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Sex positivity’s hidden victims Consent is no protection from evil grooming gangs

The grooming gangs are a unique evil (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)


December 1, 2021   6 mins

Earlier this year, a grooming gang investigation in Hull was closed, having arrested 34 men but only managed one successful prosecution due to a lack of evidence. But last week, the gang was in the news again, after a girl reported being “raped by 150 men” from her early teens onward. It’s triggered a renewed wave of fury and calls to “declare war” on this seemingly intractable scourge.

Whenever these gangs reappear in public view, responses tend to fall into two categories. The first laments the youth and vulnerability of the victims and wonders which public-sector measures could be implemented to stop such things happening again.

The second type points out that the safeguarding lot are keen to talk about anything but the ethnic disparity between the victims (usually young, white, and working-class) and the rapists (usually of South Asian heritage, often though not exclusively Muslim). The implication is usually that if only we stopped bowing to political correctness, and allowing mass immigration into the country, nothing like this would ever happen.

One side blames poverty, inadequate sex education and institutional safeguarding failures; the other, immigration and political correctness. But there’s another aspect that neither side wishes to acknowledge.

That is, a subset of adult men takes an intense sexual interest in very young girls. This isn’t specific to one culture or ethnicity: today’s report from the Ghislaine Maxwell trial describes the grooming and abuse of a 14-year-old in a setting with different sociocultural traits and far more money, but which otherwise follows much the same pattern as that suffered by the girls in Hull and other UK towns. And we’ve embraced a culture that normalises extreme and ‘kinky’ forms of sexual self-expression — including for adolescents — while our medico-legal and cultural frameworks blur the official age of consent.

Taken together, this results in a culture where even lovingly parented and closely supervised girls routinely encounter opportunistic pervs. Meanwhile, girls who are neglected, unloved or otherwise vulnerable are left with few defences against their attention. Why do neither the anti-immigration side nor the safeguarding hand-wringers want to confront this? Because sexual freedom is of net benefit to everyone who’s already empowered — including most of the angry editorial-writers on both sides.

This worldview holds that all forms of sexual activity are legitimate, and our freedoms on this front should be constrained only by consent. Perhaps the central contributor to this worldview is the cultural theorist (and paedophile) Michel Foucault, who made the case in History of Sexuality that there are no sexual crimes as such. Rather, there are only acts that we choose to construct as harmful.

Foucault took this up to the point of suggesting that children can in some circumstances participate in sexual activity without being harmed. We find traces of this argument in, for example, the Seventies campaign to cut the age of consent to 14 or in some circumstances 10. Further traces can be found in the Gillick v Wisbech 1986 legal case that blurred the legal age of consent by establishing doctors’ right to prescribe contraceptives to girls under 16 without their parents’ knowledge, where the girl was deemed mature enough.

Even as Foucault blurred questions of childhood sexuality, and Gillick opened the door to doctors condoning (safe) underage sex, pop culture was full of the voices of men pushing at legal restrictions on sexualising under-16s. It was 1981 when Ted Nugent released the song ‘Jailbait’, which includes the line “I don’t care if you’re just thirteen”. There are plenty more such works.

As an adolescent in the 1990s, I recall being beeped by van drivers from some time before 16. In 2002 a 15-year-old Charlotte Church took legal action against a website which was counting down the days until she turned 16 and could legally have sex.

And a quick straw poll of my Twitter followers asking for recollections of when they began to be hit on by adult men returned hundreds of replies, giving an average age of 10-12.

Would even more men be willing to admit desiring very young girls if it weren’t frowned upon? One study showed that men took longer to admit finding a female image attractive if he’d been told she was 14 or 15. This suggests that, unsurprisingly, men are more hesitant to give expression to desires they know are socially unacceptable. And the flip side of this is that, implicitly, we should make sure men are vigorously encouraged to go on repressing these darker desires.

But that’s not what either sex is encouraged to do today. Rather, both sexes grow up to an insistent drumbeat of ‘sex-positive’ feminism, which asserts (with Foucault) that all sexual expression is valid provided it’s consensual. And the bandwidth of that expression is considerably wider than it used to be, because children are exposed to porn around the age of 11 or even younger.

Studies show porn use normalises violent ‘sexual scripts’ for boys, while for girls pornography use is associated with participating in group sex, either voluntarily or coerced, and also agreeing to unwanted sex acts. (Presumably these register as ‘consensual’ and are therefore valid and empowering.)

Growing up amid such imagery, we find young women today expressing a desire for intimacy bound up with violence, such as in this TikTok video where a girl longs for “the type to give you forehead kisses but also the type to choke you”.

Meanwhile, on social media, teenagers claim casual sex is a game, emotional intimacy is cringe and drug and alcohol abuse is something to celebrate. It’s now easier to see why the Hull grooming gang case may have been difficult to prove.

Consider ‘Anna’, one of the victims, who was 16 when the abuse started. The fact that she was over 16 meant investigators reportedly had to show that she did not, in fact, consent to being threatened, bruised, choked and violently raped.

How are police supposed to tell the difference between consensual and abusive choking and rape, when we can’t agree sexual acts such as choking are bad or even reach consensus on the proper age at which someone’s deemed capable of consenting to them?

Scandal after scandal breaks, and we go on pretending this culture is fine and all we need is better ‘consent’ education or more effective policing. But it should be clear by now that ‘consent’ is no protection from predators.

And neither are the police. They can only punish clear and provable violations of commonly-held public norms, which have already taken place. We have so thoroughly stripped sex of norms that it often only becomes possible to demarcate rape in cases where a girl is so grotesquely underage or unwilling that no one could seriously argue she ‘consented’.

