Rebuild the wall around childhood

Several centuries ago, there was little division between childhood
and adult life. Even in Victorian times, the very young among the
lower classes were described as “rioting sexually” and drinking

Relative affluence, however, has meant that – with varying degrees
of success – society has attempted to build a wall around childhood
to protect the young not from themselves but from the appetites of
their elders.

Gradually, that defence is being dismantled. In this country, the
sexualisation of the young, linked to the pursuit of profit,
appears to accelerating fast. Thirty years ago, for instance, the
heroines in girls’ comics, such as Bunty and Girl’s
, were adventurers and risk takers. Now, they shop –
and look pretty in a young woman way.

In the courts of law, this pretence of sexual knowingness is too
often read as the real thing by judges who ought to know better.
Twelve year olds are still accused, although not in the dock, of
“leading” a man on – as if the accused has no will of his own.

Thousands of miles away, on Pitcairn Island, a group of men,
including mayor Steve Christian, a direct descendent of Fletcher
Christian who led the mutiny on HMS Bounty, are accused of sexually
abusing women and under-age girls.

Fletcher has been charged with six rapes. Two of his alleged
victims were aged 12 at the time. He is a powerful man, captain of
the largest boat on the island, which brings in supplies to the
island’s 50-strong community.

One of the island women has said that there is a long-standing
culture of young girls being initiated into sex at the age of 12 or
13. “The adult men would say that the young girls needed to be
broken in.”

On Pitcairn, the practice of older men violating the young is
deemed by some as custom. Here, the same invasion of childhood is
underwritten by consumerism. Both are only excuses for a certain
kind of masculine behaviour driven by greed, power and,
paradoxically, profound insecurity.

The view in allegedly egalitarian societies should be an obvious
one: girls (and, for that matter, boys) are physically able to have
sex long before they are psychologically prepared or mature enough
to negotiate the terms of engagement.

The wall of childhood must be reinforced. The message to the
predators? Stay away.

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