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Growing Up British

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Growing Up British

The sordid is all too typical. April 28, 2006

Not long ago, a defense lawyer asked me to prepare a medical report on a young woman, aged 18, who had nastily assaulted an elderly relative, with whom she was living. She had been drunk at the time, and in fact was already an alcoholic of some six years’ standing. She told me that when she and her friends were 12, they would ask adults to buy alcohol for them, since they could not legally buy it themselves. Apparently, many of the adults they asked saw nothing wrong in this, even at 11 AM.

She had also smoked marijuana daily since she was 13, and had had a period of habitual cocaine and amphetamine use. She claimed that the staff at the hostel for young women on bail where she was staying had told her that it was all right for her to smoke pot, so long as she refrained from other drugs.

Her biography was sordid, but no more so than many others I had heard. Not only had she never met her father, but she had no idea who he might be. She and her half-sister—an alcoholic and a drug taker, conceived during a one-night stand—had been sexually abused by one of their passing stepfathers-cum-baby-sitters. Her mother was a drug addict who had once got into trouble after being caught working while claiming social security benefits.

“What happened?” I asked.

“She had to stop working.”

Her mother had been violent toward her two daughters, throwing them down the stairs and beating them with a baseball bat. (The ratio of bats to balls in Britain must be the highest in the world.) Her violence ceased when the daughters were old and strong enough to blacken her eyes and break her nose.

She said that during the five years of her supposedly compulsory attendance at secondary school, she had attended no more than three months. Neither the authorities nor her mother minded; it is not surprising, perhaps, that her academic attainments were modest.

The young woman’s first boyfriend came to live with them when she was 14. Her mother had therefore connived at what the law still holds to be a sexual crime, since the age of consent in Britain is 16. This tolerance is by no means unusual in the neighborhood where they lived, known also for its violent abomination of pedophiles. The boyfriend, a year older than the young woman, was drunken, possessive, jealous, and violent.

The young woman had been thrown out of her mother’s household not long before the assault on her relative. She had caught her latest boyfriend, 20 years old, in bed with her 38-year-old mother. The day I saw her to prepare my report, her mother had given birth to her half-sister by her former boyfriend. This boyfriend—drunken, possessive, jealous, and violent—had not wanted her or her other half-sister around, and had insisted that her mother chuck them out, which she did to preserve her “relationship.”

I asked the young woman what her ambition was, what she wanted in life.

“A husband,” she said, “children, a nice house, and a job.”

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