This is our truth, tell us yours
Part of the issue around the ongoing disaster that is the government’s attempts to staff its child abuse inquiry is the reality that every opportunity is being taken by a host of hobby horse riding obsessives to try and assert that they know best.
Latest to the party is Beatrix Campbell. She’s decided that the ongoing furore is the right time to rehabilitate her somewhat tattered reputation, and to assert that she was right all along. You have to admire her self confidence.
In case you’ve missed out on the back story of all this Beatrix Campbell’s career as a commentator is a compelling study in the possibility of people being right for the wrong reasons, or purely by coincidence.
Campbell is a journalist. Her political roots and lengthy tenure in the Communist Party mark her out as someone who has deep and lasting experience of the art of believing the unacceptable, and tolerating the unjust or the simply dishonest in pursuit of a greater cause. Campbell’s supporters will point out that she was an internal dissident in the Communist Party for at least some of the time she was a member but it’s important to recognise from where she comes.
Campbell’s record on child abuse cases is mixed to say the least. Entirely unqualified in child protection or the law, her nadir was the 1992 Shieldfield nursery case, when she carelessly endorsed as reliable a report so bad the judge made a finding that its authors must have been malicious. Or, as one summary puts it
The report was fundamentally flawed, and almost deliberately designed to manufacture allegations and lay blame at the feet of the claimants. It was disgraceful. There was no substantial evidence of any abuse having taken place, and there was thorough going bad practice by the respondent and by those conducting the investigation. The damage to the claimants had been substantial and quite unjustified.
Even in her latest attempt at self-justification Campbell can’t resist displaying how shoddy and slipshod her methods are. Apparently her whole hearted endorsement of the methods of doctors in Cleveland is entirely justified by the ‘fact’ that only somewhere between one in three and one in four of their diagnoses were wrong. Now, dear reader, let’s think about this. The sample of children diagnosed as having been abused in Cleveland was not a random or controlled sample. It was a cohort of children already presenting to doctors for other conditions, or because they had come to the attention of social services. It is possible that, in such a sample two out of three or three out of four children were indeed sexually abused, and that the preferred diagnostic method adopted (reflex anal dilation) had no diagnostic value whatsoever. Campbell lacks the intellectual or scientific rigour to address this point which needs to be hammered home – being right for the wrong reasons is of no scientific value whatsoever. You can pick your lottery numbers by using a completely illogical method, but it does not suddenly become science on the day you win the lottery.
The point is hammered home when you think about the Nottinghamshire satanic abuse case. Campbell whole heartedly adopted the idea of satanic ritual abuse. It’s hard to understand why, in the absence of evidence, when, following the line taken by Jean La Fontaine, you don’t need to believe in satanic abuse to recognise when victims need help, and it is also perfectly possible that some abusers will use a belief in satanic ritual to compel their victims,even though they are not satanists and do not believe in the ritual themselves..
It is possible to wish a plague on the houses of all the commentators who want the exposure of historic child sexual abuse to provide them with a parade ring for their hobby horse and yet still care about the victims, and about the prevention of child sexual abuse. To the Beatrix Campbells and Nigel Farages who want to use child sexual abuse for their own purposes we need to show a studied and deliberate contempt.
We need, too, to understand what we’re trying to do with any inquiry into historic abuse. Anyone who goes looking for a conspiracy will find one; the very nature of conspiracy hunting is that the hunters will find what they seek. As La Fontaine says ‘the sexual or physical abuse of children, particularly very young children, serves in modern England, to exemplify a major form of evil and to characterise those who commit these acts as inhuman monsters.’ If you look in the dark under the bed for a monster, you will see the darkness as evidence that there is a monster.
I prefer the idea that we are creating a new class of internal aliens, people who are amongst us but not of us, a new cohort of Midwich Cuckoos who serve as a threat that blinds us to so much else that is wrong in our society. We need to be honest about our frailties, and about the way that so many who are just like us could be abusers, because all you need to be an abuser is a lack of belief in, or understanding of, consent and the rights of the individual.
It strikes me, as I write, that a government that believes that enshrining human rights in an act of parliament is a bad thing is probably not a reliable guardian of the rights of the individual not to be abused or used for someone else’s sexual pleasure without their own informed consent.