Under the falling blossom - a response to the sexual exploitation of children in Oxford

Some subjects demand strong, uncompromising words. This is a post I originally wrote for the angry women blog at www.theangrywomenblog.wordpress.com. Its subject is the sexual exploitation of children in my home city. 

I am an angry woman.

You wouldn’t necessarily know that if you met me. People tend to tell me I seem calm, even serene (not necessarily my favourite way to be thought of, but it is often said, just the same). In the normal day to day I’m a gentle person. I can go to a deep, quiet place. I did when I brought my children to birth, lost far away inside myself.

But something makes me so angry I could roar.

My home is a small and beautiful English city, known across the world for the learning that goes on beneath its famous spires. Thousands of people visit each year to trace the steps of scientists and inventors, presidents and poets. It is an apparently dignified place, distinguished and exclusive.

But in the shadow of the spires and towers unspeakable crimes have been committed against children. And those whose job it is to protect them have looked away. And I am angry beyond words.

Hundreds of girls and a smaller number of boys have been targeted by networks of men intent on violent sexual gratification, sharing children for entertainment and profit. Some of the children have been in the care of the state, others live in families – some struggling, some apparently stable.

For years men lavished attention on these vulnerable girls and used drugs and violence to enslave them, driving them to cities across the country to share with other men for money. They met the girls outside school, conducted their grooming on the day-lit streets of my city and used local guest houses to rape and torture their victims.

One of these guest houses, framed by cherry trees, is just a few hundred yards from where I work.

These events have only recently come to light. And in the lighting of these shadows more darkness has appeared.

It seems that in my city those who speak articulately and with the right accent are treated well and with respect. They can access justice and be taken seriously if they have a crime to report or a complaint to make. But for those who wear cheap clothes, are young and mouthy and sound wrong, come from the wrong address, things are very different.

A fourteen year old girl went to the city centre police station, her clothes covered in blood, to report a serious sexual assault. She was told she was a nuisance, and made to leave.

And for that girl and for her peers, I am angry, blisteringly angry. Stolen childhoods, shattered futures, broken bodies. Behind closed doors, while guest house owners did what? Turned up the music? Put the TV on?

I follow the teachings of a Palestinian Jew who was anything but predictable. Authority figures who cared for no one but themselves he called ‘unmarked graves’. People focused only on profit saw their businesses sabotaged and their tables overturned. Love your enemies, he also said, pray for those who persecute you. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

I feel so powerless to make a difference, to change things. But I trust in a God who specialises in change, in revolution, and by his grace I will channel my anger into prayer and passion and care for the city in which I find myself, and its children.

And the guest house? It is still open for business, under the falling blossom.

 

 

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