This was written on Thursday night… Given that my resolution was to start blogging every day from the beginning of the new parliamentary session, I have 20 minutes to avoid failing within the first 36 hours! I’ve just been (half) watching Question Time and a rather frustrating debate about the men imprisoned this week for grooming, exploiting and abusing teenage girls. I may have missed it but I haven’t heard anyone this week pay tribute to Ann Cryer, who did so much to raise awareness of this during her time as MP for Keighley.
I’ve worked with CROP, which campaigns against child exploitation, on a couple of cases. Both involved young women (15 year olds) who were groomed by older men, lured away from their families in the Home Counties, brought to Bristol, and suffered various degrees of abuse. Their families feared they were being regularly beaten, and involved in drugs and prostitution. Thankfully both were eventually reunited with their families, and I hope they both got their lives back on track.
Despite the girls being 15 when the abuse started, it was very difficult for their parents to get social services or the police in Essex and the Thames Valley to act, and once they had turned 16 the parents were told that the agencies couldn’t get involved in cases of ‘bad boyfriends’. The police in Bristol were, it has to be said, more helpful as were SW Barnardo’s who kept in regular contact with one of the young women at a time when she was estranged from her family. But others seemed to take the view that the girls, being almost adult, had to be allowed the freedom to make the wrong choices. There was little recognition of their youth and vulnerability, or that what had happened to them went beyond simply choosing a ‘boyfriend’ their parents didn’t like.
I should also say at this point that neither of these cases involved gangs of men, and neither involved Asian men. One of the men was known to have a track record of grooming young women over the internet, but had never been prosecuted and still hasn’t, as far as I know. So although the convictions this week do raise difficult issues about religious/ cultural attitudes towards women that we need to discuss, we shouldn’t see everything through that prism. We also need to look at how vulnerable young women can be protected, not just from gangs who systematically prey on them but from so-called ‘bad boyfriends’ too, and where the line between state intervention and state interference should be drawn.