Breaking the silence is immensely powerful and it is good medicine. But speaking up is hard. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has data that suggests one out of three people abused as a child has not disclosed the abuse and that the average victim who does waits nearly eight years to do so. Many of the men coming forward now, encouraged by the testimony of ex-footballer Andy Woodward, had never spoken before of the events when they were children.
In the past couple of years I have read or heard the accounts of more than 700 men and women sexually and emotionally abused as children in boarding schools, state-run and private. They came to me after I wrote in the Observer of the abuse at my own, Ashdown House. The stories are the grimmest reading, but what is heartening is that for so many people the simple act of speaking up is hugely helpful.
It is a rejection of the power of the abusers who bullied them into silence and the first step in sharing the pain with those around them. “After I sent you my story,” goes a typical email, “I showed it to my partner. We talked as we have never been able to before. I can’t say how glad I am – and she is – that I’m no longer alone with my past.”
For those who love the survivors, the moment of disclosure is often the beginning of hope, of rebuilding lives with people who may have seemed beyond help. The collateral damage of childhood abuse is huge and uncounted. Many of the footballers who have come forward talked of relationships broken by the burden of the secrets they had “locked away”, as Chris Unsworth, raped many times by coach Barry Bennell, put it. For many of the survivors I have interviewed, it is not until their own children reached the age at which they were abused that they confronted their past. For others, that moment came with crises, such as the collapse of a relationship and the urgent need to get explanations as to why life and love had been so difficult.
The abused children of boarding schools and football academies have much in common. It is not just that they all lived in stiff-upper-lip cultures that scorned weakness and overvalued loyalty. These children all carried a potential curse when they left home – the burden of adult hopes and expectations. Many of the footballers who have come forward speak of how impossible it was to tell of what Bennell was doing to them for fear of disappointing their parents.
Steve Walters told how his father, now dead, had changed his life, moved and got a job with Crewe Alexandra football club, to be near his son. Many boarding school children had parents tell them how they’d scrimped and saved for this amazing start to their life. How could these lucky children confess that the great plan had all gone so horribly, shamefully wrong? What if it was their own fault? One of the common side-effects of abuse is the destruction of a child’s sense of self-worth.
The abusers – and more are certain to emerge in football – are also horribly familiar to a researcher into the darker corners of the boarding schools. Contrary to popular belief, child abusers are rarely violent, opportunistic psychopaths. They would be caught if they were. According to criminologists, far more prevalent are the calculating groomers, men and occasionally women for whom the game of snaring a child seems as much a part of their motivation as any sex act. They are rarely violent. What they seek is situations where, however improbably, they can believe hey have their victim’s consent. That is not just a sexual need: a child who thinks it is complicit is a child less likely to tell.
We lack an epidemiology of child sexual abuse, of any indication of whether it is really increasing or decreasing, whether it is worse in some cultures or in others. What we do know is that 90% of sexual abuse is in the family circle, which is perhaps why abuse in institutions is so under-examined. Better understanding might save more children.
Many of the teachers I’ve come across in research for my book were, just like Barry Bennell, adept seducers of parents and bosses too. I’ve heard the confession of a convicted former Catholic priest who explained that when he chose children to target, he started by working out which families would be most open to his entry in their lives: “I’d usually choose a poor single mother who wasn’t really coping,” he said. Men like this would make themselves indispensable to the institution in which they operated – Bennell was a “brilliant coach, an inspiration”, just as the teachers and priests who abused were often the most charismatic and effective.
So, when managers or headteachers are faced with incredible allegations from children against vital members of staff, the easy way forward is all too compelling. It’s far simpler to tell a child off for having a nasty mind, as happened to me at school, than it is to call in the police. Cover-up is a British institutional tradition, and the background noise of historical sex abuse scandal is of brushes working busily under the carpet. Yet the decision to cover up entails something absolutely devastating to the child – the abuse of not being believed. That is shattering. The destruction of faith in adult justice is a trauma that will be carried for ever; the anger may lead to rejection of all adult values, the loneliness and shame of being pronounced a liar leads to substance abuse, self-harm and suicide attempts.
