I can hardly imagine a sadder title for a report than this. Such an indictment on our society, vulnerable young people let down in so many ways by so many people. Here are some words from the introduction to the report:
We cannot afford to delude ourselves into thinking that the disturbing reality exposed in this report is confined to just a few trouble spots. It is hard not to feel despair when reading this report. But we cannot afford the luxury of despair. The time for action is now.
This report is above all about the abuse of power. Power and control exerted by those who perceive themselves to be strong against those perceived as weak. Difficult as it may be to accept, the boys who are gang-involved and perpetrate this violence are also invariably powerless within the wider context of society. They grow up on the margins, frequently living in fear, inevitably exerting their power where they can, invariably in perverted ways. The final message therefore is that each of us has a role to play in combating the attitudes exposed in this report. From national and local government through to communities and individuals, we must support boys and young men to value healthy relationships and to understand ‘consent’. We must work with all children to ensure women and girls are treated with respect, that there is a clear message that the sexual objectification of females will not be tolerated, and that children are brought up with hope and opportunities, channelling their energies and resourcefulness for their own and society’s good.
It makes gruelling reading and made headlines in most of the media yesterday but it needs to be more than yesterday’s headlines. So often there is a knee-jerk reaction to a report such as this but we need long term systemic change. An unequal society where people do not feel as if they have a stake breeds problems. The lack of hope in a future which has a purpose and which sustains young people’s self-esteem is problematic.
Thirty years ago I was working in a home for young women in south London. I still remember one of them saying to us as it became apparent that she was pregnant that she hadn’t told anyone she had been raped because she didn’t think anyone would believe her. I was saddened then and am sadder still that thirty years on it is probably even more difficult to be a young woman with the proliferation of expectations, media images, misogyny and bullying which is so much more prevalent now than when I was a young woman.
I regularly pray your Kingdom come on earth as it is heaven, as Christians and as churches we need to be joining our voices and actions with those who are trying to make a difference. I am grateful for those I know, particularly the women who are engaged in a process of conscientization about such issues and I have a renewed determination to work for society where the words “It’s wrong but you get used to it” no longer need to be spoken.