Culture should never excuse exploitation

Yvonne Roberts argues that excusing people’s
behaviour because “it’s cultural” will leave the vulnerable without

In May last year, Malcolm Hayes, 38, a Kent
headmaster, and his wife Paula fostered Rhoxan, aged 15. She had
been expelled from schools in the past but now flourished at her
new special needs school.

However, Rhoxan’s sister, Zoey, 26, soon
became concerned about the relationship between Hayes and her
sister. Last Christmas, at Paula’s request, Rhoxan returned to her
mother’s house. She and Hayes met secretly. Hayes subsequently
separated from his wife, bought a flat and two months ago, Rhoxan,
now 17, moved in. Zoey made a complaint but police are unable to
take action since Rhoxan is over 16 and no longer a foster

Hayes, who had been suspended from his job,
has returned to his primary school. Zoey says of Hayes: “He has
taken advantage of Rhoxan’s adoration for him as the first father
figure in her life. He has totally brainwashed and violated a
vulnerable young girl when he should have been treating her like a
daughter not a lover.”

Hayes is guilty of a profound breach of trust.
Yet, there will be no comeback. This exploitation of damaged
teenagers by the much older male isn’t about romance but about
immature men who can only cope with the uncritical attention of the
inexperienced young. Could Hayes’s behaviour be described as a
“white, western cultural thing”?

A girl of 14 arrives from the Caribbean to
live with her mother and is raped by her stepfather who is
eventually imprisoned. Rejected by the mother, she is now sixteen,
living alone with her baby by a man who has recently fathered three
other children. The girl is the most junior of the four young
mothers. A guardian ad litem requests intervention in the
relationship and more support for the girl. She’s told by the
social worker that this is unnecessary, “…It’s a black cultural

The same excuse for inaction is laced through
the Victoria Climbie inquiry and will, no doubt, resurface if
British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering obtains its wish for
proper regulation of the private fostering system to protect up to
10,000 children, many from West Africa, who are now privately

The mantra “…It’s a cultural thing…” isn’t
about racial sensitivity, as is claimed, but about inaction. It is
a shameful excuse that ought to be banned since it allows adults –
white, black and brown; male and female – to undermine a young
person’s independence and sense of worth and distort their notions
of what an adult’s love and protection ought to mean.

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