I haven’t blogged for a while now. No real reason except that life with two little ones is getting, dare I say it? Easier.
When I started blogging it was often because I wanted to celebrate small victories (baby rolling over, managing to get us all dressed) or share a difficult day or work through something that was troubling me (mostly lack of sleep).
And then the kids started sleeping better, the victories became bigger (potty training, starting school) and the troubling things stopped troubling me.
Then last night I watched Three Girls, the BBC drama about the Rochdale child abuse scandal where a gang of men routinely abused young girls over a period of several years. And where the police failed to safeguard these girls in the most heartbreaking, dispassionate ways.
And last night I didn’t sleep well. Things troubled me. Thoughts about what happened to those girls and what is still happening to girls like them every single day.
So I’m writing it down. Because I need to write it down for me. And because I think it needs to be read.
I wasn’t going to watch it. I’d read about it on social media. People were saying they had to turn it off. That it was too awful to watch; too ‘horrendous’, too ‘disgusting’, ‘a hard watch’.
I sat and listened to people talking about it at work, deciding that I wouldn’t watch it because it sounded just as those people on social media had described it.
But last night, as I sat comfortably on my sofa, safe in my house with my family all under one roof, I realised that the reasons I had been giving myself for not watching it, were exactly the reasons that I should be watching it. And why you should too. All adults should watch it (and there were calls on Twitter for schools to show it to young people as a warning of the dangers they might face).
If you haven’t seen it then you’re probably wondering why I’m saying you should watch this ‘awful’, ‘horrendous’, ‘disgusting’ drama. I won’t lie: it makes for very uncomfortable viewing. The majority of the scenes, whilst not graphic, are loaded with suggestion and the drip, drip, drip impact of the gang’s grooming is difficult to watch without feeling sick, angry and filled with despair for those girls.
But that is EXACTLY why you should watch it. It needs to make people feel uncomfortable. Because the moment you are comfortable watching the manipulation of these girls and the downward spiral of their lives is the moment you are no longer a civilised member of our society.
Unfortunately that society has cultivated and perpetuated a culture of blame. In a world where we can now sue someone for an upset stomach we had in Egypt on a package holiday five years ago, there is this assumption that everyone is to be held accountable for something. That anything can be justified by blaming, and shaming, someone else.
Maybe this is relatively trivial if you’re trying to claim a couple of hundred quid because your plane was once delayed on your return from your family holiday to Majorca.
But there is NO justification for a 13 year old being raped by a man twice, three times, even four times her age. Even if she’s had sex before. Even if she was wearing a short skirt. Even if she was drunk (because you’d got her addicted to vodka), and she just ‘let you do it’. Even if it’s part of your culture. Even if you give her money.
As Sara Rowbotham (the sexual health worker instrumental in collecting evidence in the case) said in one episode: “there is no such thing as a child prostitute. Only a child being abused.”
Sara, played exceptionally by Maxine Peake, was one of the only people who appportioned zero blame to these girls right from the beginning. She was one of the only people who saw these girls for what they were; victims of a terrifying, despicable gang of men. She was the only one who collected evidence from the beginning. The only one who didn’t judge them. The only one who brought evidence before the police, before social workers, only to be asked “what do you want us to do?”
She was pivotal in ensuring the animals who enabled and perpetrated the abuse of not just three girls but nearly fifty (and almost certainly even more) were brought to justice. Without her, there would have been less evidence. Decidedly less. Files upon files upon files less.
Sara Rowbotham was the minority. When these girls first felt brave enough to speak out, she believed them. Unfortunately I worry that there are still too many people in our society who would try and justify the behaviour of the men involved. Not others necessarily involved in child exploitation but people who might work alongside you. People who might live next door to you. People who are somehow able to justify the actions of these men because society has conditioned them to think that, somehow, victims ‘bring it on themselves’. Who don’t understand that there is no justification for abusing the basic rights of innocent young people (of people in general), whether they’ve drunk a bottle of vodka, been promiscuous or worn a short skirt.
And THAT is why everyone should watch it. Because we HAVE to confront this issue. No matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel. No matter how horrendous and terrifying it is to address. We, the people who make no justification for these men. No justification by way of culture, the girls’ conduct, the area they lived in. Nothing. We have to bring humanity and compassion like Sara Rowbotham did, whilst others brought only misplaced blame and I’ll-informed judgement.
We have to be the majority. A voice for victims like these Three Girls the way Sara was. A collective voice which says “we are listening” and “it’s not okay”. If a thirteen, fourteen, fifteen year old girl is being given alcohol, takeaways, cigarettes and money by men much older than her, it does not mean she owes someone something in return, as the lawyers in the court case tried to imply. It means she is being groomed for exploitation.
Everyone should watch it. It’s uncomfortable and terrifying to watch. But that terror, that discomfort, is nothing compared to the very real living hell those girls had to endure.