No one wants to confront this. Instead, every time the scandal bubbles up again we bicker a bit about racism and safeguarding, then go back to sexual liberation as usual. Because in practice, protecting young girls from the seemingly ineradicable minority of hebephilic predators doesn’t just look like handing out contraception or telling girls not to talk to strangers.

Along with tougher sentencing for abusers, preventive measures might mean restrictions on pubescent girls’ social lives, so they’re less exposed to opportunistic predators. Such an approach might also seek to get skimpy and figure-hugging clothing off the shop rails — especially in outlets aimed at adolescents.  It might call not just for ‘education’ on how to make sense of pornography, but serious efforts to suppress it — not just for children but everyone.

It might include not just ‘education’ in how and where to ‘consent’, or avoid pregnancy while leading a promiscuous life, but widespread social deprecation of sexual promiscuity. It might even mean re-evaluating the idea that it’s possible have both a stigma-free sexual culture and also public norms that keep predators away from young girls.

And even though all of these measures together might add up to greater protection from sexual abuse, some will claim they’re indistinguishable from the ‘patriarchal’ constraints on erotic freedom that sex-positivity has been working so hard, for so long, to do away with. Others will say I’m victim-blaming, and really what we need to do is teach rapists not to rape. But given that making rape illegal hasn’t stopped rapists raping, it’s hard to see what a few classes would achieve

As long as we keep resisting any constraint on our erotic freedom, we’re effectively asking young girls to be the change we want to see in the world. The cost of our ongoing failure to expunge the dark underbelly of male sexuality and attain liberated, empowered universal erotic utopia is counted on their youthful bodies.

The grooming gangs are a unique evil. The men who commit these crimes should be punished to the utmost. But the racialised atrocities conducted within those gangs are on us too: a grotesque caricature of a sexual culture in which we all collude.

Liberal adults demanded the right to sexual self-expression — including even loveless, violent, commercial, kinky, no-holds-barred or violent acts. Now we have it. And so do frightened, lonely, unloved, impoverished female children in depressed cities up and down the country.


Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.

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hayden eastwood
hayden eastwood
2 years ago

Mary raises some really good points. To me, this will always be a complicated terrain to debate because it lies on the fault-lines of many different conflicts. 

First, evolution favours men mating with fertile women, arguably as soon as they become fertile. Fertility is a function of biological maturity and not chronological age, so this creates inevitable problems for society to resolve, particularly given that human females are biologically mature long before they are emotionally mature. 

The OKCupid dating data show that men looking for sex on the app had a mean age preference of 22 years old. This was true whether the men were 16 or 66. If 22 is the average age that men prefer, it suggests that there is a sizeable minority that would prefer younger. 

Society has often had to intervene to protect young women from predatory men who would otherwise force themselves on women. Mary is correct to point out that many of these protective measures have been done away with because they were assumed to stem from an oppressive patriarchy. 

But I think the picture is more complicated than this. Modern feminism has a contradictory message: on the one hand it celebrates women having no sexual boundaries, and celebrates sexual transgression of mores as a good in and of itself. 

On the other hand, the same women who push for this are also, very often, those who push the #metoo movement, which is predicated on society intervening to protect women from predatory men. 

So, to me at least, this is a mixed message: “We want freedom to do whatever we sexually want, but we also want the patriarchy, which we hate, to step in, as and when we see fit, to protect us from the advances of low ranking men that we don’t want to mate with.”

To complicate things further, a few women have confessed to me that they have fantasies of being sexually overpowered by men. The only difference between their fantasies and actual r**pe, then, is that their fantasies involve someone they secretly wish to be sexually involved with. 

At the very least, the existence of such fantasies paints a very complicated picture of female sexuality, and suggests a precarious continuum between sexual freedom and sexual abuse.

As an aside, it is intriguing to me that the same women who admitted to having violent sexual fantasies, were also, on the surface, the most man-hatey feminists. It’s almost as if their feminism was the “lady doth protest too much” diagnostic underbelly of the very desires they harboured but rejected in themselves. 

As a society I think we should stop thinking of these problems as problems that can be overcome totally by one measure or another. They are problems as old as our lineage from primates, and they indicate a complex interaction of genes and culture, that produces uneasy sexual truces, in part determined by individual choices, and in part determined by the over-arching strictures of society.

We would be better to understand such problems in terms of tradeoffs between individual liberty and coercive societal norms, rather than assuming total sexual liberty and total sexual protection are simultaneously possible.

It is also a reality that some cultures don’t respect women and, therefore, see no reason to protect them from the advances of predatory men. Women who are not actively under the protection of a family are considered fair game to abuse in many of these cultures. In this respect the “conservatives” are right to point fingers at immigration and political correctness, the former for allowing in people who think this way, and the latter for excusing the misogynistic way they behave.

As Mary points out, the dark side of eroding social mores is that the most vulnerable in society are predated on to preserve the freedom of those who least need protection.

Last edited 2 years ago by hayden eastwood
Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago

That’s a great comment, perfectly complimenting Mary’s essay in my view, thanks to both of you.

hayden eastwood
HE
hayden eastwood
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Why thank you Claire 🙂

info599
info599
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

a

Last edited 2 years ago by info599
Yendi Dial
YD
Yendi Dial
2 years ago

Indeed, In Europe, in China, etc… kings used to get married (first marriage) very young (under 20) to as young as13 year old girls, lifespan was short. Nobody opposed this as long as they were pubescent. They are problems as old as our lineage from primates, and they indicate a complex interaction of genes and culture, that produces uneasy sexual truces, in part determined by individual choices, and in part determined by the over-arching strictures of society.

