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Why are we blaming girls for the actions of predatory men?

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Originally published for Left Foot Forward on November 2, 2014

Child sexual abuse is now ‘normal in parts of Greater Manchester’, according to Stockport MP Ann Coffey. Her independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation, released on Thursday, found that it is a ‘real and ongoing problem’ and a change in attitude is needed.

When it was found that police had failed to protect up to 1,400 sexually abused young girls (perhaps even more) in Rotherham, we have all been asking ourselves: why are children being groomed and abused? Why is this being allowed in our country?

But I’ll tell you why. It’s because we don’t care. Sexually abused girls are not seen as actual victims; they are treated as ‘little tarts’ or liars.

When the nine men from Rochdale and Oldham were successfully jailed for sexually grooming young girls, the instant reaction from Muslim and south Asian people was that those men do not represent all the men from that community. Not all Pakistani men are abusers.

Well I’m sorry to break it to you, but those men who viewed the young girls as ‘slags’ and as ‘easy targets’ etc, do share similar values to the other members of their communities. No, not all Muslim or Pakistani men are abusers – there are sick men in every community. But many others do share that mind set.

Don’t believe me? See the comments below (click to zoom in).

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The screenshots are taken from post on the BBC Asian Network’s page on Thursday, when presenter Nihal Arthanayake hosted a discussion show asking ‘Should parents let teenagers dress the way they want?’ Perhaps young girls should start wearing a burqa, as one Saudi cleric suggested – better to be safe than sorry, eh?

Beautician Preeti Vyas said (at 18:30) that there are sick men out there and women (let’s not forget the topic was about teenage girls, not women) should protect themselves as best as they can. But what if a woman is dressed ‘decently’ (whatever that means) – who is to blame for her rape?

Preeti could easily speak out against society; she appears to blame a female for her own abuse. The gang members from Rochdale and some in their communities are singing from the same hymn sheet. These people calling into the show may find rape abhorrent, but they justify it by blaming the victim.

And there is the problem, especially within the south Asian and Muslim communities in particular – it might make me unpopular, but it needs to be said. In fact, I was labelled an ‘Islamophobe’ and ‘sick feminist’ (which I took as a compliment) by one man who believes 15-year-olds should be classed as adults.

I was sitting with a group of Pakistani women who were talking about the Rochdale grooming gangs in 2012. One woman remarked, ‘Why were these girls even out in the first place? Silly tarts.’ Another added, ‘They’re always trying to entrap Asian lads.’ It was these underage girls, these children, who were the predators, not the other way around.

And if you’re a brown girl being abused, people care even less. Not only do you have a lack of confidence in the police because you are raised to believe they are institutionally racist, but your family members try to hush up the crimes once discovered.

This is certainly the view of Shaista Gohir, who believes the communities are allowing the abuse of girls to continue.

The chair of the Muslim Women’s Network, she is making an appeal to victims of sexual abuse by family members to come forward for a new report she is compiling to highlight the extent of the problem.

She said:

“I want to collect case studies within the Muslim community to make them realise that part of the problem is our silence and we’re covering it up. The problem is getting worse and worse. I am hoping the research will get them to be proactive rather than ignoring it.

“I’m finding that women are the barrier to justice – they’re covering it up. Women have been in the know. Isn’t it our fault as a community if we instantly protect the offender and demonise that victim? This happens in all communities but within the Asian culture there’s the shame and honour which results in covering it up.”

I am glad that Ann Coffey highlighted the need to change our attitudes, but I worry that some of her statements could be seen as perpetuating this victim-blaming mentality. She said:

“Sexting, selfies, Instagram and the like have given rise to new social norms in changed expectations of sexual entitlement, and with it a confused understanding of what constitutes consent. I think we have lost the sense of what a child is. Sexual predators out there are having their quite unacceptable views confirmed through messages in the wider media: that children are just sexualised young adults.”

If an older man is sexually attracted to a young girl, that shows there is something wrong with him, not the young child. How is that we are still blaming a child for the actions of predatory men?

A young girl, a child, should not be viewed at in a sexual manner just because she is wearing a crop top, or shoes with a heel higher than an inch, or for wearing lipgloss. I am fairly certain that paedophilia and rape existed long before the invention of the selfie and ‘provocative’ pop videos.

When young boys are raped or molested, no one asks them what they did to deserve it – that question is reserved for those who had the misfortune to be born with a vagina.

And I am sick of the words ‘honour’ and ‘shame’ constantly being used to silence girls for being victims of horrific crimes. The shame lies with the perpetrator, not the victim. Until we stop blaming a girl’s behaviour or clothing for her rape and abuse, we will never end the sexual exploitation of women and girls.

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