This is our truth, tell us yours
Content note for discussion of child sexual abuse
I pondered whether to write this, given that Carter so excellently said what needs to be said about grooming, and the way some abusers make use of wider cultural attitudes to the marginalized in our society. Seriously if you have not read it, go now and do so, I will still be here when you get back. The reason for writing is that line we have added, this is our truth, tell me yours.
Carter wrote of his experiences, and the groups of men who learnt to trust each other with their secrets, and the children they abused. Gaining security, and perhaps even a sense of normality from the collective nature of their crimes. However abuse is not only a collective activity, it is a deeply private one, built on a relationship between victim and abuser. If you read the Rotherham report, and it is really worth doing, although exceptionally triggering, the girls recount how special their abusers made them feel.
It is this complexity that causes so many to try to blame victims, to excuse abusers, to say that what happened must be consensual. Unable to understand that this is what grooming is, the creation of a false relationship, a false belief that you are as responsible as the abuser. Unlike Carters account what happened to me never made me aware there were others like me. My abuser kept what happened between us private. I could speculate that perhaps this was the result of his abuse, at Catholic boarding school where no doubt those groups Carter wrote of were operating with freedom, and older boys taught the younger how the game was played.
When an abuser targets you so often they tell you that you have been chosen, that you are special. Many commentators are pointing to the fact some of the Rotherham victims were in care, supposedly abandoned and desperate for love at any price. Except, many weren’t. MAny like me came from average working class families, some had parents who demanded police action, only to be ignored or even worse disbelieved. In heartbreaking irony some even put their children into care in the forlorn hope “experts” could protect their children from abuse.
Part of this idea that the victims of Rotherham (and Derby, and Oxford, and Rochdale, and all the unknown towns and cities) were parentless, running wild, easy prey for men on the prowl comes from prejudices against the working classes that are older than Hogarth. These children looked for love “in the wrong places” because they didn’t get the love they needed at home. Not so much victim blaming as class blaming.
The reality of course is that just like me so many of these children had loving and supportive families. Not perfect ones by any means, but does the perfect family exist? Society does not want to believe just how prevalent abuse is, or how organised abusers are. From our most expensive boarding schools to our worst sink estates abuse happens, and children are taught this is just an expression of love, of what happens, and that if they want the love they must take the pain.
There is a question I cannot answer, how the abuser spots the child they can mould, who will not tell, who will feel they need to keep a secret that is not of their making. One of the ways abusers operate is to make you complicit in the abuse, which leads to that question “why me” which I think every survivor must have at some point asked. We cannot answer it I think, not in the current world. We can instead though understand that all children want, need, to be loved, and some people will take that natural urge and misuse it for their own dark purposes. Once we accept that this is the world we live in we can then start to consider how we make this a world where children can speak out. We may never end child abuse, we can end a culture that turns its back on the abused.