Monday, March 09, 2009

Sex crimes

This post might be disturbing, and it is explicit in parts. I don't think the subject can be properly addressed euphemistically.

Something over ten years ago, I spent an afternoon with a police Child Protection Unit in East London. I was researching a situation they had investigated, of a school caretaker who had committed a series of low level sexual assaults against the under 11 year old girls in the school and who, when the level of complaint grew high enough, was transferred to the next door church to work there as a caretaker instead. It was a church school.

The man had plainly committed the assaults he was accused of. Even the priest, who I met later, tacitly admitted that. But there was no possibility that charges could be brought against him because he had done nothing that would have left physical evidence, and it's very hard to bring a court case that consists purely of the testimony of a child against that of an adult. This was explained to me by the senior police officer in the unit.

The case officer would, he told me, have "hung drawn and quartered the man", but instead she just had keep an eye on the assailant who spent school breaktimes watching the girls through the railings as he swept the yard next door. She also had to keep an eye on the victims, one in particular. There is, I was told, something like a victim syndrome. Somehow, predators can tell when someone has been the victim of an assault; there's a stronger than average chance that a victim of an assault will be assaulted again, by someone unrelated to the first offence. This had happened to one of the girls, she had subsequently been assaulted by a local shopkeeper.

I'm using the word assault a lot. I'm afraid I don't have the stomach to search my thesaurus for synonyms of this word, in this context.

No physical evidence. Think about that for a moment. That means it's terribly hard to prosecute even fairly invasive assaults, which these weren't. As I understood it, there had to be physical damage or semen. That makes it hard to prosecute men for this sort of crime, but it makes it almost impossible to prosecute women.

How many women sexually abuse children? We have no real idea, because they can rarely be prosecuted.

Some years after my visit to East London, I knew someone who worked in a home for disturbed adolescents in care. These were very troubled kids; it was an experimental unit set up as an attempt to provide an alternative to secure accommodation. And it was a traumatic job. The person I knew was held hostage by one kid, for several hours. There was a great deal of violence.

Highly inappropriate, strange sexualised behaviour was almost normal, as well as habits like using a chest of drawers in a bedroom as a toilet. One girl in her early teens would play games of sexual torture with a doll, quite unselfconsciously. A 14 year old would start saying how much she "needed cock", by which she meant giving blowjobs, and she'd run away from the home to give them behind bus shelters. On one occasion she was found naked, passed out on the floor of a man's hotel room. No criminal charges were brought against the man, a commercial traveller in his late twenties.

This behaviour hadn't just materialised out of thin air. Many children in care have been abused, often sexually. There's almost always a man involved, or men. But for children to be in care, as opposed to the man being in custody, there has to be something else going on too. Either the mother is unable to prevent the abuse, or she is unwilling to do so, or she facilitates it. Or she is the abuser.

One of the mothers, who had visiting rights, had been in the habit of making her daughter sit next to her while she was watching TV, so she could masturbate the child with her fingers. This mother does not form part of the statistics on sexual assaults; no charges were brought against her.

There are women who have sex in front of their children, sometimes with multiple partners, sometimes demanding the presence of the child, sometimes soliciting their involvement. Sometimes money changes hands. Sometimes it changes hands in order to secure the involvement of the child. I've read of a woman, who did face charges, actually holding down her daughter while she was raped. But as a rule they do not face charges. The kind of highly sexualised behaviour exhibited by some of the girls in the home I mentioned above derived from this sort of experience. At best, for every child in care, the person they should have been able to look to for help, their mother, failed them. At worst, this was the person who was abusing them.

I am not aware of any statistics, or even many serious attempts to gather statistics, on how prevalent this form of female on child rape is. But there are a lot of children in care and in every case, they cannot be left with their mothers.

Adult female on male sexual assault is often considered to be a laugh. I've been groped by strange women - and to want to grope me they'd have to be very strange - on occasion very intimately, but if I did the same back it would be a crime. There's some justice in this, based on physical strength. There was never any question that anything might happen to me against my will, as opposed to unexpectedly, but were the roles reversed that would be in the air.

More serious sexual assaults are almost always male against female, but not always. There are female against female rapes, and female against male. Doesn't seem to happen much, but while male against female rape is under-reported, these are almost never reported. And that's also the case with male against male rape.

It's odd that we find male rape funny if it happens in prison. The jokes about Big Vern and bars of soap in the shower are based on an appalling reality. Imagine not just being raped, not just being raped by a man, as a man, but being locked in a cage with the rapist... who can do it over and over again, for years on end sometimes. There have been cases of male against female gang rape where the attackers have 'phoned friends and offered them the victim. One young Japanese woman who was being gang raped in Brixton was held up to a window to show passers by, who were called to with the words "Want some of this?". Some of them did. (The rapists' mothers turned up in court to defend their sons). But imagine being offered like that, day after day, month after month... being sold as a rape victim for tobacco or chocolate.

