This is our truth, tell us yours
This post discusses, without details, childhood sexual abuse.
People tend to assume that as a sex worker who is vocal on twitter I get a lot of trolls, in fact they are rare, and very rarely target me. If I do come across someone abusive it’s more likely that someone has retweeted them, and I am bored, and decide to challenge whichever prejudice is on display.
This is probably because my block list is long, my block finger trigger happy, and I stay out of the #CSA community. I imagine that might surprise many of you, who suppose that survivors of childhood sexual abuse might find social media to be a supportive, inclusive space. Unfortunately when you get a group of people, many of whom are still bearing the wounds of their childhood, anonymity is a double edged sword. Among the lost souls simply struggling to answer that all important question of “why” are grant farmers, soulless rescue industry shills, and professional survivors scoring points with how loudly they can shout “pedophilia is evil”. They are all, of course, anti sex work, since nuance is the enemy of point scoring.
Into this mix of suffering, exploitation and desire to be seen as good and worthy (parallel processing anyone?) came the Goddard Inquiry, and onto it got piled the hopes, fears and ambitions of thousands of survivors. Being heard, they have been told, is your route to healing. What represents being heard more than the government itself listening? Just look at the response of sex workers to the initial results of the parliamentary inquiry into sex work? When you are used to being repeatedly silenced the barest whisper can seem like more than you ever dreamed possible. The Goddard inquiry has become for many their chance to be heard, a desperate, at time all-consuming, desire for survivors. It’s a desire I comprehend, because even as I write I know my posts around abuse are the least heard, ignored, turned away from, as the child crying out to be seen was. People like to say -hang all the pedophiles-, because it scores points, they don’t like to actually spend time with the survivors of abuse.
The terms of the inquiry even include that promise of healing, of listening, of being able to speak out without fear;
We will support victims and survivors to share their experience of sexual abuse
What a wonderful promise, and if it were the focus of the inquiry perhaps we would not be where we are now, however its remit is far wider.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse will investigate whether public bodies and other non-state institutions have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse in England and Wales. Read our Opening Statement and the November update statement.
We will identify institutional failings where they are found to exist. We will demand accountability for past institutional failings. We will support victims and survivors to share their experience of sexual abuse. And we will make practical recommendations to ensure that children are given the care and protection they need.
Bourne out of the shock of the Saville revelations, the complicity and blindness of institutions, the clear evidence that a culture existed where rape and sexual assault were ignored, the Goddard inquiry is a collective cry of “something must be done”. However we know that anything based on the SMBD response is unlikely to be useful, thought through or produce meaningful change.
Barbara Ellen (of all people) touches on the impossibility of the inquiry ever actually achieving its stated aims. Its unstated aim is most certainly some form of closure, something even less achievable than ever when a disparate group of people have decided this is their holy grail.
There are questions which need to be answered, but they are not the questions the Goddard inquiry is asking.
I was recently talking with someone who remembered their small northern town fair in the 70s. They like many their age, had a freedom which would be considered negligent by many today. The fair would probably have passed very few safety inspections, a cut price wonderland of waltzers and greasy burgers but it did attract a wide variety of men who even a pre teen knew were not there for the rides. Carter writes about this here, the knowledge that was simply accepted, by children and adults alike.
Those shouting loudly on social media that there are simple solutions to something like child abuse are often doing so from a place of pain, and that must not be ignored. However the pain will not be assuaged by an inquiry which becomes nothing more than a record of individual experiences, with no way to earn from those experiences. Did we turn a blind eye to those who abused children in the post war period because we did not want to see, or because the harms were put under the category of “rite of passage” as indeed it was for so many? If there was not something specific to time and place what is happening now, in our dark unobserved corners?
We already know that abuse was ignored by those with a duty of care, an investigation is not needed to prove this, it is proved by the voices of survivors. Anything more is simply a state version of “I believe them”. As I have already said, it might help some heal to hear the state make this assertion, it is not actually the role of inquiries. Compare with the Hillsborough inquiry, the where facts had been disputed and victims accused of crimes. A verdict around a truthful narrative brought the families closure. It seems that many survivors calling for the inquiry to go ahead believe that something similar can happen. It cannot, Hillsborough, and others like the Bloody Sunday inquiry looked at concrete evidence, and attempts to cover it up. Child abuse was not (usually) documented, it was, instead, for cultural reasons, as recently as Rotherham and Rochdale, ignored. There was not a narrative of X happened which can be challenged by evidence that in fact Y happened, because we did not as a society accept Y happened.A specific inquiry into events like the cover up of abuse in North Wales, or ELm Tree Guest house could establish actual facts, the specificity is vital to the effectiveness of such an approach though. It seems that people are desperately hoping that Goddard will somehow provide evidence (in a criminal sense) that their abuse happened, a validation by the state which it is frightening people expect, or believe in. It speaks, in my opinion to the failure of many to have received adequate support as survivors, that they need an outside authority figure to validate their own lived experience. I wonder how the millions that have been wasted already could have been used to affect real change by paying for decent, long term psychotherapy for survivors instead
What we could have, if we were willing to look at culture, at our own culture which ignored abuse, which ignores abuse still, is a discussion of how professionals could be better trained to support victims and survivors. I have heard of people getting the god awful IAPT therapy who have been told they must report their abuser to police, even threatened with the district nurse with a workbook contacting their abuser. Our deliberate blindness has not changed, everyone, from the Prime Minster downwards shouts “paedophiles are evil” whilst not being willing to consider the lives of the next generation of victims/survivors.
Looking at the past, shaking your head and saying “isn’t it terrible what we used to do” does nothing for those who are being abused today, nor does it actually help those who were abused in the past. Looking at why so many professionals are so poor at recognising abuse, and supporting survivors should be the priority after the revelations of the past years, but it is not. It is not, I believe because it would mean people had to look at themselves, rather than blaming some strange beast called the child molester.
We need an actual inquiry into why people abuse, why some people with pedophiliac desires act on them, and some do not. We need an inquiry into the effect abuse has, not a blanket assertion either, but one which considers those who have studied the causes of abuse, as well as listening to survivors. Such an inquiry could also look at how survivors can be best helped. We need to start at the beginning, 1 in 14 adults in this country is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and it is thought this is a tip of a huge iceberg. We need to ask is this cultural? Can this be changed? We need to look to the future, not the past. None of this can be achieved whilst Goddard is seen as our only hope, and, as my sex work experience tells me, nothing will be achieved whilst the loudest voices are the ones demanding their pain is the only pain that matters.