This is our truth, tell us yours
We normally stay away from commenting on cases under trial, so in this post, and the comments it must be understood Rolf Harris is innocent until proven guilty. This post discusses Childhood sexual abuse and rape, although not in detail.
The latest trial of an icon from the past opened yesterday, this time one who most people remember with fondness and affection. Almost everyone from the North West of a certain age knew the rumours about Saville, and questions remain unanswered about how the police seemed oblivious. Rolf Harris though really did have national treasure status, an adopted son of the country who was considered fit to paint a portrait of the Queen. Perhaps this explains why the prosecution chose to term him ” a Jekyll and Hyde character”. This is exactly the kind of language that makes things harder for victims and survivors of childhood abuse.
Jeckell and Hyde is a story of a respectable doctor who, using science, touches on the animalistic and amoral parts of himself. Mr Hyde to Stevenson represented humanity without the codes of conduct society imposes. He was also uncontrollable. Beyond the choice to develop the drugs which freed him Jekyll has no power over the actions of Hyde, indeed he cannot even remember the murderous rampages.
The idea of “respectable” men driven by their lusts to perform acts they would not otherwise countenance is one that rape culture loves. It links to the idea that if only damn women didn’t wear heels, or short skirts, or get drunk, they wouldn’t get raped. After all what red blooded male can help themselves when faced with the choice of rape or not? That might sound polemic but it is what the whole victim blaming meme of policing womens behaviour rather than mens is saying. When it comes to sexual abuse of children it is exactly what many abusers say, they believe six year olds are capeable of flirting, that ten year olds can make informed consensual choices, that the hyper sexualised clothes of modern childhood are willingly chosen by twelve year olds.
The whole idea that sexual abuse is done by men who cannot help themselves has been challenged by a few decent campaigns, in particular don’t be that guy. It says that abuse is not done by rampaging beasts or some strange subset of people labeled abusers, but by ordinary men (and women) who make a choice, a choice to harm another human being.
Recently Carter wrote of his own personal journey to understand those who had abused him as a child, it is an exceptionally wise and moving post, go read it. Not everyone will ever reach a place of acceptance, or the ability to move on with their lives. However the desire by society to split the abusers off, as if they are not also workers for charity, musicians, painters, olympic swimmers, helps no one. Splitting is a psychic defence, used in childhood to protect the fragile ego. After all if you have to sit at the breakfast table chatting about whether you want Jam or Marmalade being able to simply function means the person across from you is separated from the person buggering you the night before.
It is a vital and understandable defence mechanism, however all defence mechanism stand in the way of adult understanding and reaching a place of wellness, of psychic wholeness. When society perpetuates them then survivors attempts to make sense of their lives are also impeded. If society is to reach an adult understanding of childhood sexual abuse it also needs to move past this desire to split off the abuse.
A brief aside here, equally damaging is the labelling of someone as an abuser and nothing else. Certain corners of social justice twitter have decided that other people are not human beings, with a complex array of thoughts feelings and actions, but that they are abusers. To go back to the”Don’t be that Guy” campaign, it is another aspect of rape culture to do this. Defining some people as abusers means others absolve themselves of responsibility for monitoring their own actions, after all they could never be an abuser. Its the old dirty old man fallacy, a picture of childhood sexual abuse that led to so many being silenced in the 70s. If one did not fit the label abuser then abuse was not happening.
Whatever the eventual outcome of the Rolf Harris trial no one who rapes and abuses is a “jekyll and Hyde character”. They are, presuming they are an adult (there is another post in children who abuse) a human being with choices. When someone rapes, or assaults, or abuses a child they are not driven by uncontrollable lusts, such a thing does not exist. They chose to do what they do and we must never lose sight of that fact.