This is our truth, tell us yours
content note for discussion of child sexual abuse.
Several years ago I received a phone call I had been dreading, my uncle, the man who sexually abused me from the age of three was dying. His death did not concern me, whilst I felt no joy in his suffering the knowledge I would never have to endure his presence at another family event was a comfort. My problem was I was forced to confront a decision I was not ready for. Did I want my day in court? Did I want to report my uncle for what he had done, and did I want to deal with the fallout from “coming out” to my family as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse?
There was a tension within me between not wanting him to “get away with it” and not wanting myself to go through all that a court case might involve. His death would remove any chance for me to receive that formal acknowledgement of state and society that what had happened to me was wrong, and had caused me harm. Beyond even that though, it removed my chance to confront him, to tell him what he had done was wrong. To say the “No” denied my for so many years.
The day of his funeral I took myself to a favourite restaurant and as I ate onion cakes and spicy beef noodles toasted myself. I had survived, I had survived him, and whilst I had decided, in the end, not to confront him, I was here, and he was not.
The decision to disclose, on whatever level, is a huge one for survivors. The governments own data shows that only 15% of those over 16 report a serious sexual assault. I dont want to get into a huge stats debate, but it is clear victims do not report, and whilst it is not a victims responsibility to prevent further offending, the fact they do not should worry everyone even if they have no compassion for survivors.
I chose not to report knowing I had to live with that, and knowing I could. Seeing how the establishment and media have pilloried Tom Watson for listening to survivors when they spoke to him, I am even more glad I kept silent. Over the past 24 hours the narrative has changed from “survivors of child abuse” to “alleged survivors of child abuse”. A decision not to prosecute on lack of evidence (and in historic cases what evidence can there ever be but the word of the survivor) has been used to suggest the victim way lying. The media enraged by Leveson is so determined to find ways to attack Tom Watson that survivors of child abuse and rape are being used as cannon fodder. The BBC has led the attack, with a Panorama program that basically called all survivors of child abuse liars unless they report as children.
I am at peace knowing my abuser can never be prosecuted, but I am writing now for all those abused as children who want to have their day in court. Every journalist calling for Tom watson to apologise is speaking directly to survivors, and saying, remain silent, you will never be believed, your pain, your suffering does not matter. As a country we came close to accepting the epidemic which is child sexual abuse, but now those with power have closed ranks. Listening to survivors is seen as the real crime, while the rape of children is put in the box marked “not proven.”