I began to write this blog post some time ago. I had decided that while talking about breaking down the wall of silence for all those adults who are now coming forward and naming their abusers as well-known and trusted people in the media, the time had come to break down my own wall of silence and describe the abuse I suffered as a child. That's when I truly realised how hard it must have been for those people to speak out, to finally break down those walls and name the abuse, name the abusers because this blog post has been sitting here as a draft for weeks, during which I struggled with the decision about leaving my wall in place or talking about it. I shall talk about it later...!
Some years ago, my very dear friend Frances Ommanney gave me a book to read, "Breaking Down The Wall Of Silence: To Join the Waiting Child," by Alice Miller. In this book, Miller explores the suffering of early childhood and writes that the first stage in the healing process is to feel the truth of our experience. The truth of a child's experience of abuse is very often denied and so children learn not to talk about it. Physical abuse is much easier for the child to report and for adults to believe. Here are the bruises. This is what was done to me. Emotional and sexual abuse are much harder for a child to show and adults to believe: what can a child show you to prove emotional abuse? No bruises, but often children whose behaviour is disruptive are victims of emotional and/or sexual abuse. We just need to look for and listen for the clues those children are giving us. It's easy for those children just to be labelled as trouble-makers. Easy because we then don't need to do anything other than impose sanctions: school exclusions rather than patience, time and expensive therapeutic intervention. Or, we can remove them to 'a place of safety,' in the 'care of the local authority,' where they can be reminded constantly that they are there because they have proven difficult for schools and social workers to deal with. They're just bad! Job done! Move on!
Sexual abuse in particular often hides behind a wall of silence: the child who remains silent, often because threatened by the abusing adult; the adult who chooses to discount the child's experience. And so, within the adult who was an abused child, I believe there is that child waiting for the pain to be acknowledged and for just one person to say, "I believe you and that shouldn't have happened to you." That child is still there, waiting to be heard.
The waiting child needs to feel the truth of her or his experience. And for that to happen, the child's pain needs to be acknowledged and the abuser(s) named. The wall of silence must be broken down.
Sexual abuse of children is, of course, not a new phenomenon, but it's only in the past twenty years or so that we have been using the word 'paedophile,' and facing the reality of just how prevalent is the abuse. Does every family have its very own paedophile among its ranks? Our family did! Of course, when I was a child, we didn't use the word 'paedophile.' We had 'kiddie fiddlers,' and 'dirty old men.' My uncle Henry (real name for the b*stard!) was our very own 'kiddie fiddler.' He zoomed in on us female cousins when we began to look pubescent with developing boobs. If we were unlucky enough to have to sit in the back of a car with him, the hand would go over the shoulder and he would try to get under the clothing to the breasts. At a New Year's Eve party, my older sister was told to go with Henry to fetch something from a neighbour's house. She didn't want to go, but didn't want to have to explain why she was reluctant. She came back a few minutes later, crying because Henry had dragged her into an entry and tried to remove her clothing. Nobody believed her. Uncle Henry (the b*stard!) was a respected member of the family and my sister was held to be a liar. It was never spoken of again, but I reckon most of my family knew what Henry was like, but chose to ignore it. Years later, when Henry retired from his job in the Glasgow shipyards, he took up a job as a 'lollipop man.' A bleedin' 'lollipop man,' guiding children safely across busy roads. Nobody said anything: the wall of silence remained intact.
Maybe our family is unusual. Or maybe not. Speaking some years ago to a woman called Liz, who had interviewed thousands of women about their experience of childhood sexual abuse, I am inclined to believe, based on findings she described to me, that most of us adults either experienced sexual abuse personally or know of someone within the family or close circle of associates who had.
Paedophiles are in the news big time at the moment. Did we really have to wait until Jimmy Savile was dead for there to be public disclosure about the hundreds of accusations against him? Did people at the BBC really just ignore it because in those days it was just accepted that that was to be expected of people like Savile? For those children and young people who were abused by him, it's tragic. Who would they tell when there were incidents such as the one where a BBC producer walked in on Savile with a young girl on his lap and she closed the door and did nothing?
The time has come to break down those walls of silence and listen to those people who were abused.
In 1997, the conclusion of the inquiry into allegations of abuse at children's homes in North Wales, chaired by Sir Ronald Waterhouse QC, was that the allegations against named social workers and prominent public figures were fantasy. Children's Commissioner for Wales Keith Towler has said there is a need for a fresh inquiry But he says the Waterhouse Inquiry report, which looked into the allegations and came out in 2000, uncovered just a fraction of the abuse. So, how much more is there? How many children were abused in those homes that were supposed to be 'a place of safety.'? How many children were taken from their families 'for their own good' and thrown into a pit of evil, just captive subjects in what must have been like sweet shops for vile paedophiles?
And if this happened in children's homes in North Wales, where else did it happen? Surely North Wales cannot be an exception? I know that in one area, which I shouldn't name, several children's homes were closed amid allegations of institutionalised abuse. Perhaps that area will come into focus now that the curtain is being raised on the true extent of the hidden abuse.
The abuse that I suffered is probably nothing compared to what all those children suffered in so-called 'care,' but who can quantify suffering? Actually, I never saw myself as a victim, probably because, although there were no adults to believe us, all of us kids talked about it and tried to protect each other and we were not trapped within a system of care and protection. We had choices that children in care never had and I would say don't have. But, yes, who can quantify suffering? Well, a prominent Tory can. His suffering, even though he was never named by that BBC programme, is worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.
What is the value placed on the ruined lives of those adult survivors of childhood abuse while supposedly in 'the care of the local authority.'? Seemingly not a great deal when certain aspects of the media are all too willing to label people like Steve Messham as some kind of fantasist because of a case of mistaken identity of one of his abusers while he was in care. It almost seems like while the media can focus on this one case of mistaken identity and give front page news to a man who was wrongly named as an abuser and the BBC can publicly flog itself, certain people can breathe a sigh of relief now that the attention has shifted from the true extent of sexual abuse.
Almost daily, there is news of some other high profile person being arrested in connection with 'historic abuse.' And the obvious question is - how deep and how high does this all go into the realms of people in public life? People in the entertainment business? Politicians? Do perverts somehow manage to get themselves into positions of power through their own wiles/skills/talents/influence or does power corrupt in ways the rest of us would never imagine?
Let's name the abusers. And let's also hear those people who were abused. Let's now, once and for all, help those children within to be heard. Those walls of silence must be broken down and we must join those children who have been waiting for a very long time for someone to say, "That shouldn't have happened to you."