Saturday, 18 March 2017

A childhood defined by appearance.

I am a mother. I have handled my daughter's naked body since it first came from my own. I have been aware of every change and every growth. The lengthening of her limbs. The rounding and then the flattening of her stomach. The curves of her thighs as they emerged and then slimmed and stretched. I have kissed her and hugged her and worshipped her body for 15 years. I adore my child as many mothers do. We have nothing to fear in the way we handle our children. It is natural and beautiful and full of nurturing gentleness. I have stroked her face as it evolves from the cocoon of her youth on a daily basis.  Her features are still emerging. They are still transforming into the butterfly she will become. She is beautiful. I cry sometimes at how she will be handled less carefully by others.

And today I see men, and it is not solely men I admit, parading an unknown 12 year old body before me with their words of cruelty. Some of them are clever men too. Men who have access to law courts where they will help to deliver judgements in cases where men have handled those 12 year old bodies. Places where they will see details of a man who has put his penis in a 12 year old girl and left his sperm behind. Where that court will subsequently say that it was ok for him to have done so because the case is "exceptional".

Well. If the circumstances of this case were "exceptional" then my daughter could have been handled similarly and a similar result given. I would have to accept that the decisions she made and the way she dressed and the things she agreed to at such a naive age were "exceptional" from a law that would provide that she was raped. The man who handled her body would walk away from it and on to his next. Her body would be left behind with me to continue maturing into an adult body. Her 12 year old mind would be left to deal with this too. That is something that a mother cannot do I'm afraid and men should stop telling that mother to suck up this judgement because they know better. 

3 years ago my daughter was 12. Oh how she has changed in those three years. The things she said then... as we watch back footage of her on her iPad playing on her bike or dancing...make her both cringe and roar with laughter. The things she wrote in total earnest into little books she made. Her drawings of pop stars and classmates. We giggle at. She sees herself back then as naive and silly. I see her as wonderfully childish. In 3 years more she will laugh at her 15 year old self that she now sees as wise and mature. 

Even children know that children of 12 and 15 are very different. They don't commonly choose each other as "dates" or "relationships". They often stick within rather rigid boundaries and turn their noses up at the thought of "dating" outside their year group or immediate, and rather strictly defined (age wise), peer group. 

Some do seek relationships with older boys or girls. That is ok. Children experiment. They seek out risks too. The law is there to protect them from those risks. It did not protect the girl in this judgement. She was trying to push boundaries, and that is the desire of many children. Someone was waiting to take advantage of her when she did. Someone should have been protecting her. Someone should have offered a safety net for her curiosity or rebellion or anger or trauma. Or whatever it was that led her to that flat and that bedroom. Someone should have intervened before a man raped her. The fact that they did not is when the law should have stepped in and stepped up as a warning to other men to be utterly certain of the age of girls you encounter on a street before you stick your penis in one. The onus should not be on a girl to "look her age" in order not to be raped. 

What I see here, in this judgement, is a stranger. A chancer. A man who has encountered very much younger children than himself and is claiming to have been "duped" into believing they were older simply because they said they were. That man subsequently handled the girl naked. He talked to her at length. He chatted to her. 12 year old girls have an entirely different frame of conversational reference to 19 year olds. Even as adults - you know that when we encounter someone older/younger than us.. we talk about different things. As children we rode different bikes, laughed at different shows, had different music idols. These things date us. These differences are even more starkly evident for younger ages where they quickly appear worlds apart. A taxi driver on a short journey might read a situation solely by appearance. A man in a bedroom with a naked 12 year old he has been talking to for a while is faced with quite a different prospect and a very different choice. 

This man is also the only one with "evidence" as to her "apparent" age who saw her naked. He handled her body in a way no one else that night did and that no one in that courtroom did. He was able to see as she undressed that her skin and her hips and the entrance to her vagina were very young. This is unavoidable. It isn't something you can hide with a Boots 17 lipstick and a high heel. A young body is what many child sexual abusers covet because it is so very different. Child sexual abusers and groomers seeking children to abuse can quickly spot one they deem "too old". 

I don't care that he put his head in his hands and cried. I don't care that the police spoke to her. I don't care that the girl was out late or drinking vodka or behaving in a way that suggested she was older. I don't care that she allegedly consented at the time. The law does not provide for such consent. A child below 13 cannot consent to sex. To my mind a child cannot consent to sex at all with a much older man as the power imbalance is too stark. But the law states 13 and the law must be applied. She was 12 years old with no clothes on in a bedroom with a man who should have said no even if she begged him. If a court hears that he did not it should make sure to apply the law provided. 

If it does not then it is guilty of making a judgement not only about the man but about the girl. It is guilty of providing an application of a clause of the law - and no I am not a lawyer or a judge - to excuse an act of rape. That application has been based upon her consent and her appearance to others. It is based upon a variety of witness testimony about her appearance. It is based upon the fact that no "harm" was done to her physically. It allows for a girl who is desiring sexual experience and drinking and dressing in the clothes provided for her by a society that sexualises very young girls, to be raped. 