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago
Reply to  Yendi Dial

12 years as the age of consent was widespread across Europe up until the 18th/19th centuries, the enlightenment and industrialisation probably had something to do with the changing attitudes.
However despite that legal position, in England at least, most marriages happened at a more reasonable age, 20+ was not uncommon, because people were not stupid, 12 and 13 year old girls that got pregnant were not physically developed enough to give birth to live offspring and/or survive.
Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII, was married at the age of 12 to Edmund Tudor, gave birth when she was 13 and nearly died. She never had another child despite a long life and three husbands.

Last edited 2 years ago by Claire D
Vijay Kant
VK
Vijay Kant
2 years ago

“Women who are not actively under the protection of a family are considered fair game to abuse in many of these cultures.” That statement to me underlines the most dominant factor here. This can only change for the better if these cultures are coerced to assimilate and made to acquire western secular values over generations. A little humanist education like: Do not do to others you do not want others do to you, would go far.

This means no special full-time religious schools for the children of these cultures. One could argue that special full-time religious schools only perpetuates immigrant mentality of us-versus-them, and promotes further growth of inner-city ghettos defying any change, and giving fodder to grooming gangs conveniently hiding behind religious persecution.

Last edited 2 years ago by Vijay Kant
Andrew D
AD
Andrew D
2 years ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

‘A little humanist education like: Do not do to others you do not want others do to you, would go far’.
That sounds more like a Christian education than a humanist one. You’re quoting St Matthew’s Gospel.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
2 years ago

”We would be better to understand such problems in terms of tradeoffs between individual liberty and coercive societal norms, rather than assuming total sexual liberty and total sexual protection are simultaneously possible.”
Concisely, the central contradiction. Well put.
& liberalism in general is beginning to collapse under its central conceit of endlessly trying to maximize liberty, & mutual benefit, in all directions.

info599
info599
2 years ago

Hayden, would you like to elaborate on your proposal that “The only difference between their (women’s) fantasies and actual r**pe, then, is that their fantasies involve someone they secretly wish to be sexually involved with.”

Last edited 2 years ago by info599
hayden eastwood
HE
hayden eastwood
2 years ago
Reply to  info599

My point is just that the line between seduction and abuse can be blurred a bit in certain contexts. If a proportion of women find the idea of being overcome by a man erotic, it does pose questions about where the line is crossed from “acting out fantasies” to abuse. And I don’t have any answers as to how to go about addressing this question.

Last edited 2 years ago by hayden eastwood
info599
info599
2 years ago

Your overarching point then seems to be that the thoughts and actions of women, or feminism, is the place to look to understand rape and violence against women and girls, but it’s complicated. Or have I misunderstood?

Last edited 2 years ago by info599
hayden eastwood
HE
hayden eastwood
2 years ago
Reply to  info599

You seem to be projecting onto me what you imagine I’m saying, and then reacting to that.
In case there is any doubt, I am NOT saying that men should be free of accountability for their actions, or that women are responsible for men’s actions.
If you read what I am saying my point is rather nuanced. And if you have an alternative point of view, I welcome you putting it forward.

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
2 years ago
Reply to  info599

Maybe the women don’t so much want to be r@ped by a hot guy, more they would like to be s3xually dominated by said hot guy!

Penny Adrian
Penny Adrian
2 years ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

Big difference. Huge!

Alison Tyler
AT
Alison Tyler
2 years ago

The catastrophe that comprises our current sexual mores and social climate, reduces all respectful and humane individuals to tears. I cannot believe it has happened in my lifetime. I despair for my daughters and granddaughter.

Penny Adrian
Penny Adrian
2 years ago

Both men and women benefit from restrictive sexual norms.
Why?
Because female primates don’t fall in love, and most of them are FAR from monogamous (they’ll mate with anyone).
When it comes to gorillas, if a younger fitter male kills her old flabby mate, she will happily mate with the younger fitter male.
Young men produce more and better sperm, so young women (and older women) tend to be more sexually attracted to young men.
Let’s face it: ALL old people, both men and women, would be celibate if it weren’t for love.
Also – monogamy was clearly invented for the benefit of human males.
Why?
Because Mommy’s baby is Daddy’s maybe.
Let’s be glad that we’re human and capable of love, commitment, and empathy for those more vulnerable than ourselves.
Now excuse me while I go mate indiscriminately and fling my poop at the walls.

William Shaw
William Shaw
1 year ago
Reply to  Penny Adrian

“monogamy was clearly invented for the benefit of human males”
Not quite.
You are correct that the “baby is Daddy’s, maybe” but the main beneficiaries of monogamy historically are the mother and child.
Vulnerable pregnant and post-natal women depended on a reliable male for protection and support. In addition, support and protection for offspring would likely be absent if there was any uncertainty concerning who the father was.
Interestingly it’s likely that the development of monogamy was not a conscious decision as such, but rather an evolutionary development brought about by natural selection. Basically women who tended towards monogamy had a better chance of survival and so did their offspring.

