Britain gripped by shocking ‘grooming’ case
A gang of nine men systematically abused young girls, a court has heard. Vulnerable teenagers were bought and sold like 'sexual commodities'.
'These men,' said the prosecutor, 'ensnared these girls. They enticed the girls, groomed the girls and then exploited them either for their own sexual gratification or for money.' It was the opening salvo of a courtroom battle that has lifted the lid on the sordid world of 'grooming', in which vulnerable teenage girls become victims of devastating abuse.
The experience of the victims, from Telford in Shropshire, follows a pattern that has been tragically repeated across the UK. Girls, some as young as 11 or 12, are approached by older men in shopping centres or arcades. At first it's all friendly – the abusers have money, cars and jobs and can appear glamorous. They're able to offer expensive presents, or introduce the girls to an exciting world of nightclubs and restaurants. For some victims, the attention which is lavished on them is seductive.
Soon, the abuser is seen as a 'boyfriend' – some of the girls in the Telford case thought they were in love with these older men, and that they were loved in return. They were encouraged to distance themselves from family and friends, and to rely more and more on the abusers' 'generosity'. Groomers often help girls find flats or accommodation of their own – a move which only makes them easier to control.
However, as the prosecution told the court, the friendliness and kindness is nothing but an act. In reality, the Telford abusers were said to have a 'deeply sexist' view of women, treating them 'with no respect or dignity whatsoever.'
Behind the girls' back, their abusers talked about them with open scorn, calling them 'slags'.
The court heard how the defendants allegedly forced their victims to perform sex acts both with the original 'boyfriends' and with strangers, who paid the men in cash for their services. According to the prosecution, the girls were being raped and sold or lent out like sexual commodities.
Innocence and experience
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this case is the extent to which these girls are said to have cooperated in their own sexual exploitation. The prosecutor warned jurors they would 'neither like nor be impressed by the behaviour, attitudes or morals' that some of the victims displayed. 'You will hear,' she said, 'about highly sexually promiscuous behaviour which you will probably find shocking.'
She asked jurors to remember, however, that although the girls seemed tough and streetwise, they were still children, most from very troubled backgrounds. Victims of grooming are often deeply insecure or unhappy, and long for acceptance and attention. Abusers exploit that deep human need.
- Have you ever judged someone as 'asking for trouble' – or been judged yourself? Does this make it easier for someone to get hurt?
- In court, the prosecutor mentioned that liberal modern values about sex and teenage socialising make it easier for abusers to operate. Is this true? If so, should society become less liberal?
- If someone you knew was in an abusive relationship what would you say to them? What would they most need to hear? Make a list of the key points.
- 'The strongest prison is the prison of the mind.' Write a short essay examining this statement. Do you agree?
Some People Say...
“It's all the parents' fault.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- How big a problem is this 'grooming'?
- It's very hard to tell. It takes place behind closed doors – and when girls are over the age of consent (16 years old) it can become legally ambiguous. Exact figures are impossible to come by.
- Is it only girls from troubled backgrounds who are at risk?
- According to the charity Crop, which works to help victims of grooming, it can happen to anyone. Abusers are experts at exploiting any emotional vulnerability that young people may have. Boys can also be victims, as well as girls.
- I still don't understand why victims don't just walk away.
- In abusive relationships of any kind, the abuse can be as much about psychology as physical harm. Abusers can have total control over their victim, just by manipulating their emotions.
- In criminal trials, the state appoints a lawyer called a 'prosecutor' to argue that the person accused is guilty. The accused person, or 'defendant' will have a defence lawyer to plead his or her case.
- To 'allege' something is to testify to something. 'Allegedly' means 'according to some witnesses'.
- A 'commodity' is something that is sold or traded.
- Not picky or discerning. The word is often used to describe someone who has many sexual partners.