This is our truth, tell us yours
Be aware the link to the sentencing of Marie Black contains graphic details of her sexual abuse of young children. This post in its entirety discusses, but without details, child sex abuse.
The sentencing of Marie Black has made the news, mainly it seems to me because female sexual offenders are judged be a novelty. It is a case where we have to pick our words with care. One thing we agree on here in Cigar Towers is that adults are responsible for their actions. However no one is an island, particually if you take an intersectional left wing approach to life. Can one accept that Black was apparently being exploited at 13, a victim of domestic violence, and still believe she is wholly culpable? Can one raise an eyebrow at the charges that were dropped against older family members or the fact the judge seems to think a man not having previous sexual convictions should matter in sentencing?
Recently, in talking about my own childhood with Carter he reminded me of his theory of nodes when it comes to child abuse. He writes about his own experiences of how abusers form groups here. Everything seems to suggest he is right, even if the authorities misinterpret the idea and turn it into fishing expeditions as they did with Porntrial.
We, by which I mean as a society, seem to want to believe in the danger strangers beloved of the films we got trooped into watch as a child. Do I have to point out the irony, and the true danger, of a class of catholic infants being warned against the dirty stranger in the park, but not the predator at school or at home? Its a narrative that actively endangers children, but comforts the adults who prefer not to think about the reality of child abuse. As someone who lived that reality I never made the link between what was happening to me and the creepy extra from minder asking if I wanted to see his puppies. Those ads were designed for the adults around, for their peace of mind and comfort.
A case like Marie Blacks makes hard reading, it is therefore understandable that people want to present her as some figure of absolute evil who arrived in this world fully formed, like an Orc crawling out of the mud which created it. Or, perhaps as the defence team argued, it was all the fault of the men around her, and she existed without agency, which as I wrote at the weekend is the capacity to act upon our moral choices. The reality it seems to me is far more complex. Some peoples lives lead them to seeing certain behaviour as normal or acceptable. The judge himself said that the children in this case saw their abuse as normal. Its one of the features of child sexual abuse, and our failure to speak clearly to children about what it is. Since you can never know what happens when the doors close and the curtains are closed you have no point of comparison as a child. Its like the first time you go to a friends house for tea and discover they have a milk jug they keep in the fridge instead of a milk bottle. Something in its very ordinariness which tells you they do things differently.
I do not want this post to become one about nature versus nurture, for I think that is a false binary. I cannot read of a story like Blacks though and not think about myself. I have always believed that my moral core was formed by my grandfather, who, although he has been dead many years I still miss with an ache it is hard to describe. This upright child of the depression offered me such unconditional love, the one thing an abused child craves most of all, that I still feel that love echoing down the years.
Which brings me to those other children, the ones abused in this case, and thousands more we dont know about, who go to sleep believeing what happened to them was normal. Incarceration may protect one group of children, from one group of abusers, but it comes after the abuse, after the harm has been done, after a new normal has been defined. We need to find new solutions to these problems. Firstly by teaching our children what consent is, and that over riding it is wrong, that they can have boundaries that should be respected. Secondly we need to consider what we already know, and look to those on the edge of society. The girls hanging round the bus stop with a bottle of WKD and the boys, who like Carter, already know why certain places are to be avoided. Intervention needs to be removed from the carceral, and into the theraputic for our lost girls and boys, children like those of Rotherham and Oxford. Not an intervention based on judgement either, but one of empathy and understanding of their normality.