I know from my own experience how difficult it is for victims to speak up, so when they do it is vital that we listen, believe and treat them with respect
Horror creates the before and after – Dunblane, Columbine, Hungerford, Rotherham.
Rotherham stands apart for many reasons: the sheer number of perpetrators; the sheer numbers involved (some survivors, some, sadly, inevitably victims) – 1,400 conservatively estimated – the contents of two state secondary schools or 127 school football teams. But there is a more devastating reason it stands alone: the resounding silence. The countless children who were brave enough to come forward at the time and afterwards, who were disbelieved, punished, mocked, accused and summarily dismissed.
We are told to keep quiet from the earliest, pre-verbal stages of life. Children should be seen, not heard. Don’t answer back. You have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Don’t speak until spoken to. Put up and shut up.
And then a child, doused with petrol and threatened to be set alight, gang-raped and forced to watch others suffer the same, digs deep down and somehow finds the extraordinary courage to stand up and say “this happened to me”. She risks the all-encompassing shame, the reliving and recounting of unimaginable horrors, the video evidence, diagrams of who did what and where, being questioned repeatedly by adults trying to pick holes in her story, the blame, recrimination, taunts, insults; the final, ghastly ripping of the child out of a child. She does it anyway.
I didn’t. I wasn’t that brave. I waited 25 years before going through all that. I was finally heard and believed, and the police tracked down and charged the teacher who raped me. But pick any one of those 1,400 children and look at their experience of the aftermath of abuse and hang your heads in shame.
There is a large section of society for whom talking about child abuse is in itself as bad as child abuse. We are complicit in the shaming, silencing, blaming and castigating of those who are our most defenceless and vulnerable, and it must not, can not, should not stand any longer.
No good can come out of the Rotherham inquiry. There are no mitigating circumstances or silver linings. There is no upside. But there is, once again after the Westminster paedophile dossier, Jimmy Savile, Kincora, Rochdale and too many others, an opportunity to make a commitment, clearly and compassionately, that any child who is brave enough to say the unspeakable will be heard, believed and treated with respect.
That does not mean those accused should be tried through the media, castigated or emotionally lynched before due process has been afforded. It means that those who commit these acts will be held accountable, not shielded and protected. And that the starting point for those dealing with the alleged victims will be one of credibility and honour.
Abuse thrives on silence. It exists because those who have endured it believe at a cellular level that they are in the wrong. They believe they are inherently evil. They believe it is their fault. Is that any surprise given the monstrosity of the Rotherham case?
Source: The Guardian