Virginia Ironside: Did none of the jury have a normal childhood?

How can children be blamed for imitating the adults they see kissing all the time on television?

Tuesday 25 May 2010 00:00

On the face of it, the judgment against the two 10-year-old boys, convicted of "attempted rape" of an eight-year-old girl, seems little less than ludicrous.

Not only did the girl herself at one point say that she hadn't been raped: all they had been doing, she had said, was showing each other their willies and fannies. But one of the boys clearly didn't have a clue what sex was all about.

Did none of the members of the jury have a normal childhood? Did none of these ever show their "thingies" to other children behind the bike shed? If every male child were arrested for playing doctors and nurses, then I doubt if there'd be a single bloke walking the streets free today.

Children's interest in sex starts far earlier than most of us like to admit. I remember once working as a teacher in a holiday nursery school. Before the parents came to pick up their four- or five-year-old children there was a bit of time left over so I read the class the story of Cinderella. At the end, one of the children shouted: "Let's play getting married!" whereupon all the boys in the class seized the nearest little girl and before I could stop them they were all rolling around giggling and pretending to kiss each other quite passionately. I have never seen anything like it before or since, but it made me realise that we have a totally skewed idea of children's innocence about sex.

Have none of the jury ever had small children who, when playing together with a friend of the opposite sex, disappeared upstairs and were found, an hour later, cheekily pretending to snog each other in mummy's bed without any clothes on? It happens all the time. And how can children be blamed, anyway, for experimenting with imitating the adults they see all the time on television, kissing and cuddling.

Go to any primary school and you'll find that nearly every child, from the age of seven upwards, has a "boyfriend" or a "girlfriend". They don't quite know what it is, exactly, but they've got one and like to steal kisses now and again, and hold hands, and take each other into bushes and swear undying love. It's normal.

Of course it may be that there was something rather more sinister about these boys. Who knows, sitting in court they may have come across as sly and predatory. I wasn't there.

But whatever the jury's gut feeling was about them, surely their age should have provided mitigating circumstances, since the evidence was so vague.

My own feeling is that this case should never have come to court.

We have become so obsessed with sexual abuse that we ignore the far greater abuses wreaked on children in our society by adults, like neglect and physical harm – both crimes that will have far greater effect on their future lives than a bit of peeping and touching and sniggering and knicker-pulling-down, even if, in this case, it perhaps went a bit further than usual.

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