One of the worst things about each child sex abuse scandal that emerges is what first seems to be unthinkable often turns out to be exactly what happened. Police and social workers did cover up what was happening in the children’s homes of North Wales. NHS officials were aware of what Jimmy Savile was up to in the hospitals – and they did tell junior staff to keep quiet. Senior BBC managers did the same. Schools have hushed up complaints, bullying parents to keep quiet and, instead of calling the police, allowed dangerous paedophiles to leave with a reference. It looks now as though the powerful in football who might have rescued children instead did the usual. Two victims have said that senior players and management at their clubs knew what was going on. Chelsea has admitted paying off a victim of its chief scout in the 1970s, on the condition of silence. There’s no doubt at all that more such cases will emerge.
The answer is that proper protection is also enabling children to speak, teaching them that it is their right to do so. When they do speak, they must be heard. Another report for the NSPCC looked at the cases of 208 “disclosures” made by children and found that only 58% were acted upon. That is why there is now an all-party campaign for it to be mandatory for an accusation in an institution to be reported to a third party, as is the case in most countries.
Woman on the Edge of Time was first published 40 years ago and begun three-and-a-half years before that.The early 1970s were a time of great political ferment and optimism among those of us who longed for change, for a more just and egalitarian society with more opportunities for all the people, not just some of them. Since then, inequality has greatly increased.
At the time I wrote this novel, women were making huge gains in control of their bodies and their lives. Not only has that momentum been lost, but many of the rights we worked so hard to secure are being taken from us by Congress and state legislatures every year.
But we must also understand that the attempt to take away a woman’s control over her body is part of a larger attempt to take away any real control from most of the population. Now, corporations and the very wealthy 1% control elections. Now, the media are propaganda machines and the only investigative reporting is on Comedy Central, HBO, or the web.
The powers that be have allowed for certain social rather than economic gains. We’ll soon finally have legalised marijuana and gay marriage in every state – but unions are being crushed and the safety net of the New Deal and the Johnson era is being abolished one law at a time, while women are forced into the back-alley abortions that once killed so many. We have made some social gains and many economic losses. The real earning power of working people diminishes every year.
During the heyday of the second wave of the women’s movement, a number of utopias were created (Joanna Russ’s The Female Man, James Tiptree’s Houston, Houston Do You Read?, Ursula K Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, Elisabeth Mann Borgese’s My Own Utopia from The Ascent of Woman, and Sally Miller Gearhart’s The Wanderground among them) and now they aren’t. Why? Feminist utopias were created out of a hunger for what we didn’t have, at a time when change felt not only possible but probable. Utopias came from the desire to imagine a better society when we dared to do so. When our political energy goes into defending rights, and projects we won and created are now under attack, there is far less energy for imagining fully drawn future societies we might wish to live in.
Writing about a strong community that socialises children and integrates old people is a response to women living in a society where a mother is often alone with her children and old women are treated just a step better than the excess pets executed daily in pounds and shelters.
We are ever more isolated from truly intimate contact with one another. Many men prefer pornography to actual sex, where they have to please a woman or must at least pretend to try.
I also wanted Woman on the Edge of Time to show an ecologically sound society. The lives and institutions and rituals of Mattapoisett all stress being a part of nature and responsible for the natural world. In imagining the good society, I borrowed from all the progressive movements of that time. Like most women’s utopias, the novel is profoundly anarchist and aimed at integrating people back into the natural world and eliminating power relationships. The nuclear family is rare in feminist utopias and banished from this novel.
I projected a society in which sex was available, accepted and non-hierarchical – and totally divorced from income, social status, power. No trophy wives, no closeting, no punishment or ostracism for preferring one kind of lover to another. No need to sell sex or buy it. No being stuck like my own mother in a loveless marriage to support yourself. In the dystopia in Woman on the Edge of Time, women are commodified, genetically modified and powerless.
