This is our truth, tell us yours
content note for mention of child abuse, without any details in this piece, cn for detailed discussion of CSA in the first link to the interview with James Rhodes.
The attempt to silence James Rhodes has, thankfully failed. However it does not seem to have led to many questioning the arguments of his ex partner. Rhodes is a survivour of sustained child sexual abuse, a narrative I know well. He wrote a memoir that covers this, as well as his muscial talent. It is by all accounts a remarkable, and for the topic, remarkably frank book.
Frankness when it comes to child sexual abuse is rare. I have discussed with my fellow traveller here how graphic any similar endeavour by myself could be. What happens to children is so often wrapped in euphemism, and our reactions are policed, usually by those who like to split the world into good and bad victims. So, I can for example say I was raped, but know the world would struggle with the fact I felt pleasure, or did not know it was rape, or wondered why I was so unattractive when the abuse stopped.
Child abuse is complex, messy, infinitely more complicated than the TV movie of the week version that the world seems to want to hear. Unlike Rhodes I do not feel what happened to me as a child affects me daily, however that is a place I have reached, and which was never inevitable.. I do know that I would like to write openly of what happened to me, but that I probably never shall since some would see simply recounting my experiences as the production of child pornography*. So wedded are we to the idea that some bad things are better never being named, so shameful are those experiences,
The idea that child abuse is so terrible it must be talked of in hush tones, a not in front of the ladies attitude, almost certainly harms survivors. The basis of the case against Rhodes specifically was that his son, who has aspergers, would be harmed by publication of the book.
Pause for a moment, a judge agreed with, and a parent put forward, the argument that somehow having aspergers means you need to be protected from knowing abuse exists. Furthermore it was argued, and accepted that a child would be harmed by knowing that their father had survived a terrible childhood and made something out of their life.
The first argument, of the relevance of the aspergers, genuinely scares me. This week a report was released saying almost 5000 disabled people had been sexually abused in the UK in the past 2 years. It is well known that reports of abuse are only ever the tip of the iceberg. I probably have an autistic spectrum disorder, most likely what was known as aspergers. I say probably because I have taken the decision not to have a formal diagnosis, which is expensive and difficult to get for adults. I do know that as a child I did not understand euphemism, nor follow the secret codes which adults use to talk about topics such as child abuse. Children and adults with learning difficulties, especially those on the spectrum, need clear, unambiguous language to explain, and to identify abuse. The idea that a parent can think someone with aspergers would be harmed by being given a tool which might protect them seems straight out of the autism speaks school of advocacy. An attitude which denies the personhood, sexuality, and autonomy of those with autism.
One might, if one were playing devils advocate, argue that the issue here was that it was the child’s father who was detailing the abuse. One would be, quite frankly, a fuckwit for saying so. Is being abused so shameful, so terrible that we must hide it away, even from our own family members? Or is the argument that parents must be some mythical beings, perfect and existing without pasts, springing fully formed into the world like venus from the ocean foam? How many children would be better able to speak to their parents, about all topics not just abuse, if they saw them as people, not just parents? This doesnt mean you share inappropriately. Openness does not mean lack of boundaries, thats one of the things about being a grown up. For example I might tell a younger family member who is trans that I am queer, I dont need to tell them I also enjoy being tied up and beaten. This would also deal with the fact Rhodes’ book might not be appropriate for a 12 year old, regardless of whether they have aspergers or not. However we do not usually prevent a writer from publishing because their content might not be appropriate for one of their own children to read.
This is being trumpeted as a victory for survivors of abuse and free speech. It is an indication of how deep attitudes towards those with disabilities run, how parents still seem to think their role is to wrap someone in cotton wool rather than preparing them for the world. It is also a very clear indication that being a victim of child sexual abuse is still seen as a shameful secret we must never divulge.
* i am aware that the term child pornography is a tautology, most often used by rad fems to discredit porn and the daily mail for titillation. However part of why I have never written in detail about what happened to me as a child is the fact that those groups would be the ones calling any account child porn.