Last edited 1 year ago by William Shaw
Michael Joseph
MJ
Michael Joseph
2 years ago

Really great piece (for the most part). I also found the responses to your twitter survey yesterday also pretty devastating (although sadly not surprising).
But. I do feel there is a tiny bit of unhelpful line-blurring and whataboutery going on here. To mention the grooming gangs and then to immediately jump to Epstein and then go from there to say the issue is a wider problem due to the increased sexualisation of the culture seems to me to be downplaying the specificity of the grooming gangs in a really unhelpful way. At the end of the piece you seem to clock this by saying the grooming gangs are ‘a unique evil’, but then immediately seem to say that those crimes are simply a distillation of the broader culture’s attitude to sexuality and underage girls.
I agree that our culture does have massive problems in this area. But I think the grooming gangs are a separate issue and they shouldn’t be used as a jumping off point to talk about these concerns. The grooming gangs are operating within a different cultural current, and even if we followed all the wise suggestions in this piece, such as banning pornography, getting skimpy clothes out of shops etc… the grooming gangs would still exist and would still be preying on young girls. To draw attention to that fact, and also to point out that it is a continuing problem within certain Muslim communities in the UK is also not some racist/nativist line (although racists and nativists no doubt have and will continue to jump on that bandwagon).
I think talking about grooming gangs and then trying to universalise the problem is, in its own inadvertent way, mirroring some of the attitudes of the moral cowards in the police, social services and local councils who knew what was going on but then ignored it or tried to make out that it wasn’t such a big deal. After all, everybody’s at it, aren’t they?
The grooming gang victims weren’t the victims of Topshop or porn. Linking these issues downplays the uniqueness of these crimes and muddies the water when it comes to the motivations of the perpetrators.
By all means let’s talk about how creepy our culture has become. We really do need proper solutions to this. But I don’t think it helps to lump all these things together.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
2 years ago
Reply to  Michael Joseph

Very well reasoned, thank you.

Richard Pearse
Richard Pearse
2 years ago
Reply to  Michael Joseph

My reaction exactly, Michael. It was as if Mary (whose articles I adore) was trying to downplay the fact that this mass gang rape phenomenon of unprotected girls was not intrinsic to some Muslim cultures (as nicely emphasized by Ayaan Hirsi Ali).

It was as if Mary was trying to avoid aspersions of “islamofobia “ (a nonsense word that has nothing to do with cultural realities “social facts”)

Emre Emre
Emre Emre
2 years ago
Reply to  Michael Joseph

Would you care to explain how it is different when Epstein gathers his friends to prey on under-aged vulnerable girls in a methodical and organised way to how a grooming gang operates – other than the group identity of the perpetrators and their wealth/influence level?

Last edited 2 years ago by Emre Emre
Michael Joseph
Michael Joseph
2 years ago
Reply to  Emre Emre

I think the experience for the victims involved isn’t different, in terms of one being better, one being worse. It’s all bad. But that’s not the type of difference we’re talking about. Obviously for every victim of abuse, the experience is horrific and stands alone. But when you’re trying to ascertain what’s creating the environment where abuse can occur and what are the bigger cultural movers creating that environment (as I think this piece is trying to do), I think it’s important to actually examine what’s going on, rather than lumping everything in together.
Although in my comment I was talking more about the differences between the broader sexualisation of culture and the grooming gangs, I do think there are differences between the Epstein cases and the grooming gangs, not least in terms of the attention they’ve received. Obviously the Epstein case is vile and horrific. But the reality is, the main reason (if not the only reason) it’s become a big deal is because it involves celebrities and politicians, along with private jets and islands. The scale is way smaller than the grooming gangs. However, the fact that there are still some newspapers and media outlets in the UK who will quite happily cover Epstein and hint at the cover-ups, but won’t touch grooming gang stories (or when they do, downplay it and couch it in euphemisms) is reason enough to differentiate it and to want this issue to not be subsumed in some broader examination of sexual misbehaviour.
But in terms of specific differences, I think you’ve highlighted some in your own comment (group identity and wealth/influence) to which I’d also add scale and the unique racial elements of the victims of the grooming gangs.
One more point linked to that. Regarding Epstein, we’re quite happy to talk about rich and powerful people using their wealth and power to indulge their venal appetites and abuse other people, because that’s a story as old as time. But a lot of people in this country are not happy to talk about a significant number of men from a particular cultural group deliberately targeting young and vulnerable white girls primarily because of their ethnicity. I can understand the reticence. Nobody wants to give fuel to racists. But this stuff has to be talked about and the reasons for it examined. Not to point the finger or demonise a group of people, but because being honest about this stuff and actually confronting problems is the only way to ensure it doesn’t keep happening.   

Emre Emre
Emre Emre
2 years ago
Reply to  Michael Joseph

Thanks for the reply. Firstly, I readily accept that there’s something unacceptable going on in parts of Britain, and the police seem unable to stop it. Ms Harington covers this anyhow.
What really took my interest here is this statement from you:

[…] targeting young and vulnerable white girls primarily because of their ethnicity.

Are you saying these men are targeting these young girls primarily because of some kind of ethnic/racial agenda? Like some kind of political act? Or am I misreading this – and you’re saying this is happening because it’s primarily white girls less protected from this by society (e.g. due to effects of today’s culture – in line with what Ms Harington says)? Or something else?

Last edited 2 years ago by Emre Emre
Michael Joseph
Michael Joseph
2 years ago
Reply to  Emre Emre

A political act? No. If you look at what was actually going on with these grooming gangs, you’ll see that in the main they didn’t target south Asian girls. Those girls were part of their community and were taboo. White girls, however, were outside the community and linked to the fact that there was (is) a widespread belief in sections of this community that white girls are sexually available and/or ‘slags’ (as some of them have disgustingly put it), they were seen as fair game.
The fact that the police knew what was going on and did nothing, and the fact that a number of the perpetrators knew that the police knew merely reinforced these vile beliefs and this vile behaviour.
The constraints that regulated the perpetrators’ behaviour with young women in their own community were seen as not being applicable to young white women who were outside their community. That’s something that needs to be examined and talked about. The tragedy is that the behaviour of the police and others did nothing but reinforce these beliefs and allowed the abuse to be more widespread and more long-lasting than it should have been. I don’t think we’ve seen the tip of the iceberg yet in terms of these cases. 

