For the girl in Oxford who was kidnapped and raped on her way to school last week

My poor, darling girl.

Your innocence has been ripped away from you; your sense of security a thing of yesterday. Your trust of people, and men in particular, crushed thin as gold leaf. The sun rose that day on a happy, normal, 14-year-old girl and set on a girl who has seen and experienced the very worst that this wonderful terrible world can serve up.

It shouldn’t have happened to you. It shouldn’t happen to anyone. You might in your darkest moments be wondering if you somehow invited this. If God, or the universe, or whatever powers that be singled YOU out especially. But He didn’t, or It didn’t.  It’s of cold comfort but you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Minutes earlier or later, and it would have been someone else. But you wouldn’t have wished it on anyone else anyway.

What those men did to your body was unforgivable, monstrous, painful. But it is what they have done to your mind that makes me despise them.

They are aberrations, anomalies. Freaks who somehow slipped through the fabric of normal, decent society to live in a place where light and happiness cannot reach. Where they are condemned to seek thrills through exerting power over others because it’s the only way they can feel anything at all. If you take any comfort, know that as miserable and as frightened as they have made you, they have always felt like that. And always will, for whatever is left of their doubtless short lives.

You may worry that this thing will live with you like a stain on your face that everyone can see. Perhaps you think people will look at you differently and maybe they’ll wonder did you do something to ask for it. Was your skirt rolled up? Were you wearing make-up? Did you carry yourself with a confidence that suggested you were older than 14?

But NO-ONE, at least no-one decent, no-one that you will want to know, will be thinking that. In a sense you are the daughter of every single one of us. All anyone will be thinking is ‘How could we cope if this happened to us? How could we help our daughter pick up the pieces? How can we reassure her that this doesn’t make her a bad person? How can we ensure that this doesn’t ruin the rest of her life?’

And those questions – those questions you think people might be asking. They won’t. Those questions might be in your head though and you have to silence them. Even if you did have skirt rolled up, or make-up on, or if you were trying to make yourself look older, or you were starting to think about what sex might be like, there are two very important points to remember. One – it’s a totally normal part of growing up, and two – there are simply NO excuses to rape. A woman never invites it.

But because we are women, we have a tendency to blame and shame ourselves, and I think the reason for this is that we’re constantly bombarded by conflicting messages by the media. Be sexy. Be angelic. Be strong. Be helpless. Be independent. But don’t forget you need men. Be adventurous. Be timid. Be clever and ambitious. But remember your place in your home. Have a good libido. Don’t be brazenly interested in sex. Be Delia Smith. Be Nigella Lawson. Be Katy Price. Wear makeup (you’re worth it), but don’t look like a slut. Put your children first. Put your career first. Put your husband first. With our conscious minds we see the contradictions but with our subconscious we believe we should be able to be it all.

We live in a world of supposed equality, but beneath the veneer there persists a cultural hangover from another time. Let’s not forget we’re only a few decades beyond the Benny Hill Show and the Carry On films, where chasing women around to grope them passed for comedy. I can’t believe today that there was ever an era where that was OK, but there really was. Growing up I wanted to be Barbara Windsor. I thought that the pinnacle of feminine achievement was being pretty and sexy, and that male attention was the greatest prize to be had. Unfortunately this sentiment is alive and well in the minds of many, nurtured by everyday sexism that persists subtly in the media’s depiction of women.

 

Most men aren’t rapists in waiting. The vast, vast majority in fact. I don’t know any. But where that potential lies, whether that’s down to a mental disorder or a lack of education, then the portrayal of women in the media has a role to play in forming these men’s perception of us.

I have had huge rows with my friends who think Page 3 is harmless. I argue that it’s not. It sexualises women, and it’s part of that hangover from a time when a woman’s most important asset was her rack and not her CV. It portrays us as the weaker sex, as little kitten type creatures who want nothing more than to be petted and handled by big strong men. They argue that if a woman wants to do it, it’s her right. But if her right damages the rights of all other women, is that OK? They argue that the models like to do it, that it makes them feel empowered. But why does showing their breasts for the titillation of men make them feel empowered? I’d say that’s a warped idea of empowerment.

I strongly believe this needs to change. I’m not saying The Sun is responsible for what happened to you. But I think it contributes. Along with the top-shelf trash in your local corner shop, and at the other end of the spectrum all the glossy magazines supposedly aimed at women, with their front covers bursting with headlines about sex. Doesn’t it tell all of us, men and women alike, that sex is what’s MOST important in life? Instead of it really just being something pleasant for two people in love to enjoy as an aside to the real business of every day life? And doesn’t it tell us that women’s bodies are a free-for-all? That we exist mainly to make men happy?

I have a daughter. She is four. She has no idea that such vile things could ever happen, and I pray that she never will. Of course the chances are she will. Hopefully she’ll only ever read about them, and not experience them as you have. But I can’t help hoping that maybe within another decade or so we can lose this hangover from another age and that we desexualise women. Maybe as a society we can put sex back in its place. Let’s put love and kindness on that pedestal instead.

I hope you can move on quickly from what has been done to you. I hope that your subconscious mind will let you be. I hope you can build a wonderful, successful life and refuse to let those horrible, horrible men have any effect on your happiness. I know that’s hard. I know that’s not tomorrow. But don’t let shame anywhere near you. You have nothing to be ashamed about. No blame to take. Absolutely NONE.

 

 

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