The U.K.’s lead Police officer for Child Protection has expressed support for schools that insist girls, as young as four years old, wear modesty shorts under their summer dresses.
Quite aside from the outcry this has provoked on social media about ‘body-shaming’ – I would like to suggest that this senior police officer has missed the point entirely.
Firstly, modesty shorts wouldn’t have made the slightest bit of difference to my situation. I was abused by a member of my own family, on many occasions, whilst wearing many different items of clothing. A pair of modesty shorts wouldn’t have put a stop to his desire to abuse. Neither would a burka, a long skirt, a pair of jeans, boy’s shorts or a sack.
They certainly would have been no barrier to the act of abuse. Nothing would. I could have worn a suit of armour and he still would have found a way.
Secondly and most importantly, it is not a child’s responsibility to change the way they dress or their behaviour, to avoid being sexually abused.
Dressing modestly is practised across some religions. We already know that child sexual abuse occurs in all cultures, religions and across all socio-economic backgrounds. Dressing modestly does not stop an abuser, and this support of the enforcement of extra items of clothing, by someone in this position, concerns me. It is a clear message that girls must adapt to a male world, in order to keep themselves safe from harm. It’s offensive to female survivors. Male survivors must be incredulous. “What about the boys?” they must be thinking. What should they wear to prevent sexual molestation? modesty shorts on top of shorts?
Who is this targeted at exactly? Who are these predators that we need to protect our girls from? Little boys? Male teachers? Perhaps the schools are under the false impression that abuse is most likely to be perpetrated by a random paedophile, hanging around the school gate, keeping control of their perverted desires until the moment a small female child does a handstand and shows her knickers.
What about the girls who don’t conform: the ones who go to school on a hot day, dressed in a cotton gingham dress. If they are then targeted by a paedophile , is it their fault if they’re molested?
What message does this send to boys? If you don’t educate boys, when they’re little, about consent and the respect of women , then it might be too late. They will grow up and, inevitably see a girl on a night out, maybe a bit worse for wear, perhaps wearing a low cut top and a short skirt. Society can hardly hold them accountable for their uneducated actions, when that same society endorses the idea that they shouldn’t have to exert any self-control.
What would the police officer and his team think, of the teenage girl, dressed ‘immodestly’, attacked by the teenage boy who couldn’t control his desire to rape? Presumably they would think it was the girl’s fault.
Actually, the message is clear to everyone: boys – if you can’t keep your hands, eyes, comments to yourself don’t worry, it’s not your responsibility to control yourself. Girls : stop provoking a predatory response. Cover up. Be careful. Watch yourself. Control your behaviour. Amend your dress.
This leading police officer is quoted as saying:
‘My view is that anything that can be done to ensure that young girls feel more secure has got to be good news, even modesty shorts, but the culture in schools has got to change at the same time.’
This is flawed logic. Backing modesty shorts in school is doing the direct opposite to tackling misogyny and sexual harassment across wider society. It is a watered down version of short skirts = rape debate but for children as young as four years old.
I don’t know why this man got the job of chief protection officer as surely this role should be given to someone with an understanding of the wider issue at hand? Maybe it was a passing comment that he now regrets, having witnessed the outcry on social media? If not, perhaps this role should be given to a police officer with lived experience of child sexual abuse?
Finally, I would like to invite this officer concerned to speak to me directly. The Flying Child Project includes a network of survivor activists who would be more than happy to help educate him on child sexual abuse, predator behaviour and best practice for prevention. It sounds like he needs all the help he can get.