Ordinary words struggle to convey the human consequences of child abuse, and committee-speak is even less likely to do justice to its victims
Editorial Guardian/UK November 2012
Ordinary words struggle to convey the human consequences of child abuse, and committee-speak is even less likely to do justice to its victims. The home secretary headed for the Commons to announce the seventh and eighth institutional inquiries launched since the Jimmy Savile paedophilia allegations came to light – these concerned abuse in care homes in north Wales, and the possible inadequacy of an earlier report into this. Listening to the bickering about the scope, powers and terms of reference, it was hard to recall that the issue here was real individual men violating individual children for their own ends.
Counterintuitive as it may be, however, this is a problem that can only be tackled by addressing institutions and culture. After all, witch-hunts against individual paedophiles have been tried in the past. The News of the World's name and shame campaign came and went in 2000, causing chaos without preventing or even exposing the sort of abuse that is currently coming to light. For the reality is that a great deal of the damage is and always has been done behind institutional walls. Eileen Fairweather explains on our comment pages how in care homes these walls are built up out of deference to abusers and disbelief of their wards. From boarding schools to the Catholic church and now the BBC, there are signs of the same story playing out – the powerful closing ranks, and the powerless keeping quiet or speaking out without being heard.
The institutional questions that demand a response range from the specific – who on Earth handed Jimmy Savile Broadmoor's keys? – to more diffuse concerns. The weekend remarks by the retired head of the Duncroft approved school for troubled girls, in which she dismissed former pupils' claims about Savile as "wild allegations by well-known delinquents", tell you everything you need to know about the culture of contempt towards vulnerable youngsters among certain professionals who were supposedly looking after them. Another problem is the traditional presumption, rooted in two centuries of English common law, that child witnesses could not be trusted. This was overturned by statute in 1988, but perhaps it took longer for the culture of the courtroom to change.
The reported dismissal of abuse claims now back in the spotlight by Sir Ronald Waterhouse, the judge who led the original north Wales inquiry, as "embarking on the realm of fantasy" could become a totem of that traditional disbelief. That, however, very much depends on the facts that get upturned – facts that Twittering accusers will not be patient for. That is a pity. Truth will not be advanced, nor children protected, by jettisoning the old presumption against the accuser with a new presumption of guilt for the accused.
PERSONAL NOTE: This widespread evil of child abuse, hidden or suppressed for so long, has now become impossible to ignore. One who has done much to expose it, and to rally national leaders around the world to act against it, is Ron O’Grady, whose book “The Ultimate Challenge” has just been published. I recommend it highly. It gives us a picture of an interesting and productive life as a Church of Christ minister. And it is also the record of what can be achieved when committed human resources, energised by strong Christian convictions, are mobilised to expose and attack, non-violently by word and action, injustice and huge evils.
This book of 91 pages is obtainable from ECPAT, PO Box 41-264, St Lukes, Auckland, for $20 plus post costs. All profits from book sales go to help fund ECPAT’s work. “Today, ECPAT is actively operating in about 80 countries…. It is respected for its work in the specific areas of child prostitution, child trafficking and child pornography.” P 83