This is our truth, tell us yours
Content note for victim blaming and mention of child abuse
Today the NSPCC released a report about the victims of Jimmy Saville, working with a group of them who had felt willing and able to discuss their experiences. Its worth noting that a larger proportion felt unable to participate, and there are of course no numbers on those who have passed away before operation yewtree began. As the report makes clear many of the victims self medicated with drugs and alcohol, which doesn’t tend to lead to a long and happy life.
The report is a vital step in hearing the voices of those who should matter most, and pointing to a way forward, sadly though the media seems to be focusing on a few quotes about how those who tried to report at the time were treated. Yes, it is appalling that;
However there seems,as with so many of these historic abuse cases, to be a desire to pretend that things are fine now, that victims are always heard and such attitudes died out with flares and lava lamps. Read the full report and it becomes cleat this is not the case. People reporting sexual abuse are obviously vulnerable, yet the participants in the study report being interviewed in rooms with open doors, having the police turn out at their homes with no warning, and in one particularly vile case having the policeman taking their statement say they would have “pushed Saville off”. This wasnt in the bad old days, this was as part of operation yewtree, in our new, enlightened victim friendly society.
The title is a quote from the report, when one of the victims tried to explain why they didn’t go to the police at the time. Child victims of abuse often don’t know they are being abused, and even if they do, don’t know who to report too. Fear, shame, confusion, threats and powerlessness combine is a whole variety of proportions. The NSPCC titled this report “Would they actually have believed me?” That most heartbreaking question of all survivors. This post isn’t about me, but I know that I did not consider what happened to me abuse, and did not have the language to explain what was going on. As I grew older I simply couldn’t imagine anyone believing me. In light of this the police cannot continue to treat those reporting rape and sexual abuse as just another witness, no different to the person coming in to report their neighbours loud music tastes.
There has apparently been training, clearly it doesn’t go far enough. What kind of training doesn’t include providing a safe space to disclose or not victim blaming? There is also a lack of best practice being followed across the country. My heart broke for those not given a crime number. It might sound like a little thing, but that recognition by the state that a crime was committed matters.
The police are further hampered by the fact in so many communities they are not trusted by anyone, never mind a person in the vulnerable state of having to disclose abuse. I am white cis and “respectable” but even I do not expect the police to take crimes against me seriously, if I belonged to a margenalized group (obviously, I mean contrary to popular myth sex workers don’t have to wear leopard skin at all times) then that fear and expectation would be magnified. Training courses are not even going to make a dent in decades of institutional racism, prejudice, homophobia, transphobia and sexism.
Whats the solution then? Given the horrific levels of rape and child sexual abuse that are still going on what can we do to make things better? The NSPCC is suggesting dedicated teams and a dedicated phone number for reporting, and this I think must be the bare minimum. From the very first moment someone reports they should be seen as vulnerable. This does not change the burden of proof, or alter the way our courts work. It does not change the presumption of innocence, it simply says the voices of victims matter and should be heard
You can read the full report by downloading a PDF here