The Oxford abuse case and the myth of the “good girl” victim

It is widely believed that ‘true’ victims are always happy and willing to co-operate with the authorities and that ‘good girls’ would never accept payment for their own exploitation and that they would always contrive to escape such situations. That's not

The prosecution of nine men aged 24 to 38 for sexually exploiting underage girls in the Oxford area concluded at the Old Bailey on 14 May 2013 with seven of the men found guilty. One of the six victims described the period of abuse between 2004 and 2012 as a “living hell”. Another spoke of the fact that “they constantly take advantage and treat me like a piece of meat they can just tread all over.” This tragic case is only part of the broader problem of sexual exploitation plaguing the country.

Disclosures about Jimmy Savile’s predatory sexual nature, the abuse of ‘looked-after’ and vulnerable children in Rochdale by Asian gangs, and the suicide of Frances Andrade shortly after giving evidence at the trial of her former music teacher brought child exploitation and abuse into the media spotlight as never before.

The stories emerging from these cases have shed light on why victims are often reluctant to report sexual abuse: fear of retribution from the offender, worries about the stigma of sexual abuse, embarrassment, concerns that they will not be believed, and worries about whether the legal system will deal effectively with their case are among the key reasons victims fail to report sexual crimes. Frances Andrade’s lack of confidence that the system would ‘work’ demonstrates how devastating these fears can be for victims.

Common but mistaken prejudices regarding victims of sexual crimes compound this problem. For instance, it is widely believed that ‘true’ victims are always happy and willing to cooperate with the authorities and that ‘good girls’ would never accept payment for their own exploitation and that they would always contrive to escape such situations. This overlooks both the fact that coercion by abusers exacerbates young girls’ lack of trust in law enforcement and social services and that many victims are emotionally attached in some way to their abusers. Often described as ‘nice guys’ by friends and colleagues, many abusers befriend and seduce their victims, taking advantage of their vulnerability. The Savile and Rochdale cases show that abusers further discourage girls from seeking help by conditioning them to fear punishment by law enforcement.

One of the greatest challenges in addressing child sexual abuse and exploitation is the hidden nature of such crimes, given that the majority of cases go unreported. In his now notorious email to producer Meirion Jones, former Newsnight editor Peter Rippon casually dismissed Jimmy Savile’s victims as “just the women”: a statement indicative of the hostile attitudes directed, until recently, toward Savile’s victims. It is these very attitudes that make many victims reluctant to come forward. As one of the Oxford victims stated in her evidence at the Old Bailey, “Some pretty awful things happened … At the time I did not feel people believed me. I did not feel anything was being done about it. There was a lot of self-doubt.”

Children are particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation wherever there is poverty and deprivation. The reality of this problem must be recognised if cases are to be effectively investigated, prosecuted and prevented. It is time to address the intersection of racism, sexism and class prejudices apparent in cases such as the recent Rochdale and Oxford ones.

In November 2012, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner published the inquiry ‘Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups’. The inquiry found that the vast majority of perpetrators are men; some are as young as fourteen, while others are elderly. They, and their victims, are ethnically diverse. Thus, the current trend to regard child sexual exploitation as particularly common among Asian gangs ignores the statistics. Critically, it oversimplifies the role of the social injustices, especially poverty and neglect, which often lie at the root of sexual exploitation. It also occludes failures on the part of statutory agencies to allocate adequate resources for the protection and support of child victims.

Until a coordinated multi‐agency strategy is created, a shared understanding of the problem of sexual exploitation cannot be developed and progress is likely to remain piecemeal, allowing agencies to individually and collectively deny accountability, both for their actions and for their failures to act. In the Savile and Rochdale cases, child welfare organisations, and also the criminal justice system, missed many opportunities for co-ordinated, timely responses. Until sufficient training for statutory and voluntary service workers is provided about the issues facing children at risk of exploitation, these problems will remain even if there are positive legislative changes. Effective and consistent training of the police, social workers, health workers, and youth and community workers is essential to implementing organised, effective reforms.

In her 1994 poem ‘The Rock Cries Out to Us Today’, Maya Angelou wrote that “history, despite its wrenching pain,/ Cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage,/ Need not be lived again”. As we seek to encourage survivors of child sexual exploitation to find the strength to speak out about the crimes committed against them, we must also strive to create effective support services. Only then will victims have the help and protection they need to speak out safely and with confidence that not only will they be believed, but that the system will not let them down.

Dr Aisha K. Gill is a Reader in Criminology at the University of Roehampton.

(Getty Images)

Dr Aisha K Gill is a Reader in Criminology at University of Roehampton.

GETTY
Show Hide image

Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue