Since on-street sex grooming received coverage in the national media, the correlation which struck me was whether this was related to social apathy, sexual gratification and/or power politics. And it seemed rather apparent that there is an imbalance of information being supplied to the younger generation in terms of sex. Channel 4 covered the unthinkable issue in last night’s Dispatches programme “Britain’s Sex Gangs,” raising several important factors that need to be addressed.
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) have recently reported about the situation of “on-street” sex grooming by criminal gangs. Girls as young as 12 years old have been subject to sexual exploitation and yet according to the CEOP, there has been no strategic plan put in place to protect girls from being “trafficked” into sexual slavery. Due to the nature of the issue; police, local charities and social services have found it difficult to ascertain the actual numbers of girls who have been involved, with estimates of 2,083 young victims identified since 2008. Especially as specific ethnic groups have been targeted, authorities have been tip-toeing around ever since.
Unfortunately, whilst sex-grooming still continues, the debate has been hijacked by right-wing groups jumping the bandwagon, claiming that this issue is exclusively a “Muslim” problem. The matter has subsequently been pushed underground, without taking into consideration the social context that surrounds both victims and perpetrators in their communities. However, the issue of ethnicity is not the major factor here as although 26% of the offenders were Asian (the actual ethnics groups are unidentified as data is insufficient), 38% of offenders were also white, hence the line of questioning is ambiguous without further investigation of the data.
The primary aspects that need to be tackled by both communities as a whole and proper authorities consist of appropriate sex education, an ironically hyper-sexualised society as well as disengagement from peers throughout communities. According to a Family Education Trust report comparing UK’s sex education with the Netherland’s more liberal approach: “In the repressed UK, sex education is patchy, it is mealy-mouthed, it starts too late, and, because of the influence of the powerful ‘moral right’, it fails to give young people the knowledge and skills which they need.”
However, in terms of ‘moral culture,’ both the Netherlands and the UK boast similar attitudes. Both the UK and the Netherlands are marked by what could be called a ‘contraceptive mentality’. That is to say, the notion that sexual reproduction can be technologically controlled (in particular, but not exclusively, in terms of preventing conception), has become hegemonic in both societies. The idea that controlling ‘risk’ behaviour without contraceptives has been asserted to be ‘unrealistic,’ without even attempting to inform young people about making educated decisions and the psychological effects that surround their choices.
This can be seen, for example, in the fact that safe sex has tried to be advocated, both in schools and via mass media, as the best way to prevent pregnancy and the spread of HIV, rather than understanding the emotional impact of either.
A second dimension of sexual morality, alongside the contraceptive mentality, is promiscuity. In what UNICEF referred to as ‘the sexualised society’, a culture of promiscuity becomes prevalent in which sex is disconnected from reproduction, respect and love. It no longer operates in a framework of married relationships, and can be exchanged for goods, services or financial rewards. The decoupling of sexuality and morality has at least two major negative consequences. The first is a shifting of the burden of anxiety and responsibility to ever-younger teenagers, who are forced to take potentially life-altering decisions without possessing either the skills or the knowledge to understand their implications.
The second is that it turns sex into something casual and insignificant. Casual sex is easily commodified. Indeed, promiscuity becomes a marketing tool. Using sexually explicit imagery as well as innuendo is a tried and tested strategy to sell products; but the sexualisation of culture has spread to all aspects of the mass media. E. Ketting and A.P Visser stresses the importance of linking sex and pleasure in sex education, rather than sex and risk. Risk behaviour can generate pleasures of transgression and violation.
And more recently, leading charity Barnardos has released research regarding the effects of youth behaviour and how Britons have “given up on children.” The research findings revealed that the public holds a negative view of all children, despite the majority being well behaved, attending school, taking part in activities and a significant number contributing to their communities and volunteering. It certainly indicates the mutual feeling that young people have become detached from society, partly because society has become disengaged from them as well.
It is essential whilst writing about young people, that sweeping statements are not made and in turn stereotyping an entire populace, which is partially why many youths have subsequently been vindicated as ‘criminals.’ No doubt that on-street sex grooming is a generational issue with offenders disproportionately skewed towards young adults within the 18-24 age range, whilst victims are commonly aged between 14 – 15 and as young as 12. The fact that both parties could still be pubescent, and likely to be unaware of the risks that sex could pose, is a fundamental element to why sex education needs to be adequate and taught relatively early on.
In 2009 Penny Barber, of the Brook clinic in Birmingham, said an increasing number of young Asians were seeking its services, having had unprotected sex. Research carried out in London secondary schools has found most 15-18-year-old Asians were not able to discuss the topic at home. And even now, it is difficult to obtain information regarding sex education in ethnic minority communities.
According to research by the Department of Education, young men in the UK routinely face pressures to be ‘knowledgeable, powerful and reputedly good at sex’ rather than to show responsibility and understanding, which makes it harder to show and talk about feelings, and play a responsible role in relation to sex and contraception. This encourages engagement in activities which put them and their partners at risk particularly in ethnic minority groups where peer pressure from both social groups and outer communities is apparent.
The need for linear information provided to young people is crucial in order to tackle the growing sexual exploitation within youth groups of all racial ethnicities. Otherwise, it’s probable that increasingly younger girls will be at risk from further abuse.