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
2 years ago

I generally agree with Mary’s point, though not this: “Gillick opened the door to doctors condoning (safe) underage sex”. It’s possible the doctors don’t condone underage sex, but think it’s preferable that a sexually active 15 year-old use contraception and not get pregnant.
Advocating “widespread social deprecation of sexual promiscuity.” made me laugh, as I grew up in the 50s & 60s when that was definitely the case. The difference between then and now is that now we have lost a strong, positive, shared concept of morality from which that widespread social deprecation of sexual promiscuity derived. We grew up with a ready-made, clear set of moral values (and we heard about them at school and every Sunday in Church, as well as at home). How do the kids of today develop a coherent, sensible, healthy set of moral beliefs?

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
2 years ago

“It’s possible the doctors don’t condone underage sex, but think it’s preferable that a sexually active 15 year-old use contraception and not get pregnant.”

A distinction without a practical difference.

Last edited 2 years ago by Arnold Grutt
Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
2 years ago

Meanwhile Durham University is busy destigmatising prostitution for young students who have only recently left home.

William Shaw
William Shaw
1 year ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

It’s not only Durham.
We heard about the launch of the Student Sex Worker Policy and Toolkit in December 2020. Many news sources ran stories in early 2021: March through May.

Sugar daddy-baby arrangements are booming, with increasing numbers of female students advertising on sugar websites. They see it as a time-efficient way to offload student debt. Several universities are offering support to students who want to explore sex work and many students are eagerly engaging. For example, in 2019, nearly 1000 female students at Cambridge were signed up to Seeking Arrangements, the top sugar-brokering site.

The Student Sex Work Project
http://www.thestudentsexworkproject.co.uk/
(Lottery Funded)

The Student Sex Work Project
http://www.thestudentsexworkproject.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/TSSWP-Research-Summary-English.pdf

“University offers advice to student ‘sex workers’ as living costs continue to rise”
https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/university-offers-advice-student-sex-23763099

UNI ‘PIMPS’ STUDENTS University gives advice to students on how to juggle SEX WORK with lectures
https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/14397714/university-advice-students-juggle-sex-work-with-lectures/

“Sugar baby reveals what it is like to have a sugar daddy in Cambridge”
https://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/whats-on/whats-on-news/sugar-baby-reveals-what-like-19921174

University of Leicester’s ‘student sex worker’ toolkit
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10084365/University-Leicesters-student-sex-worker-toolkit-sparks-furious-backlash.html

Leicester Student’ Union : Sex Work
https://www.leicesterunion.com/support/adviceservice/leicestertalks/a-z/sexwork/

The Student Sex Work Project
http://www.thestudentsexworkproject.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/TSSWP-Research-Summary-English.pdf

Jeremy Bray
JB
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago

Feminist always decry the low figure of successful rape convictions compared to the level of rapes reported without taking into account that what is required is to prove beyond reasonable doubt that something that is celebrated as pleasurable and liberating occurred without consent where explicit provable verbal consent is the exception rather than the rule.
Mary iHarrington is quite right that the more sexual liberation is celebrated and endorsed the more difficult it is to establish that in any particular case the necessary consent was beyond reasonable doubt absent.
When sexual history evidence is excluded it doesn’t result in juries assuming the complainant is as pure as driven snow rather it gives reign to the idea that perhaps she might have been up for it. – after all who knows what people get up to today. – and after all you have to be sure and who can be sure in this permissive climate.
It is not just the women who make false accusations who make achieving rape convictions harder, but all those men and women who joyfully and publicly celebrate their sexual liberation and normalise casual and weird sex make proving a particular instance was without consent harder to establish beyond reasonable doubt.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

I think the role of the internet should have been emphasised more.

Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago

I can’t believe that so many parents allow their kids unsupervised access to the internet. I can see no value in school kids having smart phones at all. A basic phone with no internet access is fine for emergencies. A family computer in the front room for research and so on is great. But giving kids unsupervised access to porn and all the other degenerate things online, not to mention corrosive social media products, and expecting them to grow up into healthy adults is pure fantasy.

Lesley van Reenen
LV
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

I can’t agree more. I very occasionally see or read content on the internet that messes with my head for days. And my profile was always rebel/liberal.

Claire D
CD
Claire D
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

Personally I would support legally restricting smartphone ownership to adults only, no chance of that though as yet. Supervised internet use by children requires parental devotion, which is not encouraged in our society at present, so no chance of that either. As Hayden says in her comment above the trade-offs required are not easy

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

Parents want their children to grow up happy and knowing they are loved. If you are part of an Amish community there is no problem in ensuring that your children are not exposed to sex and violence on the TV, internet and playstations because none of your neighbours or friends have these so the children don’t feel they are deprived compared to their friends. Dad is not being a meanie by not having a TV, PlayStation or computer. It is just normal.
Unfortunately, in 21st century Britain the social pressure is all in favour of pretty unrestricted access to these things. As a parent do I want my children to feel that I am a uniquely controlling parent who wants to impose my antiquated values on my children? It is not easy to resist the claim that everyone else allows their children to do this or that – particularly if further enquiry with other parents confirms that the restrictions you would like are not the norm.
Children are always going to want to do what adults do and having sex is just one of those things that are widely advertised as a desirable thing, despite the fact that while modern contraception has reduced the traditional risks it still involves all sorts of emotional, consequential and physical risks – particularly for the young and immature. If weird sexual practices appear on the basis of the internet to be within the normal range they will become more normal.
The pass has been sold.
Of course to a Muslim immigrant coming from a background where access to willing women is severely restricted the West appears to be a premature elevation to Heaven and the promised access to 1000 virgins eager to meet their sexual needs. The local authorities are not going to slaughter them for dishonouring the young women in their charge. The young women are of apparently low morals without a sense of self-worth and easily seduced or forced. The police are reluctant to intervene because of racial sensitivity or because proving a lack of consent is hard. Who cares? What is not to like.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jeremy Bray
Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