I am also very interested in the socialising and interpersonal mechanisms of a society. How is conflict dealt with? Again, who gets to decide, and upon whose head and back are those decisions visited? How does that society deal with loneliness and alienation? How does it deal with getting born, growing up and learning, having sex, making babies, becoming sick and healing, dying and being disposed of? How do we deal with collective memories – our history – that we are constantly reshaping?
Utopia is born of the hunger for something better, but it relies on hope as the engine for imagining such a future. I wanted to take what I considered the most fruitful ideas of the various movements for social change and make them vivid and concrete – that was the real genesis of Woman on the Edge of Time.
Marge Piercy, from her introduction to the new edition of Women on the Edge of Time (longer version here)
Referrals from calls to a dedicated football abuse hotline more than tripled the amount made in the first three days of the Jimmy Savile scandal, the NSPCC has revealed.
Launched on 23 November to support the victims of child sex abuse within football, the charity said more than 860 calls had been made to the helpline in its first week.
The NSPCC chief executive, Peter Wanless, said there had been a “staggering surge” in the amount of people getting in touch.
He said: “The number of high-profile footballers bravely speaking out about their ordeal has rightly caught the attention of the entire country.
“We have had a staggering surge in calls to our football hotline, which reveals the worrying extent of abuse that had been going on within the sport.”
The helpline was set up with the support and funding of the Football Association. Within two hours of the opening of the helpline, the charity said it had been contacted 50 times by members of the public. Within the first three days, it had made 60 referrals to the police or children’s services.
The charity made 17 such referrals in the same timeframe following the opening of its Savile helpline in 2012.
Mr Wanless said anyone who wishes to contact the helpline “can do so in confidence, with the knowledge they will be listened to and supported”.
“In future, footballers – both young players and former athletes – must have the confidence to open up about sexual abuse and feel able to come forward,” he said.
The NSPCC’s football abuse helpline can be called 24 hours a day on 0800 023 2642.
QotD: “Passionate, experienced informed commentators no-platformed and muzzled, just for having a different point of view, widening the scope for debate and other such major thought crimes”
Pupils at the Simon Langton grammar school for boys in Canterbury have written an open letter, complaining about the decision to ban former pupil, Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos, from giving a talk at the school, owing to his “reputational issues”.
Yiannopoulos, who was banned after pressure from the Department for Education, clearly fancies himself to be quite the shock-jock, with his racist and sexist views (“America has a Muslim problem”; feminism is “like cancer”). Proper little charmer, isn’t he? However, the Canterbury pupils say they don’t need to be protected from “indoctrination” and have been denied the right to “interrogate rhetoric”. They said that silencing Yiannopoulos vindicated him, “reinforcing his accusation that our society is against free speech”. Bravo. Give those pupils a merit mark.
What a lesson for all those organisations and groups that have banned speakers (Germaine Greer and Peter Tatchell included), sometimes on the most spurious grounds, in the eternal quest for the “safe space”.
Passionate, experienced informed commentators no-platformed and muzzled, just for having a different point of view, widening the scope for debate and other such major thought crimes.
Clearly, such people shouldn’t be banned. Then there are the likes of Yiannopoulos. Couldn’t we ban people like him – go on, just a little bit? After all, does anyone really benefit from standing downwind of such pathetic attention-seeking?
However, Yiannopoulos shouldn’t be banned, not just because he enjoys it too much, or even because it’s wrong, but mainly because it’s dangerous.
It is also nonsensical. Have recent times taught us nothing? There are no safe spaces, it was all a mirage. Or, if you like, a mirage wrapped in a delusion inside an echo chamber. While the anguished central casting liberal “we should have listened to people more” rhetoric is becoming somewhat overplayed, there’s no doubt that, if 2016 has been anything, it’s been the year of “you can run but you can’t hide”. A year that’s demonstrated that however smart, decent and switched-on you think you and your mates are, there’s a big, bad, increasingly powerful counter-reality out there that vehemently disagrees, and the very last thing that people should do is ignore it.
Of course, it’s jarring sometimes. Andrew Marr interviewing Marine Le Pen sent me screaming back into the shower for a good scrub. Then there’s Nigel Farage… everywhere. Let’s be clear: I’m not in the market for normalising certain beliefs, giving prejudice a comfy perch in the national and international conversation or making media darlings or “amusing” circus turns out of the likes of Farage.
