After a judge frees six men convicted of attacking two 12-year-old girls, saying they were led on, one of the victims talks about the sickening events of that night...
At first, she is almost too nervous to speak, but with her mother’s gentle encouragement, she tentatively begins to find the words.
She hopes, she says, that ‘people won’t judge her’ or think she is ‘messed up’ or that she is a ‘bad girl’.
‘I’m really not,’ she says pitifully.
That a 13-year-old girl should even feel the need to defend her reputation and character in such a way is perhaps the saddest aspect of what you are about to read. Katie (not her real name) was just 12 when she and a friend, also aged 12, went with six young men to a park in Reading where ‘something terrible’ happened.
Sadly, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what that ‘something terrible’ was.
The six men — all promising local footballers — claimed they thought the girls were at least 16, but they were subsequently convicted of statutory rape because, in the eyes of the law, the girls were unable to give their consent.
Last week, though, the defendants were controversially freed from jail after the Appeal Court ruled that the girls had ‘wanted sex’.
In other words, according to the judgment, Katie and her friend — both just 12, remember — were not really victims at all. Worse, it gave credence to the view, in the eyes of some, at least, that they were actually to blame for getting the six footballers, aged between 18 and 21, including a former member of Reading FC’s academy, into trouble and ruining their careers. Already, Katie has received a string of hateful text messages.
‘It’s all your fault,’ said one particularly vile response. Another asked: ‘How can you live with yourself?’
‘It didn’t make me feel very nice,’ says Katie.
The incident in the park, and its aftermath, have been a personal tragedy for Katie, who is now receiving counselling.
But the tragedy spreads wider, for the case also exposes the increasing sexualisation of children and the sickening culture of group sex, which somehow seems to have become acceptable behaviour for a growing number of predatory teenage males. Anyone who is in any doubt should read the comments of the original trial judge, who said that the six accused standing in the dock in front of him in March this year had treated Katie and her friend ‘as if they were pieces of flesh’, before sentencing them to two years.
The judge’s words seem especially chilling when you meet Katie.
She is in her school uniform, sitting anxiously in the living room of her home. Her exceptionally pretty features are framed by a sweet brown bob. Katie loves photography and is getting a camera for her birthday. She is doing well at school. One of her favourite TV programmes is EastEnders. In her bedroom, which is as neat as a new pin, there are CDs of High School Musical and 17 Again, starring teen heart-throb Zac Efron. In the corner is a guitar.
‘I’m not very good,’ she says modestly.
‘Yes, you are,’ her mother says proudly.
Her parents split up when she was a baby, but she sees her dad regularly.
She lives with her mum and step-father, who runs his own business, in a detached house in a ‘picture postcard’ resort in the West Country. They moved there from their native Reading in 2009.
Katie, like many girls her age, has begun to wear make-up. She looks older than 13, but does not seem precocious in any way. On the contrary, when we meet, she is softly spoken and endearingly shy.