And these victims aren't the armed robbers. They're not the psychopaths. These are the younger, more vulnerable prisoners. The ones who aren't in a gang. I knew one man, slightly, who had been shown a picture of his children going to school by a gang of Moroccan drug smugglers, and who was told that if he wanted them to continue to do so in safety he had to drive a car with cannabis in the boot from Holland to France. He did so; at the border he was asked if he had anything to declare, and he said "Yes, a hundred kilos of cannabis". He could see no other way out. He went to jail, and was one of the vulnerable ones. I'm not sure he deserved a prolapsed rectum, AIDS and a lifelong, unshakeable sense of self disgust, shame and humiliation, as well as a prison sentence. I'm not sure he deserved a prison sentence, but that's another argument.

It's not just that male rape is under reported. In some countries, including South Africa, which might be the rape capital of the world, it isn't even a crime. It's entirely unrecorded. And if you think the men who rape in jails refrain from doing so outside jail, you're being charmingly naive.

I really hate to take issue with Alison's heartfelt comments on this post, but I think it's wrong to say that rape is "a singularly male against female form of violence". I'm happier taking issue with Will Self, and he's wrong, in a piece Alison linked to, to say that rape is "a crime inflicted by men on women, either because we are mad, bad, deranged by alcohol - or all three". I'm going to take that as a Royal "We", Will. Rape is not a crime I inflict on women and I refuse to allow myself to be damned by association, because I'm a man.

Rape is overwhelmingly a male against female problem in this sense, whatever the balance of crime might be, however the actual numbers of men and women who rape and abuse children and adults might stack up: it is women who are afraid of it. It's women whose freedoms are limited by it. It's women whose hearts skip when they hear footsteps in the dark. It directly affects the daily lives of a great many women, and of very few men. For anyone who believes in the primacy of personal freedom, that's an intolerable state of affairs.

Since I started anecdotally, I'll the same way. Two of the women I've lived with had been raped by strangers, in one case it was a gang rape. In neither case was it a recent relationship, so by saying this I'm not risking anyone's privacy. I don't suggest this is statistically significant, but if you want to suggest that male rape of women is rare, I'm not going to believe you.

Rape is much more of a problem for women than for men. But it is not exclusively so. Most importantly, it is not characteristically so and it does not reflect on the intrinsic character of either women or of men. Where the opportunity arises, where physical strength permits this gross abuse, in the case of the rape and assault of children by adults, I think rapes and assaults in which the assailant is a woman are much more common than we realise.


JuliaM said...

"There's some justice in this, based on physical strength."

I'm afraid this I don't agree with.

Physical strength and the potential to use it should be totally immaterial in unwarranted sexual contact. It's just as wrong if a woman does it - no excuses!

Anonymous said...

Of course there are exceptions. Men raping men, boys etc. Or women assaulting children. Which falls more into the paedo corner and it's rather gross complexities and our rightful modern concern with it.

But it does remain women who are most at risk and above all are taught to protect themselves, consider their surroundings and their behaviour and the whole issue uniquely. Not men. Noone would argue with that.

I do wonder how men feel about that education women get out of course and so why Will Selfs piece should be so uniquely strange or challenging.

100 years ago it would have been the complete opposite women were taught and so Self's piece would have been ridiculous. I often wonder why in gaining a certain level of freedom we now have to fear you, or particular regular social circumstances, just to stay safe. Isn't that all worse than what Self is saying?

To be honest, I see his piece as rather reassuring.

It's a rather direct piece as a good start to addressing that issue and asking you guys to consider the issue yourselves on an intellectual level. Such general considerations ARE rare, even if your own opinion is very noble. And his piece is certainly no less demonstrable of intellectual integrity than men who, per the links below, couldn't care less about rape.

If only I/we didn't have to.

Anonymous said...

Boys get raped in numbers nearly equalling girls, most pedophiles don't make great difference between the sexes for children. They like babies, period. The assaults on boys don't get reported or prosecuted in the same numbers as girls because of social bias in reporting and judicial prosecution.

Anyone working sex cases will tell you there are three common sexual preferences; straight, gay, and children. Some people prefer our children, as disgusting as that is, and we can't assume these pederasts prefer girls - they don't, the bastards will abuse anything young and hairless.

I ran through the judicial/social system when my boy got raped and received an education I never wanted on the perversion of men and the unjust nature of laws protecting boy children from predators.

Rape isn't an arena for who deserves more victim status than another. Women, men or children - no matter. It's a foul and evil act that should be fought and punished from every corner of decent society.

Anonymous said...

you have acknowledged you are working on anecdotes, but even so...
two of the women you have lived with (out of how many ?) have been stranger-raped, with one having been victim of a gang-rape. Gang- or stranger-rapes normally being the sort of thing that involve ambulances, police, etc.

So how do you know that you are making a decision based on good facts ? Because you believe them ?

this is, as you suggest, a serious issue, and it deserves serious analysis. The "one-in-four" rape statistics just don't cut it.


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