While it’s possible to be angered by some no-platforms, and more instinctively sympatico with others, the fact remains that it’s all unworkable. However odious people’s views are, they must be smoked out, challenged, ridiculed, exposed, rather than allowed to fester in the shadows and in the darkest, smelliest pockets of the internet, all the time preening as martyrs.
Above all, it is time to grasp, just as the Canterbury pupils did, that there’s no such thing as “free-ish speech”. Free speech is either truly free, for everybody, or it is the worthless joke that democracy’s enemies want it to be. Nor are there any “safe spaces” – it was all just a lovely dream.
What was called “safe” was just intellectual suffocation, with everyone pleading and cajoling: “Come on world, play nice!” Increasingly, what’s more dangerous than that?
For power is never simply a possession but an exercise; power is about how we understand ourselves. Feminism seeks to unpick all the tiny ways in which we are bound. Everywhere we look, there are women hating other women for business or pleasure: those who don’t want a female boss; who don’t want positive discrimination; who like strip clubs and porn as much as the boys; who don’t want to worship in churches with female priests; who want to force other women to give birth to children they don’t want; who say FGM is “cultural”; and who get off on body shaming. On and on it goes. How can we be surprised that misogyny is not a male-only attribute?
Far from it. As the American satirist HL Mencken defined it, a misogynist is “a man who hates women as much as women hate one another”.
Which is immeasurably.
Reclaim the Night is this Saturday 19th in London! Assemble at Great College Street, SW1P at 6.30pm (Westminster).
Join us for London Reclaim the Night! Close down central London for women, put your feet on the streets to shout a loud NO to rape and all forms of male violence against women.
Violence against women continues to occur every minute of every day, but women everywhere are making a stand. Join us and join millions across the globe who will be marking the annual United Nations Day to End Violence Against Women (25th November) with demonstrations and marches in their own localities.
With ideological cuts threatening the refuge and rape crisis movements in the UK we need to take back the capital to demonstrate women’s support for essential women’s services, demand justice for survivors and spread the message that no woman is ever to blame for male violence against her.
Bring placards, banners, friends and song. March for your friends and family, your colleagues, your daughters, yourself – march for all of us; march for a better world, free from violence and abuse.
London Reclaim The Night is a women-only march. Men who would like to support the event are encouraged to help organise and join the Men’s Vigil. Details can be found here.
Child trafficking victims and unaccompanied children are going missing from local authority care at an “alarming” rate according to a new report, which reveals that in one year, nearly 30% of all UK child trafficking victims and 13% of unaccompanied children disappeared from care services.
New research by child trafficking NGO Ecpat UK and the charity Missing People has found that 167 of the 590 children suspected or identified as child trafficking victims in the year from September 2014 to 2015 vanished from foster and care homes across the country.
An additional 593 of the 4,744 unaccompanied children placed under the protection of local authorities also went missing at least once in the same time period. Of the 760 trafficked or unaccompanied children who disappeared from care, 207 have never been found.
The new data, drawn largely from freedom of information requests to 217 local authorities across the UK, shows that Thurrock, Hillingdon, Croydon, Kent County Council and Surrey had the highest numbers of trafficked and unaccompanied children who were unaccounted for. One local authority reported that 22 child trafficking victims had gone missing in the recorded time period.
The majority of child trafficking victims who vanished from care are from Vietnam, Albania and the UK. Most of the unaccompanied children who went missing are from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Albania and Vietnam.
Despite the high numbers, Ecpat says that the real scale of the UK’s missing child trafficking victims is still not accurately reflected in the data.
Chloe Setter, Ecpat UK’s head of advocacy and policy, said there was “huge concern” that only 45 of the 217 local authorities asked for information were able or willing to provide data on the numbers of children whose whereabouts were still unknown.
“I think what is most alarming about this survey isn’t the data we’ve received, it is the data that we haven’t,” said Setter.