I agree Jeremy. At the moment we let our 9 year old daughter watch YouTube on the TV in the living room where we can supervise. She only gets to use the family ipad on school holidays and then only for an hour a day. These mild restrictions already mark us out as particularly strict – practically Victorian – among our peers. I know lots of good, loving parents who let their kids spend many hours a day on screens.
Our next battle will be secondary school and the demand for a smart phone. I am bracing myself for the fight to come!
It isn’t easy and it is depressing to feel that society has become both louche and censorious at the same time.
As for the Muslim grooming gangs, I think there should have been some serious fallout for the authorities involved – police, social workers etc -so as to make it clear that public safety trumps political correctness.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt M
Jeremy Bray
JB
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

It is not easy bringing up children particularly if your moral standards differs from those generally prevailing.
My wife tended to want to battle to preserve the line where she wanted to draw it whereas I was more inclined to accept the generally prevailing standards but ensure my sons knew the risks involved in the various choices they faced.
My sons received phones when their contemporaries received them – i.e. much earlier than they really needed them – as I didn’t want them to be the odd ones out. However, we talked about cyber bullying and when one of my sons encountered it he was able to handle it as just someone being idiotic and was able to discuss it without feeling he needed to shield me whereas he was more reluctant to mention it to my wife as he didn’t want her to be upset.
Again one of my sons was friendly with a boy who smoked marijuana. My wife’s instinct was to forbid him from seeing the boy whereas my focus was on emphasising the physical and legal risks involved in marijuana and drugs generally.
I didn’t monitor what they looked at on the internet but tried to talk to them so that if they came across something that was undesirable they would be likely to mention it and discuss it.
Your relationship with your daughter is the most important thing, and how far you battle with her over mobile phones and other issues should be guided by prioritising that – which will depend on her character as much as yours.
Best of luck in raising your daughter. As you can’t run alternative experiments in upbringing you can’t really know if what you do is for the best or not.

Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Great advice. Thanks Jeremy.

Stephen Spurdon
SS
Stephen Spurdon
2 years ago

A fine and thoughtful piece by Mary Harrington. But, as I read her piece and waded through the responses, I kept thinking ‘Why is there no mention of David Holbrook?’
His book ‘Sex and Dehumanisation’ was published in 1972. His premise was that sex had changed from an instrument for the expression of happiness and affection into an end unto itself. His reward for this study was basically to be cancelled by the ‘woke’ of the time – ‘the enlightened’. The response was all the more vicious because these same people had seen him as one of their own, for writing tomes such as ‘English for the rejected’ (1964).
I was particularly reminded of Holbrook when reading the final paragraph of the piece: “Liberal adults demanded the right to sexual self-expression — including even loveless, violent, commercial, kinky, no-holds-barred or violent acts. Now we have it. And so do frightened, lonely, unloved, impoverished female children in depressed cities up and down the country.” If he was still alive, Holbrook might have concluded ‘I told you so’.
The idea that sexual self-expression is a good thing and any form of repression is bad presupposes that the person doing the sexual self-expression is ‘good’. Of course, most of us can be bad at times; treating others as objects. But this is hardly new as others have explained. Not for nothing is prostitution referred to as the oldest profession – a transaction based on objectifying another and handing over cash instead of affection. Then there was the exposure of Victorian sexual hypocrisy and child abuse in Pearsall’s ‘The Worm in the Blood’.
A lot of comment has been made about the proliferation of pornography since the rise of the internet and the invention of smartphones, as well as the influence this has on children. It appears that the genie is now too big and profitable to be put back in the bottle.
And there is the problem with human nature: deny us something and we want it all the more. But Holbrook was not arguing for a simple reversion to repression and censorship. What he saw was how a few individuals [the likes of Foucault – to whom he does not refer as his intervention came later in 1976 with ‘The History of Sexuality’] had managed to invert moral codes to their advantage:
“The gravest problems are raised by the existence of a minority who have the capacity for moral inversion and destructiveness which, as I have tried to demonstrate in earlier works [‘The Masks of Hate’, 1971] they are quite capable of communicating through culture, and indeed are sometimes motivated to do so by an intense if perverted idealism.”
I think the more recent concept ‘pathological altruism’ is a more fitting a description of the mental processes that some go through in finding some justification for using children for sex.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago

Another author to read. Thank you. Never heard of him, so cancel culture seems to have been working rather well …. the Masks of Hate, in particular, seems to be exactly the sort of book I spent my late 20s and 30s looking for and reading. Despite it all, it never showed up on my lists of ‘things to read next’.

Last edited 2 years ago by Laura Creighton
Ian Cooper
Ian Cooper
2 years ago

Well, well, the sexual revolution hasn’t been so liberating and the promised freedom a bit of a con. It’s not that we should go back to the 50s, there is more candour and openness about sex and more pleasure. But what happened to sex connected to love and to trust and to producing children who could rely on you not to desert them and be around to go to the rec and kick a ball around with? MH is so right we have sexualised everything and what we do with what we have between our legs is a sacred freedom never to be challenged. Rubbish, we need to grow up and accept some decent limits and love our wives. Having a child who says, I love you daddy is worth so much more than any thing else.

