I’m left feeling sick to my core after watching a BBC Look North report on sex slavery in the UK, specifically in the North (I’ll post up the link once it goes up on the BBC website). Police from the Human Trafficking Centre, based in Sheffield, report that hundreds of young women and girls are being forced into prostitution by other young men, often ‘boyfriends’, who shower them with gifts and false affection only to demand payback once they have them fully emotionally entangled. This payback involves being raped (and, yes, it is rape if she feels she cannot say no) by male relatives and friends, and develops into what is known as ‘internal trafficking’, as the girl is sold to men around the country. They are threatened with violence, the murder of loved ones, and in one case their house being fire-bombed, if they try and seek help. More here. One young girl was taken from the North East to North Wales and raped by over 50 men in a single weekend.
52 men thought it was OK to rape a teenage girl.
There is something profoundly wrong with our society when men – normal men, of all ages – think raping a teenage girl is OK. Don’t try and tell me that this was a one off. That they were 52 crazed psychopaths. Hundreds of thousands of women and girls are sexually assualted and raped by men in this country. 1 in 10 men will visit a prostitute at least once in their lifetime: most will have little or no guarantee that the woman is freely able to give consent to sex. Many men and boys are clearly growing up with the idea that they have the right to access women for sex, and they are getting this idea from somewhere.
I refuse to believe that men are somehow inherently evil or predisposed to predatory sexual behaviour. This is the kind of useless and offensive argument put forward by those who argue that ‘men just can’t help themselves’ if they see a woman’s cleavage on a night out. Those who do see a woman’s cleavage and choose to attack, make that choice in the context of a society in which the sexual objectification of women, contempt for women’s human rights, sexualisation of power relations*, aggression and passivity as the basis of male and female gender roles respectively and often invisible cultural sexism in all aspects of our daily lives still reign supreme. While this of course does not excuse the behaviour of men who attack women, it does show us that we cannot put an end to the sexual slavery described above until we create a new society where sexism and gender roles are a thing of the past.
And that’s where feminism comes in.
In the meantime, spread the word, get in contact with UK Human Trafficking and see what you can do to help, support your local Rape Crisis Centre, write to your MP – when people realise that this is happening on their doorstep, you can guarantee it will be a hell of a lot harder for them to stick their fingers in their ears and pretend everything’s OK.
*I’d like to make it clear that I’m not referring to consensual BDSM here, but to the use of sex and sexual material as a form of dominance and intimidation, a way to demean and degrade women, to ‘put us in our place’, and to assert masculinity.