I am being told I am not equipped with the legal expertise to challenge that judgement. Well I do challenge it. I have read it (though of course I'm accused of not doing so) and I do challenge it. Because a Judge says something does not ensure it is shrouded in a shield of respect. The judge was wrong in my opinion. This is a terrible decision. It favours a man's right to stick his penis in a vagina if he "reasonably believes" that the vagina is old enough. It suggests that she was "nearly"old enough anyway. I am told this is not precedent. I assume because of the witnesses? That no witness will ever come forward again to say a girl's vagina looked "old enough". Even though they never saw it. Well.... I think we have seen before how easily witnesses can be provided to rape trials with a little effort, money and misogyny. 

Current media amplification of this case will perhaps ensure that such witnesses will be sought by the defence barristers of child sexual abusers in future. There must be a kebab shop owner to say "she looked 18 to me" or a taxi driver to say "her vagina was hanging out of that short skirt when she paid and it looked 17 alright... she was well up for it". If witnesses are sought, perhaps with incentive, then they might be found. If they are looked for. Accused rapists do remember judgements like this when they are subject to media amplification. Barristers could, and possibly will, find those witnesses. 

Some girls at 12 years old might think they are consenting to sex.  As Dr Gail Dines reveals she has been told by porn producers.... "young women come to the porn set porn ready". They do not need to be taught how to act in a porn film, or on a street corner in Glasgow, because the sexualised swamp our young girls are drowning in has made them feel "ready". It does not mean they ARE ready and the law should tell men who would abuse them that they are not. 

This also smacks of class snobbery. Girls who are on the street late at night are "easy". Girls who are drinking with older teenagers are "asking for it". Good 12 year old girls are safely tucked up in bed with cocoa and a Zoella biography after a supper of hummus and a discussion about biology grades. The "bad girls" dress up and go out. The bad girls lead to "exceptional case" judgements. They are bringing it on themselves. "Naughty girls" deserve rape? Really?

This particular 12 year old child sought to be on a street late at night and drinking and later desiring to have sex - perhaps. That should be a cause for concern not condemnation. It should not mean that deserves to see the man who raped her walk away free. Even if she thought she was consenting at 12 - what she thinks about that in later life may be very different and the law will have failed her. How will she feel then? 

What was happening in this poor girl's life that she felt the need to seek out such escape? Class-based poverty, and the lack of nurturing that can result, can lead young girls into risky or sexualised behaviour. Young working class girls are dispensable? Is that the judgement here? Because something is making this sound "ok" when normally an adult male having sex with a 12 year old would be soundly condemned by all. 

I think two things here. Firstly, girls are being exposed to porn from a very young age and are becoming sexualised as a result. They are viewing underage sex as routine and expected. They are made to view their bodies as disposable and available receptacles of male sperm. They see it and they are conditioned and primed by it. Some girls may take that to the street and drink vodka down on top of it. They are then raped. This is heartbreakingly sad. Girls do develop sexual desire as young as 12. They should not be encouraged to see it as normal to have sex with older men. Sadly the easily available porn they view does not allow them to position their view of themselves in a real sexual encounter in any empowering way. Porn empowers no one. Least of all the women exploited in it. 

Girls need educating that they don't need to have sex at all until they feel emotionally and physically ready to do so. Experimenting alone is good. Getting to know their own bodies before considering handing them over to porn-infused older males is a good idea. Men viewing porn, where girls often appear young, are becoming immune to the boundaries of the law because they see them, apparently, crossed so frequently on screen. Our girls are becoming victim to a culture which encourages them to leave their childhood behind early and before their bodies and the law are ready for them to do so. The law should stand as guard to that. The law should stand between them and men who will rape them... whatever those men "reasonably believe" ....when they contravene a law then the law should be applied. If a man has sex with a young woman it is his responsibility to ensure she is old enough to do so. If he has based that on appearance, he is a fool and a dangerous one. It does not excuse his lack of accountability. 

The second is the arrogance of those in the legal profession.  Yes I have read the judgement and I find Lady Scott's comments and her application of it, not to be in the interest of young girls. I am allowed to say that despite not being a barrister or similar because when the conviction rate for rape of around 7% is so appalling I am not going to doff my feminist cap when they pop along to tell me I know nothing and should let them get on with it. You self-congratulatory lawyers ought not to be parading around Twitter dispensing your patronising dismissal of the concern of the rest of us whilst you are still presiding in courts that repeatedly let female victims of sexual violence down. If you aren't doing your job then expect the plebeians to say so and say it loudly. 

Many of the men throwing their opinions on 12 year old girls around Twitter don't seem to have looked at one lately. Or at least they have not acknowledged that what their clothes and makeup does not reveal is a childish insecurity and desire to be valued by the world. Indeed to be protected from its dangers a little whilst they wobble their way towards adulthood by slicking on eyeliner and pouting for Snapchat. 

I for one will be protecting my girl as best I can from predatory males hyped up by a porn industry and a rape culture which would leave her vulnerable. Don't tell me to suck up judgement which lets men rape 12 year old girls and skip off down the road with a nothing more than a "phew". 

I have no respect for you, your profession or the courts where you practice it until you start to lock up our rapists, murderers and domestic abusers. 

Do your job.

My job was to raise a girl. I realise I have to do more. I now have to raise a warrior because you fools presiding over our justice system won't go into battle on her behalf.