Why do we care about Megan Stammers from Eastbourne but not "Suzie" from Rochdale?

The authorities knew about the girls’ plight in Rochdale and did nothing. But every girl deserves to be respected, regardless of her background

Share

We live in a society that is not terribly good at protecting young women. The same tabloid newspapers that spent this week making a show of searching the Continent for Megan Stammers routinely drool over the bodies of actors and singers barely out of training bras or send paparazzi to hound young women like Charlotte Church until they are forced to seek legal help. Magazines and billboards are plastered with nubile prepubescent-looking models while real prepubescents are turned away at police stations for reporting rape. There’s only one consistent message: young girls are not deemed to have any agency over their own bodies, or their own lives.

In this culture, young women are not treated as sexual beings, merely as sexual objects. The weary moral panic that crotch-flashing music videos and Playboy Bunny pencil cases are somehow “sexualising” young girls betrays the prejudice: female-bodied people can never really be sexual, only “sexualised”, and once they are tainted, once they start rolling up their school skirts and watching Rihanna grind her behind on YouTube, then the damage is done.

People who grow up being told that they have no agency are less likely to behave as though they do. Girls are imagined as constantly teetering on the edge of helpless harlotry, where what’s at stake is not their personhood, but their purity. Celebrities and middle-class girls, however, are tacitly assumed to be worthier of our anxiety than the teenage care-leavers who were the targets of grooming gangs in Rochdale and Rotherham.

When 15-year-old “Suzie” – not her real name – tried to tell police in Rochdale that she was being forced to have sex with strangers every night by a gang of adult men who controlled every aspect of her life, she was dismissed as a prostitute. “These men would be picking me up as soon as I got out of the school gates at three o’clock and taking me to houses,” “Suzie” told the BBC. “We’d go in and I’d basically be told to go into the bedroom and to take my pants off and they’d come in one after the other. Even my own dad rang social services to get help.”

Nobody, however, was prepared to help – neither the police nor social services. “Basically, they’d told my mum and dad that I was a prostitute and it was a lifestyle choice and that because I was only six months off turning 16 they wasn’t gonna do anything,” she said.

Young girls in deprived communities were written off. Yet, in very different circumstances, Megan Stammers, also 15, had every media outlet in the land publishing updates about her whereabouts and wellbeing until she showed up in Bordeaux yesterday.

The public was first made aware of child sex trafficking in Rochdale under headlines that screeched about “Asian sex gangs” and Islamic pederasty, but the stand-out fact here is that the authorities knew about these girls’ plight and did nothing. Systematic rape of children was ignored, not “in the interests of racial harmony”, as outlets like The Daily Telegraph continue to claim, but because the police and social services didn’t think the girls in question were worth protecting.

Police were ignoring this abuse because the victims were poor, because some of them were care-leavers, because they were assumed to be “wild” and out of control. Because they were not the sort of girls that the authorities usually care about, unless they’re out causing trouble. The axis of prejudice here is not race, but class.

Our collective anxiety about young girls and sex is far more Victorian than we would like to admit. It’s often more about protecting “innocence” than actually taking care of young people. When 15-year-old “Suzie”, frightened and hurt, spoke to the police about her situation, what did those Rochdale officers see? In all likelihood, they saw a girl from a deprived background who wasn’t “innocent” enough to be worth “saving” rather than a human being who deserved to be kept safe from harm and see her abusers face justice.

If women and girls are not truly respected as human beings with self-determination, sexual and otherwise, their consent cannot truly be  respected, either – not when it is given, and not when it is violently taken away.

So we see young Megan from Eastbourne, naively making off with her schoolteacher, and “Suzie” from Rochdale, raped repeatedly for months by a brutal procession of strangers, as somehow equivalent – one is worth bothering about, and one was not.

We need to think again, and think hard, about how we understand agency, morality and consent, and recognise that whatever her social background, every girl deserves to have hers respected and treasured.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: English Teacher - Saffron ...

Primary Supply Teacher - Northants

£90 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Primary School Supply Teache...

Maths Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Maths Teacher - Saffro...

Chemistry Teacher - Top School in Malaysia - January Start

£18000 - £20400 per annum + Accommodation, Flights, Medical Cover: Randstad Ed...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The appearance of Miguel Arias Canete at a Brussels hearing last Wednesday caused 100,000 people to sign a petition to prevent his appointment  

TTIP is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the EU's suspect relationships with corporations

Lee Williams
 

Being catcalled, groped and masturbated at is a common part of the female experience

Bryony Beynon
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain