This is our truth, tell us yours
The death of Poppi Worthington is exceptionally triggering, please exercise self care.Content Notes for child abuse, physical and sexual.
Heartbreaking is a word often thrown around when a child dies. The life, and death of Poppi Worthington dead by thirteen months old can be described in no other way. However her death, and the failures of the investigation into it highlights how we prefer our heartbreak to have a simple narrative, and not to be to closely looked into.
The newspapers make hard reading, the court reports even harder. The details may be upsetting to many.
Poppi was bleeding, from external and internal injuries when she was removed from the house by paramedics.
She had a fractured leg,and a previous untreated fracture.
The paramedics “lost” her blood stained cot sheets.
Her blood stained nappy was found in a back alley, there was DNA from an adult male (not her father) on that nappy.
Her parents shared a room with two of her older siblings, on the night Poppi died her father was in that room, watching pornography. I suppose I have to write, presumably, while the other children slept, in the room with him.
Social services left Poppi’s siblings with their parents, apparently a child dying as Poppi did, with broken limbs, in a situation where boundaries seem to be non existent is not considered reason to remove other children from the house.
For three years Cumbria Police, social services and local authority have preferred to pretend that Poppi was the victim of a tragic accident. It took the police nine months to even investigate the circumstances of her death. Now as a sex worker I am used to the fact that if I died from an assault by a client many would prefer to brush it under the carpet, but I have to ask why this happened to a baby.
One finding of Judge Jackson keep standing out to me;
Cumbria police were criticised by Jackson at the oral hearing in November. He said the force failed to launch a “real” investigation until more than nine months after Poppi’s death in 2012, believing that a pathologist “may have jumped to conclusions” when she raised her suspicions about a possible sexual assault
“May have jumped to conclusions” Think about that, apparently babies in Cumbria just spontaneously bleed from their orifices, and injure themselves. Even if there was another explanation, it is a pathologists job to present possible explanations, and the polices job to investigate possibilities. I cannot help wondering if the long shadow of Cleveland is still being cast over victims like Poppi.
For those unfamiliar with the Cleveland scandal (or those who only read the tabloids) it centered around a social worker radically trying to get the police to take Child abuse seriously. Sue Richardson was working with families where in many cases abuse was intergenerational, and ignored by the authorities. In some cases convicted sex offenders had moved in with single mothers, and the children had disclosed abuse. Richardson was told however that without physical evidence nothing could be done. She believed that the pediatricians, Higgs and Thompson, had found a way of getting one form of evidence, using an established, accepted, medical technique.
Most people have never heard the true story of Cleveland, of how not a single child was removed on medical evidence alone, of the finding of Butler Sloss that their was strong evidence (including victim testimony) that the majority of the 121 children had been abused. The next quote from Cleveland; Unspeakable Truths sums up how the media preferred to listen to abusers, and ignore victims (CN child sexual abuse)
Two telling sections of the film summed up the entire crisis. The first was a section which showed file footage of one of the Cleveland parents making an emotional appeal on a breakfast television programme: in it – and egged on by host Anne Diamond – he said he had never abused his children and demanded they be allowed home. Yet the truth was that he had been convicted of buggering his children – sometimes in front of his wife: apparently that truth was ignored by Ms Diamond and her team
The narrative, of medical professionals seeing child sexual abuse where it does not exist, of parents who must be trusted, despite the evidence, of child abuse as a rare aberration, and never directed at babies and toddlers, permeates our attitudes to survivors. Even that supposedly feminist drama, Jessica Jones, perpetuated the idea that when it comes to survivors of child abuse, “I believe them” is dropped in favour of “I believe the parents.”
Its hard to think about the fact some people sexually abuse and rape children and babies. Tellingly rape is very rarely used about childhood sexual abuse, its too stark, it forces us to consider what the euphemistic term abuse actually means. The only time voices are raised about the rape and sexual abuse of children is when a politician is accused. Then the familiar lines are drawn, political opponents using survivors to score points versus those declaring investigations into historic abuse are a witch hunt. Like two sets of football fans screaming insults at each other while on the pitch a baby lies dead.
If we are ever to genuinely be there for survivors, we must remember Poppi, we must be willing to confront the facts of child abuse, of rape, of how some people use, abuse and discard those they are meant to care for and nurture. We also need to drop the desire to fit all abuse into one simplistic narrative ( a result I believe of the head in the sand attitude). Currently our thinking around childhood sexual abuse is designed to comfort the general public, those who prefer not to think about it, and to ignore the victims and survivors. We are not seen, not heard, not considered worth investigating, for fear of making people consider the unpleasantness that hides behind the euphemisms.