Carol Hunt: We ignore teen rape culture at our peril
Carol Hunt asks if the rise in bullying and sexual violence among children is a sign that we have failed them
Every day the news seems full of it. Last week we heard of a priest asking a funeral congregation to pray for a man accused of sexual assault against a teenager.
Liam Adams is eventually brought to justice for the repeated rape and abuse of his daughter as a child – no thanks to brother Gerry, who kept this knowledge to himself for nine years. And there's the horrific case of Lost Prophets singer Ian Watkins admitting to the most grotesque sexual assaults on children.
Also last week the Office of the Children's Commissioner for England published a report called If Only Someone Had Listened. It was the phrase "sheer levels of sadism" used by (Children's Commissioner) Sue Berelowitz that warned of what was to come. She wasn't describing violent pornographic films that some children may have viewed online (although there are many), nor was she detailing the activities of depraved people who sexually abuse children. No, what Berelowitz was talking about was the things that children, some as young as 10 and 11, do to other children.
Berelowitz said: "The fact that some adults (usually men) rape and abuse children is generally accepted. There is, however, a long way to go before the appalling reality of sexual violence and exploitation committed by children and young people is believed."
Berelowitz and other experts are laying a lot of the blame for the rise in sexual crime amongst children and young people on the music and pornographic industries. (And increasingly it's becoming harder and harder to tell the difference between them.)
My own daughter will be 13 this week and she already seems so much more confident, advanced and, yes, more "grown-up" than myself and my peers at that age. She is still a child and happy to be one, at least for the time being, but her forays into adulthood are beginning. She adores the boyband One Direction and is well aware of the shock value of Miley's "twerking". The next few years will be spent both educating and protecting her from the sexual experiences and dangers that await her and her peers.
Songs like the one Miley Cyrus "twerked" to so enthusiastically, called Blurred Lines – known as a rape anthem (if you listen to the lyrics you'll understand why) – with its chant of "I know you want it, I'll give it to you", are not just normalised but increasingly idolised, memorised and internalised. (The uncensored version contains the charming line, "I'll give you something that'll tear your ass in two.")
Meanwhile earlier this month a football team in Wales felt it was acceptable to show a PowerPoint presentation at a social event which enthused about spiking girls' drinks and made jokes about rape and domestic violence.
T-shirts and other paraphernalia celebrating rape culture seem to be increasingly "in" items – sure aren't they just having a laugh?
According to Cindy Gallup (Make Love not Porn) and other experts, children as young as eight are accessing pornography online. And if your teen tells you that they have never seen any, either on their own devices or on a friend's, they are most probably lying. Dear God, who would want to be a parent in this day and age?
Last May the UK Children's Commission published a report which showed a correlation between violent pornography and those who commit violent crimes. Victims are blamed for bringing it on themselves.
On a BBC programme last week I watched several children give their views on rape and sexual violence.
"But what can you do?" asked one girl as she described how her cousin was raped by her boyfriend and his gang in a park.
"She shouldn't have really gone to a park in the night."
One young boy said, "If she has a name and someone tries to sleep with her and she won't let 'em and they know that she's slept with other people, they'll force her into it. They would rape her – if you class it as rape."
This isn't just happening in Britain, of course. In October, the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland reported that almost 40 per cent of the perpetrators of sexual violence against children were children themselves – as in under the age of 18 – and the majority of the victims were young girls. Bullying and sexual violence amongst children is increasing.
Shouldn't we find this shocking? Doesn't it scream loudly that we are failing our children in a most fundamental way? Are we ignoring the rise of a "rape culture" amongst our teens and their peer groups? I think we are, though many would disagree.
And, as one commentator notes, "Rape culture exists because we believe it doesn't."
But what can we do? Lock up our daughters? Warn them of the dangers of alcohol, of wearing low-cut tops and mini-skirts, of walking home alone after dark, of accepting a drink from a boy, of giving someone the impression that they "want it"? We may as well tell them to stop breathing! Because those who commit sexual abuse and rape will always find excuses to do so no matter what the conduct, personality or apparel of the girl they target.
Yet victim blaming remains endemic. What we need to do – what I need to do as the parent of a 10-year-old boy – is turn the debate around and focus our attention on the care and education of our young men. We need to push for a "no-tolerance" approach to "amusing" paraphernalia, songs and culture condoning rape and violence against women. For instance, T-shirts with the logo "Keep Calm and Rape Often" were available to purchase on Amazon – talk about sending our kids mixed signals?
And while it's welcome that companies like Google and Microsoft are working to wipe out links to child abuse sites, one has to ask, why only now? And what is the problem with search engines blocking access to porn sites unless specifically asked not to by an adult? Why, once again, do adult "rights" come before the protection of our children?
Of course parents need to be the primary educators and carers of their children, but we live in a society and all of society has a role to play in protecting the young.
However, the first and most difficult part of dealing with the rape-culture our children find themselves growing up in, will be to acknowledge that it exists in the first place.