Having been away from blogging for a week or so, I missed until today Zoe Williams excellent article in the Guardian reflecting on the case of the girls in Oxford who were being sexually abused and whose cries for help were ignored for so long.
Zoe is absolutely right. The key to understanding this whole sorry mess is the fact that the girls were not listened to; they were not accorded ‘basic human respect’ by professionals. Somehow they were labelled as ‘challenging’ and ‘unreliable’ and that made it easy to ignore what they were saying.
Zoe makes another important point. She argues that distinctions are not being drawn between consenting underage sex with someone of similar age and forced sex with adult men. That results from clinging to a myth that children under 16 are ‘pre-sexual’, which, of course, they are not.
I think that the Sexual Offences Act 2003 was particularly remiss in this respect, criminalising all under-age sexual activity and so leaving open the unwelcome possibility that children of similar age experimenting in sexual acts could be charged with serious crimes.
At the same time the Act failed to properly distinguish this type of activity from grooming, coercion and rape by adult perpetrators, which should be treated as a most serious offence and punished accordingly.