Rasmus Fogh
RF
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago

It is quite true that it is not “possible have both a stigma-free sexual culture and also public norms that keep predators away from young girls.” Just like it is true that the more wild and varied sex acts are considered normal, the harder it is to prove beyond reasonable doubt that any given instance was rape. We should not go overboard in blaming pornography for the actual acts, though. The idea of ‘intimacy bound up with violence’ (BDSM) and other kinky practices existed before the pornography, and would persist after its removal. De Sade, anyone?

Maybe we should consider that things can be stigmatised and discouraged without making them illegal. Claiming that their practices are impossible to consent to would be very hard on a lot of consenting and eager BDSMers and other kinksters, who might be quite happy if they could just do their thing in peace without requiring society-wide approval. Even loveless, kinky, commercial or violent s*x can be quite precious if for one reason or another it is the only kind you can have. As for prosecutions, there is nothing wrong with requiring a higher standard for establishing consent for the more weird practices. The Ched Evans case provides a model. The final judgement in the saga seems to establish that he did actually have consent – within the limits of ‘not disproved beyond a reasonable doubt’ at least. That does not prevent us from deciding (as arguably the original judgement reflected) that if you step in uninvited in an ongoing party, shag without exchanging a single word, and then run away, consent will be presumed to be absent without additional evidence.

Last edited 2 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
Adam Bartlett
AB
Adam Bartlett
2 years ago

Lot’s of good and sadly Unheard points here. Possibly there would be strong support from parents for restrictions on selling “skimpy and figure-hugging clothing” to under 14s, for example.
 
For me though, the biggest issue was raised sort of as a side theme. The fact there are so many children growing up unloved. Sexual activity in childhood can have severe life long consequences for some – but for others it can be mostly harmless. Whereas severe childhood neglect seems to have much more consistent lasting negative outcomes – including often making girls more vulnerable to abusers, as Mary says.
 
Society can reduce the number of children growing up unloved if it choses. 21st century Education (including anti & post natal, not just school) has got much better at preparing people to be parents than it used to be. Sadly, a tiny % are perhaps incapable of giving love & affection to their children even under ideal circumstances. But there is a portion of working & even lower middle class parents who would do much better at raising children if they didn’t feel constantly overwhelmed by economic stress. We used to be better at addressing that before 2010. Something which some conservatives might not want to talk about.

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
2 years ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

“But there is a portion of working & even lower middle class parents who would do much better at raising children if they didn’t feel constantly overwhelmed by economic stress.”

Lefty rubbish. There is no demonstrable connection between these two, entirely unrelated, things.

Last edited 2 years ago by Arnold Grutt
GA Woolley
GA Woolley
2 years ago

‘But the racialised atrocities conducted within those (grooming) gangs are on us too’. No they are not. They are a specific feature of a religious code which awards men the bodies of women and girls who have been made their victims. These grooming gangs operate openly in their communities; how many from those communities report the abuses they are completely aware of? None. How many provide evidence? None. In fact, those girls from within the communities who reported abuse inflicted on themselves found that they were ostracised, threatened, and driven out.

Keith Jefferson
Keith Jefferson
2 years ago

One of the big problems here is that changes in sexual mores since the 1960s were largely instigated by upper and middle class liberals living comfortable lives and that the culture, as always, has fed down to the vulnerable lower classes. The effects of such cultural changes on these different groups are very different.
I see a similar situation with the tacit acceptability of drug use, which is common amongst middle class professionals (at least in London). They will take recreational drugs all weekend long, knowing that, come Monday morning, they will be back to their comfortable life and their comfortable job to carry on as normal. The drugs will be provided by likeminded friends – they don’t have to associate with common drug dealers. And if things get out of hand there will be a support network, or even rehab. Things are very different for drug users amongst the lower classes – they will often have no comfortable life to return to when they come down from their high, will have to interact with potentially violent dealers and will end up being cuckooed rather than in rehab when things get out of hand.
The same with liberal attitudes to sexuality. The middle classes can have their 50 Shades of Grey fantasies knowing that they will have recourse to lawyers and police investigations if things get out of hand, and the support of the MeToo movement if anyone acts inappropriately. The working class girls of Rotherham, Hull and other towns across the UK were never interested in 50 shades, had no recourse to lawyers and little or no support from the police (and were in some cases dismissed as ‘sluts’ by the police and social workers). And the MeToo movement was absolutely silent.
Mary blames the situation on ‘a subset of adult men (that) takes an intense sexual interest in very young girls’. Maybe this is true, although I suspect it would be a very small subset of men – if anyone mentioned that in the local pub they would be chased out of town. I would put it slightly differently: there is a subset of (almost always) men who will exploit the most vulnerable people for monetary and sexual gain, whether through drugs or enforced prostitution. It’s no different to old fashioned organised crime – it’s just that liberal attitudes to drugs and sexuality are making it a lot easier for the criminals, and that the inaction of the police and social workers are making it even more so, especially when the victims of such crime are from the lower orders. That the perpetrators of this criminality, whether they be drug gangs or grooming gangs, tend to come from particular ethnic groups is relevant. But even more significant is the social class of the victims. Ultra liberal attitudes to sexuality promoted by the upper classes, and the acceptance of such attitudes by the police and social services, have had devastating effects on the working class girls that were victims of these grooming gangs.

