She is his girlfriend”. Which is exactly what the child groomers lead their victims to believe. Please note that I will not name this individual as we are not in possession of all the information in this case, much of it seems based on hearsay and conjecture.
And this brings me to my final point. What exactly is the point, at the end of the day, of protesting outside court when the criminals are being tried for their crimes? You had nothing to do with their arrest, they are being dealt with by the courts and the media are doing the job of raising awareness. You have achieved nothing at all. You will not change what has already happened, nor will you affect the outcome of the trials in anything but a negative way. Causing a mistrial and allowing appeals that would not otherwise have been made is not an achievement. Go home and get involved in a positive way. Teach your daughters the values of self-respect and self-worth. Be there for them. Volunteer to help in something positive, projects that build bridges within communities. Your methods are not working. It’s time for you to evolve and join the rest of society, and stop dressing up your racism with false concerns for the girls who are damaged by this disgusting behaviour.
By Tony Harrison