“Twenty per cent of the local authorities we contacted could not even report how many children in their care were [formally] identified or suspected of being trafficked. Only 10 local authorities could report the nationalities of the trafficked children who had disappeared. It is unacceptable that we can’t get a clear picture on how many exploited children are simply falling off the radar and, in the case of trafficked children, presumed to be back in the hands of their exploiters. These are hundreds of children who have simply vanished from places where they should have been protected.”
The report also underscores issues with identification and recording practices. Despite London being a prime destination for human traffickers, 10 of 33 local authorities reported zero trafficked children, and an additional four local authorities were unable to provide any information.
“There has to be an improved data recording system put in place for trafficked and missing children,” said Setter. “Many of the authorities we asked couldn’t even search for these children in their existing databases.”
The report cites various reasons for the children going missing, from the failure of the government to identify trafficked children, to the influence and control of traffickers, lack of trust in adults and lack of consistent support. Poor protection measures, as well as asylum and immigration concerns, were also noted.
Ecpat and Missing Children say that in order to stem the flow of exploited children disappearing from care services, the child protection system must be expanded to introduce specific training on child trafficking and unaccompanied children and investment in appropriate accommodation and support services.
Lynne Chitty, UK care director at the anti-trafficking charity Love146, said she was not surprised by the findings of the report and expected the numbers to continue to rise if urgent safeguarding policies were not implemented immediately.
“Every week we see children going missing, most within 24 hours of arriving in care, and we know child trafficking victims are largely going back to their traffickers,” she said. “Many are in debt bondage or have been given a number to call as soon as they get taken into care. They aren’t getting the protection, services or support they need to stop them from believing that their traffickers are the only option for them here.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “It is vital that children in care are protected from harm. We have already strengthened regulations on children’s homes, and local authorities have a duty to tell us about all incidents of young people going missing.
“But we know trafficked and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are especially vulnerable. That’s why we have commissioned specialist training for those caring for them, committed to an independent advocate in each area to help champion their rights and outlined clear plans for a new government strategy to look at their particular needs, including reviewing the accommodation available.”
QotD: “I have to ask you to resist, not to comply, to destroy the power men have over women, to refuse to accept it, to abhor it and to do whatever is necessary despite its cost to you to change it”
We need to put women first. We need to do anything that will interrupt the colonizing of the female body. We need to refuse to accept the givens. We need to ask ourselves what political rights we need as women. What laws do we need? What would freedom be for us? What principles are necessary for our well-being? Why are women being sold on street corners and tortured in their homes, in societies that claim to be based on freedom and justice? What actions must be taken? What will it cost us and why are we too afraid to pay and are the women who have gotten a little from the women’s movement afraid that resistance or rebellion or even political inquiry will cost them the little they have gotten? Why are we still making deals with men one by one instead of collectively demanding what we need? I am going to ask you to remember that as long as a woman is being bought and sold anywhere in the world, you are not free, nor are you safe. You too have a number; some day your turn will come. I’m going to ask you to remember the prostituted, the homeless, the battered, the raped, the tortured, the murdered, the raped-then-murdered, the murdered-then-raped; and I am going to ask you to remember the photographed, the ones that any or all of the above happened to and it was photographed and now the photographs are for sale in our free countries. I want you to think about those who have been hurt for the fun, the entertainment, the so-called speech of others; those who have been hurt for profit, for the financial benefit of pimps and entrepreneurs. I want you to remember the perpetrator and I am going to ask you to remember the victims: not just tonight but tomorrow and the next day. I want you to find a way to include them – the perpetrators and the victims – in what you do, how you think, how you act, what you care about, what your life means to you.
Now, I know, in this room, some of you are the women I have been talking about. I know that. People around you may not. I am going to ask you to use every single thing you can remember about what was done to you – how it was done, where, by whom, when, and, if you know, why – to begin to tear male dominance to pieces, to pull it apart, to vandalize it, to destabilize it, to mess it up, to get in its way, to fuck it up. I have to ask you to resist, not to comply, to destroy the power men have over women, to refuse to accept it, to abhor it and to do whatever is necessary despite its cost to you to change it.