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Extract from my Letter to Nadine Dorries MP   June 2011

15th June 2011
Dear Mrs Dorries MP,
Two views for which you are widely known in the public realm are commendable:
·our culture is over-sexualised, providing an
abusive environment in which our young grow up;
·enforced sexualised female dress codes in the
work place, such as the wearing of high heels, are
damaging.
I believe these are two aspects of a wider web of societal problems related particularly to the free market economy in which we are embedded.   However, I am not writing to debate the complex nature of global capitalism with you.  
What has deeply concerned me is the raft of ideas you have vocalised regarding the teaching of sexual abstinence to girls (in particular) in sex education, and your reasoning for this:

 

....
 
Most worrying is your reasoning, and your apparent lack
of knowledge about, Child Sexual Abuse.    I refer to
comments you made on the Vanessa Feltz show:
"A lot of girls, when sex abuse takes place, don't realise until later that that was a wrong thing to do … Society is so over-sexualised that I don't think people realise that if we did empower this message into girls, imbued this message in schools, we'd probably have less sex abuse."
In the light of my doctoral thesis which was based on empirical research with survivors of abuse, the following crucial issues are raised for me by your comments:
  • You seem to be confused about who is responsible for the carrying out of sexual abuse.  The “wrong thing to do” was not done by the girl who was being abused, but by the perpetrator, who was a more powerful, older person.  

  • A perpetrator will ensure that a child cannot say ‘no’.    The child usually knows at the time that what was happening was wrong, but COULD NOT STOP IT.    It is the issue of power that is at the heart of sexual abuse, not sex per se.

  • One great difficulty in recovering from the damage of sexual abuse is that the victim feels guilty and ashamed, because the perpetrator deliberately implicates the child in his/her own victimisation; e.g. gives them presents; or suggests that a child was ‘asking for it’.   The pernicious thing is that abusers usually pick a child who is lonely and needs affection. 

  • When abuse has taken place, it is even more devastating when other adults around the child also hold him/her (even partly) responsible.[1]  

Thus, abusers over-sexualise the children and suggest to them that they are choosing this (which they are not, they cannot), in order to draw them into a tightly-bounded relationship which is very difficult to break free from.    

Your comments over-sexualise girls in the same way, seducing them into thinking that they have the power to choose, indeed to stop these awful things from happening to them.   The conclusion drawn is that, if the girl doesn’t stop it, it must be her fault.

In a letter like this, the issues regarding over-sexualisation are too complex to discuss.   However, what I really would like to see Members of Parliament doing, is tackling the real issues:

i.e. standing up against the powers which want to keep our culture (and our children) over-sexualised. 
Over-sexualisation is not in the hands of children, but of powerful adults.   It is in the hands of the powerful corporations who need girls and women (and more increasingly men) to think they must look a certain way; act a certain way; spend all their hard-earned cash on cosmetics, plastic surgery etc. to keep up the appearance of being young, thin, sexually attractive and available, well into middle and even old age.  
You and I might agree that children are being abused by this over-sexualised culture.   Let us not put the responsibility back onto them: they are too powerless to complain.  They are the soft and easy target for powerful adults.  Let us stand up to the bullies and abusers who are the real culprits: those who make money and retain their power at the expense of the vulnerable.
I would gladly discuss these issues with you further, but appreciate your busy schedule.
With best wishes
 

 

Rev Dr Susan Shooter

cc. Dan Rogerson MP

 

 

[1] For further information please see James Poling, 1991, The Abuse

of Power, Nashville Abingdon;  Suzanne M. Sgroi,1989 ‘Stages of

Recovery for Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse’ in Sexual Abuse

Treatment for Children, Adult Survivors, Offenders, and Persons with

Mental Retardation: Vulnerable Populations, Vol. 2, ed. Suzanne M.

Sgroi, New York: Lexington, 111-130.

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