I read today of a disturbing court case regarding a vulnerable 15-year-old girl in state care who has been groomed by adult men, via social media, to meet with her in hotel rooms where they have subsequently raped her. The girl, who is said to have a “mild intellectual disability”, was plied with drugs – to the extent that she said she was “coked out of it” – and assaulted so badly that she required medical attention. It seems that she managed to convey to hotel staff that she was injured. According to the court case reports, she had been “exposed to physical and sexual violence” from an early age. Now in state care, this is a child who has suffered abuse from her early home life and is who continues to be extremely vulnerable.
It was my friend who drew my attention to this case. She sent me a voice note: had I heard about it? I confessed I hadn’t: not really. I saw some uproar on Twitter about how it was reported in the media, particularly by the Irish Times. O yes, I was able to say back to her: I saw about that all right, but I’d felt too flattened, too dismayed to engage with it: another regular misreporting of rape in the media, and in a “newpaper of record” at that. Back in 2018, with the Belfast rape trial, thousands marched in protest. It highlighted how prevalent and ingrained and everyday rape culture is, and victim blaming, and how we all can so easily perpetuate it, or, stop it. Language matters. Victim blaming is part of the problem. There have been many cases since where sexual abuse of women has not been taken seriously, yet still. And here we are today with another case, this time a child. A girl.
Reading today about how the Irish Times reported on this case, and the Irish Independent no better, is disturbing.
The Irish Times deleted their article: the link just doesn’t work now. I find this distinctly unusual. I provide the entire piece below, transcribed from the print edition for posterity, lest we forget or airbrush this: seeming to accept their part in victim-blaming, they published an apology to say that “it was not the intention of The Irish Times to imply the victim was in any way culpable”.
IRISH TIMES 25th August 2020: published article since deleted from Irish Times website
“A fifteen-year-old deemed at high risk of sexual exploitation was reported to have been “coked out of it” while spending the night at a Dublin City Centre hotel with older men, the High Court has heard.
The girl who has a history of absconding from placements, is believed to be visiting hotel rooms around the city meeting adult men and engaging in sexual acts, without using protection in exchange for drugs and alcohol.
Following the most recent incident, which took place earlier this month, the teen is reported to have told staff at the hotel in question that she had unprotected sex with two or three men who provided her with cocaine.
She said she was “coked out of it” and suffered physical injuries due to the violent nature of the intercourse and required medical attention.
It was the latest in a number of incidents which have lead to fears for the girl’s safety and well-being, the court heard.
At the High Court on Tuesday Mr Justice Richard Humphreys granted orders allowing the Child and Family Agency (CFA) place the girl, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, at a secure unit for troubled teens.
The order was granted and the case was adjourned”
Straightaway, from the first line, we are into victim blaming: because of her clear vulnerability, she is deemed to be “at high risk of sexual exploitation”: at the hands of man who just can’t help themselves, clearly, due to her vulnerability. That, is rape culture: the part where we talk about how people need to avoid getting raped instead of talking about how men should not rape.
Next, in the same sentence, using her own words that she was “coked out of it”, is victim blaming, and again, plays into the narrative that because she accepted drugs, that she was more at risk, at the hands of those same men who have not been taught how to not rape. And all in that one, first sentence, is the line ‘while spending the night … with older men’.
‘Spending the night.’ What they meant to say,instead of this sidestepping fluff, was ‘while being abused by older men.’
The piece goes on to say she had a history of absconding – again, victim blaming – to go visiting hotel rooms around the city – like a cat burglar?! – “meeting adult men and engaging in sexual acts, without using protection in exchange for drugs and alcohol.” As if to say she was preying on them, these defenseless men who have not been taught how to not rape.
I pause here, before I dissect this line, to highlight that there is a reason, I think, why I did not engage with this piece until today, because there is so, so much wrong with this case, and this reporting of it, that it is exhausting and exasperating to keep up with. And yet this is the lived experience of a young teenage girl in the care of our state. I go on: “meeting adult men and engaging in sexual acts, without using protection in exchange for drugs and alcohol.” A 15-year-old who meets with adult men in hotel rooms is groomed to do so, and we do not say that she was “engaging in sexual acts” because to do so is, again, is victim blaming and avoids the truth of the matter, which is that she was raped. Again in the piece, we read that she “suffered physical injuries due to the violent nature of the intercourse” – the word intercourse is completely incorrect here, because it assumes consent.
But this was rape. This word rape is not mentioned anywhere in the article, nor even is the word abuse regarding what happened to her in the hotel rooms. The words are seemingly unmentionable.
So they have apologised, and they can go yet much further, by highlighting the injustice to her, as I endeavour to; they can consider their own standards in relation to rape culture and the role they have to play in stopping it, or perpetuating it.
Next to the Irish Independent reporting of the case: their piece is still online, with no apology, correction or clarification: but I can see that they changed the headline, which initially read ‘Vulnerable Girl (15) had sex with men in hotel for drugs and … ‘
Rape culture right there.
She did not have sex, which implies consent. She is a child. She was raped. And the victim blaming is there again: the “exchange” for drugs and alcohol. They realised their mistake, or had their attention drawn to it, and changed the headline to something they thought more correct, “Teenage girl exposed to exploitation and drug abuse placed in secure care. But the piece is still rife with victim blaming.
They realised their mistake, or had their attention drawn to it, and changed the headline to something they thought more correct, “Teenage girl exposed to exploitation and drug abuse placed in secure care. But the piece is still rife with victim blaming.
Even in the wake of the Belfast rape trial, tolerance of rape and sexual violence is alive and well in our culture, as demonstrated by both of these national newspapers. The representation in these articles is an injustice piled on grave injustice.
What of the perpetrators? No mention of them in either paper? I understand that the pieces, framed as they were in terms of devastating and dangerous, rape-culture-perpetuating victim-blaming – were in reference to the specific court case of the girl’s care placement, which is separate to any criminal investigation of the perpetrators. I read elsewhere that “Gardai will be asked to investigate abuse allegations.”
I read that the judge granted an order allowing the Child and Family Agency to place the girl in a “secure unit for troubled teens.” I can’t help but think of the fictitious “St Brutus Secure Centre for Incurably Criminal Boys”. Yes, reader, they locked her up. And I can’t help but anguish at the trauma experienced by this child, and the staggering scale to which she has been let down so many steps along the way by people who are supposed to care for her.
Quite apart from the abhorrent representation of her case in the Irish Times and the Irish Independent of what happened to her, a child in state care has been gravely abused and ultimately let down. At the very least, there must be a Garda investigation.
My friend wondered today, why is there not more outcry about this? Why indeed I wonder. Is it buried in all the talk of #golfgate and the pressing concerns of Covid and the kids returning to school for the first time this week? Is it just another rape case? Who vouches for her? For my part, I kind of wrung my hands at it, as I tend to do. I write this piece today as a measure not to lose sight of it.