This is our truth, tell us yours
The leaked report into the failure to protect victims of rape in Rochdale has made the headlines today, and it seems to lay the blame squarely at the feet of the authorities meant to protect the vulnerable. Both the police and social services dismissed the victims as “child prostitutes”
Child prostitute is pretty much the definition of an oxymoron. A child, cannot by law consent to sex, a prostitute is someone who sells consensual sexual services. Whilst there are underage sex workers, and research shows they do not fit the drug addicted pimped out cliché, it is normally a less shitty choice of the narrow range of shitty options they have. When you are homeless, or escaping an abusive home, sex work provides an income denied to you by your very age. This was not the situation in Rochdale though, the girls were turning up at A&E, the families were begging for help, and social workers dismissed them as “child prostitutes”.
The stigma and othering associated with sex work is a fact, a dangerous one that makes every person who sells sexual services vulnerable. A recent case in Bristol showed the attitude of so many, that once you sell one service you lose any rights to say no. Although in that case the judge made clear that selling sex does not mean you magically cease to be able to consent.In Rochdale the police and social services shared the same whorephobic attitudes as the rapist however. The fact the girls were children was, in their eyes, cancelled out by the belief that money was changing hands. The stain of sex work is so pervasive that it overrides any other consideration.
These white, working class girls were assumed to be selling sex by those who were supposed to help them. They had apparently made the “lifestyle choice” to sell sex so the reports of abuse were not taken seriously. This is the other side of the whorephobia coin. What if they had been underage sex workers? What if they had chosen, for whatever reason to sell sex? They were reporting rapes, turning up at A&E with injuries, needing abortions (which means they were not engaging in safe sex). Surely these are serious matters that demand support and investigation? Not once money changes hands it seems, then you become damaged goods and get what you deserve. Bluntly put that is what the social services and police said about these girls. They did not come to their attention because they were standing on a street corner or working in a brothel. They came to their attention because of repeated and persistent reports of abuse, abuse that did not matter because they were deemed to be sex workers.
Of course these girls were not sex workers. They were groomed,raped, and ignored by the very people who should have been protecting them. They were seen to be complicit in their abuse in a way a *nice* middle class girl would never be. Their class and background led people to see them as less important, the abuse dismissed. However the case also shows how the police, and particularly social services view sex work, as something that removes your basic human right to be heard and protected.
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