Colin Macdonald
CM
Colin Macdonald
2 years ago

I know of one chap who was hung upside from the rafters of his local pub and used as a human punch bag, this for “groping”. This in that bastion of White Male Privilege, Newcastle. I wonder what would have happened if he’d sexualy assaulted a girl. And it contrasts with the treatment Muslim child rapists receive in their own community. If all this behavior is down to general misogyny why do Muslim communities condone it while non Muslims condemn it sometimes violently

Martin Smith
MS
Martin Smith
2 years ago

That wonderfully transgressive progressive, revolutionary and much celebrated alternative magazine Oz was full of this kind of stuff. An example that stuck in my (then) 16 year old mind was a double page spread from the (in)famous Schoolkids Issue: ‘Jailbait of the Month’.

Emre Emre
ES
Emre Emre
2 years ago

This was very interesting and informative to read, I felt it did justice to the topic. I for one am very grateful to have Ms Harington writing on these pages. Hopefully articles like this help move the discussion to a saner place on this topic.
How feminism became a powerful agent of Foucauldian change in the world will probably be a mystery to be discussed for a long while.

Last edited 2 years ago by Emre Emre
Douglas H
Douglas H
2 years ago

Great article, thanks

Michael Askew
Michael Askew
2 years ago

There is an important issue being raised by Mary Harrington, but the article is marred by false dichotomies, logical non sequiturs and sweeping generalisations.
Firstly, the public concern about grooming gangs is not divided into two groups, each concerned by only one side of the problem. This is a false dichotomy – no serious person believes that there isn’t a safeguarding problem if teenage girls in “care” can be repeatedly sexually abused. Likewise it would be absurd to maintain that fear of accusations of racism and Islamophobia were not factors deterring decisive action by the police and local authorities.
Secondly, the author deduces that attraction to under age girls is a widespread problem because men declare reluctance to find such attraction if they know the girls are under age. The alternative explanation that the men surveyed believe that entertaining attraction to under age girls is morally wrong is not even considered.
Mary Harrington seems confused about whether there should be social stigma directed against some forms of sexual activity.. She seems to advocate stigma-free sex but protests against societal norms of sexual liberation. Which is it?
The author claims that society has failed to “expunge the dark underbelly of male sexuality”. How is that to be achieved? Is illicit sex only a male problem? Mary Harrington is addressing a real problem but one is left more confused that enlightened at the finish.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

To me, when anything is allowed to go, then anything will eventually go. Male homosexual intercourse used to be called sodomy, and illegal in many states, even if consensual, but now it is upheld as normal and even celebrated as being prideful.
Since we no longer abide by biblical standards, who is to say what the age of consent should now be? Perhaps it should be at a point after menstruation begins.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago

How about we try making ‘consent’ — at least for some of these things — a matter of signed, written consent?

Last edited 2 years ago by Laura Creighton
Rasmus Fogh
RF
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago

Could not possibly work in general.Few people would respect that law,so the practical effect would be that everyone is guilty. Quite apart from breaking off the proceedings to sign a legal document, how eager would people be to hand over a signed document proving they were into kinky sex practices? That would be prime blackmail material. Also, consent is (quite correctly) revocable at any point; if your signature is binding you would then have an obligation to follow through, if it is not the document is worthless. It just might work for a few very specific, rare practices where people could be assumed to know the rules and take the trouble to follow them.

Of course you could demand signing a specific, long-term contract as a condition for legally having sex. You could maybe call it ‘marriage’, but it is a bit at odds with the spirit of the times.

Last edited 2 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I think there is ground between ‘consent to’ and ‘promises to’. I think that people who are worried about blackmail for their kinky sex practices should probably stay away from them. But for the people who are choosing to do these things, there is a certain amount of protection, and it makes prosecuting those who do not have consent so much easier.
I remember that they said that nobody would break off to use a condom, too. It’s amazing what people can get used to.

Last edited 2 years ago by Laura Creighton
Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
2 years ago

There may be something to your idea in the case of choking & any other practices with a significant risk of death. It wouldnt have to be mandatory or even an official form – just both partners signing & dating a bit of paper saying they consent to choking. If the sex goes ok, no privacy risk, they destroy the paper. If someone dies, the paper gives legal protection. For deaths where the choker doesnt have said paper, one would hope it would weaken their case (a few months back there were several articles about chokers being consistently found not guilty – which is perhaps the correct result much of the time, but not always.)

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago

Yes M’Lud, I did sign the consent form but only to avoid being killed.
Yes, she did sign the consent form but must have taken it back while I slept.
Yes, I signed the consent form for sex in the morning but not for the evening.
Yes, I have lost the consent form but she definitely signed it.
Yes, it looks like my signature but it isn’t.
Yes, I signed for safe sex but he stealthed me.
Yes, I signed the consent form but it was for his team mate not him and I didn’t notice the change of name.
Yes, I know her signature looks a bit wonky but we were both a bit drunk at the time.
Yes, She definitely wanted sex but we didn’t have a pen and said it was OK
Yes, etc etc

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

I didn’t say that having written consent would mean that there still wouldn’t be a lot of cases that the prosecutors would decide to not pursue because the chance of getting a conviction was low. I just think that it would help them nail a good many more criminal predators, and cut down on a good number of tragic misunderstandings, too.

Rasmus Fogh
RF
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

It could not work in the general case, no, but, in fairness, it might just about work for choking. whipping, and the more painful BDSM practices. Basically it would make a category that would not be accepted as an excuse in a normal, drunken one-night-stand, so that anyone who wanted that could choose between getting the paperwork done, and an almost automatic conviction if his partner turned him in (or died).
It would at least be better than saying that certain things ‘could not be consented to’. Mind you, choking might be dangerous enough to ban outright.

Last edited 2 years ago by Rasmus Fogh