The disturbing dramatisation of the child abuse in Rochdale - Three Girls - shown on BBC One this week, shows us what happens to young people when they do not have sufficient familial resources to protect them. Whilst the dramatisation of the events in which young girls were preyed upon and groomed by predatory men, focuses upon the lack of interest and support from the police and social services, the obvious links between grooming and brainwashing were also clearly shown throughout.
Young people between the ages of around 10 and 16 are particularly vulnerable to grooming in which they are persuaded that the love and sense of belonging they are seeking, can be found in situations which are clearly dangerous to their wellbeing. Because the teenage brain is particularly underdeveloped in the sphere of perspective, the risks involved in such situations are overlooked in favour of the feeding of the parts of the self which are in need of approval and belonging, particularly from their peer group. Being like the others is a core driver in the teenage years and not being able to stand out from the crowd by doing things differently or not going with the flow puts young people, in this case girls, particularly at risk.
There was a scene in episode one which was both poignant and painful, in which the older girl watched as the newest recruit to the gang was rescued from another night of abuse by her parents. As the tears fell from the older girl's eyes, it was clear that she had no-one in her life who believed she was worth something. Making her dependence upon Tariq her 'boyfriend' who was abusing her, both understandable and tragic. What these young girls lacked, was the structural protection of a family and outside of that, the interventions which recognised what was happening to them as child abuse rather than that of a chaotic 'lifestyle choice'. Working as I do with social services, the lack of worth attached to these young girls is something that I recognise, sometimes the statutory focus on removal of babies at birth, rather than support being given where it is needed, can feel like eugenics without the sterilisation.
The portrayal of the sexual health worker who knew that the girls were being abused is well played by Maxine Peake and the agitated interactions between the two teams of workers were accurately described. The frustration that many independent workers feel on encountering the rigidity of the bureaucratic approach and the lack of interest from agencies such as the police in the wellbeing of young people, was shown erupting into the demand that people with the statutory power should do something about such abuse.
When the people with the statutory power have little or no understanding (or care) for the children being abused however, and when their work is threaded through with institutionalised politically correct assumptions based on race and gender, the end result is what we saw on our screens this week. I wish this were the only place in which young children are being groomed and harmed. Sadly, as many know only too well, the vulnerability of children plus the lack of real understanding of the risks they face in their lives, means it is not.
Young people on the journey to adulthood are incredibly vulnerable to predatory behaviours by adults and grooming and brainwashing as well as being used by cult and gang leaders to further their own ends is common. Just like those young people at risk of being radicalised, young people, boys as well as girls, are vulnerable to having their 'heads turned' by those more flashy or cool than they are. We would do well to remember that inside the body of a mature looking young man or woman is the mind of a child not yet properly developed. Our protection and our recognition of the risks posed by those who would prey on those children should be upper most in our minds throughout all of those vulnerable years.