I can understand my friend’s disquiet; her own child is a protected, indulged product of her middle class home and is barely let out of her parent’s sight for a minute. However, not all girls are so fortunate and we only have to follow the news to realise how prevalent the sexual exploitation of young people is. Once my friend had vented her spleen, the conversation moved onto why this might be the case. It seems ridiculous to imagine that sexual predators have mushroomed and are now lurking on every corner. I would hazard a guess that there is the same number of predators out there as there have always been.
What’s changed then? I think the main thing that has happened is the breakdown of the family which leaves young people in a more vulnerable position than ever before. More and more children are products of families so dysfunctional that they are basically left to fend for themselves. Combine this with the fact that people are less and less inclined to intervene within the community and we are left with a large number of children with no responsible adult looking out for their welfare. In my own childhood, if you managed to sneak past your parents there was always an eagle eyed neighbour to take you to task but, in a climate where good Samaritans are routinely stabbed to death, we all simply look the other way.
It’s easy to imagine that things have got worse but, in fact, young girls have always been stupid and thrown themselves headlong at risk. I should know I used to be one. I’m certain it’s only the fact that my parents were strict and enforced curfews like Nazis that kept me on the straight and narrow. Even then I sometimes look back with horror at how close I skirted to danger.
As a young teenager, probably thirteen or fourteen, there was something of an obsession among the girls of my age for ‘fair lads’. Every time the fair came to our area, young girls would swarm like flies, throwing themselves at the tattooed Lotharios who had to be in their late teens or early twenties but whose currency was young girls, presumably because the older ones knew better. My friend and I would gaze longingly at them as they spun giggling school girls around on the Waltzer or rode on the backs of their dodgem cars. We were seriously limited by the fact that we had to be home by 9pm and our parents had no idea we were even there. We were supposed to be doing our homework at each other’s houses - I often wonder why my parents didn’t question why I wasn’t a genius given the amount of homework and research I did. The more flighty girls, or more likely more vulnerable, would stay late and arrive at school the next day with big love bites on their necks and tales of sex in caravans. We would be green with envy as they talked of their boyfriends but of course at the end of the week the fair would disappear and the boyfriends with it.
Probably the most dangerous thing my friend and I ever did was when we were fifteen and her parents went away for the night. God only knows what they were thinking and my parents had no idea that we were home alone unsupervised. We got dressed up to the nines and went to our first nightclub. We obviously weren’t eighteen but nobody seemed to care and, as we sipped our
Cinzano Biancos, feeling like grown women we were soon befriended by a group of men. They had driven to the club in a minibus from another town and, despite drinking heavily, offered to drive us back to my friend’s house. Unfortunately, or maybe in hindsight very fortunately indeed, the driver crashed the minibus into a wall on the way home. Nobody was hurt but the police were called and, undoubtedly not wanting to be caught with underage girls, the men told us to leave. We were glad to scarper and avoid any chance of our parents finding out what we’d been up to. Naively that was our biggest concern and the full
implications of how stupid we had been did not even enter our heads. It’s only as an adult the realisation dawns that we could have been killed or of what might have happened had we actually arrived at our destination with a group of strange adult men in tow.
All young girls are vulnerable and likely to do foolhardy things which is where responsible adults come in. If parents are unable or unwilling to take care of their children, is it not the duty of all adults to step in if they see something that causes them to suspect wrongdoing? It’s really not that simple though is it? In addition to the fear of putting yourself at the risk of attack, the issue is made even more complex by the sexualisation of young girls by the media and the fashion industry. Only recently I had to smile at an article which suggested that prostitutes are becoming fed up of young girls confusing their clients by dressing in such a way that nobody can differentiate one from the other. But it’s hardly a joke. On a recent school trip with a group of twelve year olds, I was horrified when the majority of girls arrived in clothes so skimpy they were in danger of not only freezing to death but attracting the kind of attention they have no way of understanding. Even more worrying most of the girls had been dropped off by their parents.
As feminism seems to have died a death, more and more young women are happy to exploit their sexuality in order to get what they want. We are being told that glamour models and playboy bunnies are really independent women in charge of their own destinies. Women with no discernable talent other than ginormous breasts, hair extensions and very little clothing are now the
role models that our young girls seem to aspire to. Is it any wonder then that some men objectify them and see them as fair game?
My friend with the daughter to protect is adamant that the problem lies with the sexual predators who she fears are lining up at every school gate. I don’t agree. The problem lies with all of us. Until we step up as responsible adults and say enough is enough, children will continue to be exploited and the exploiters will continue to justify their behaviour.