Since the Jimmy Saville scandal in 2012, there has been a succession of historical cases of alleged sexual abuse perpetrated by figures in the public eye. These cases go back to the 70's when our culture tolerated sexism as part of life, and it is difficult not to believe bystanders must have 'turned a blind eye'.
In the past 50 years, Britain has become an increasingly mixed culture, with many different beliefs and values. While this enriches our society in many ways, diversity relies on tolerance and acceptance. Sexual politics vary across the globe. We have learnt women are stoned to death in Pakistan, a pregnant woman faced the death penalty in Sudan for choosing her own husband, and over 200 Nigerian school girls remain missing since abduction in April. There is easy access to hardcore porn, and the numbers of trafficked sex workers continues to rise.
As health workers, it is easy to feel saturated with bad news and to feel intolerant towards archaic traditions. While respecting others' customs, differentiating between right and wrong can blur, particularly when our own beliefs are challenged in the workplace.
Recently, I had a 14-year-old girl brought in, reluctantly, to my clinic by her mother. Her mother requested I verify the girl's virginity, after she had discovered her daughter had been seeing a boy in her class. The girl was embarrassed and very unhappy. While the mother clearly cared for her daughter, and probably had her best interests at heart, I did not feel comfortable with the request. It felt wrong.
Within clinical settings, there are not always clear rights or wrongs when considering traditional values. Discussing awkward cases with the appropriate colleagues is a first step to dealing with them.
Present day problems of abuse are a different cohort to the 70s. They are more complex with lots of grey areas. We can only do the best we can without imposing our own prejudices and by not turning a blind eye.