‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing.’ By Angela Caldin
There is much in the media in recent days about paedophiles; some well-known, some not so well-known. Perhaps we should remind ourselves that for every paedophile there are likely to be multiple victims. But there doesn’t seem to be a great deal written about these victims, who in very many cases have to live the rest of their lives knowing that nothing has been done about the perpetrator and that little has been offered to them by way of help and support. Most of us have probably had a childhood experience where an adult has acted inappropriately towards us – a hand on a bare knee perhaps or an act of indecent exposure in a quiet street. Those images stay etched in our minds for the rest of our lives because we know absolutely that the context is all wrong. How much more strongly will acts of child abuse stay forever burned into the victims’ brains? The short and long-term effects of child abuse have been well documented and here is a list of some of the main ones, though it doesn’t pretend to be exhaustive:
- Feelings of shame, guilt, isolation, lack of confidence and low self-esteem
- Self-blame, fear which can lead to paranoia, loss of trust, anger and depression
- Poor body image because the body was the instrument used during abuse
- Sexual confusion or promiscuity as a result of not dealing with the emotions and feelings surrounding abuse
- Confusing rape or sexual abuse fantasies, problems over power and control and how to regain assertiveness
- Eating disorders, obesity and anorexia
- Drug abuse and alcoholism
- Physical illnesses such as migraine, asthma, arthritis, pelvic pain
- Difficulty in forming relationships and poor decision-making in any future relationships
- Difficulty with intimacy and sex
- Self-destructive, self-harming or even suicidal behaviour
Given this catalogue of terrible consequences, why is not more done to report the paedophile to the authorities and to protect the victims? Two famous examples spring to mind: Jimmy Savile and various priests in the Catholic Church. About 300 alleged victims of Jimmy Savile have now come forward. Why did the staff who knew the alleged abuse was going on, both at the BBC and at the hospitals where Savile had rooms, not report it to the powers that be so that it could be dealt with? Was it because he was such a well-loved personality who raised so much money for charity, or was it because it was easier just to turn a blind eye? The same thing happened in the Catholic Church. When it was realised in a parish that a priest was abusing children, the response for a long time was to remove the priest to another parish or another position where there was nothing to stop him continuing as an abuser. The original victims were offered little in the way of counselling, support, or comfort; they were just expected to go away, keep quiet and get on with their lives. In recent years, the Church has reviewed its practice because of so many scandals and has introduced rigorous safeguards against paedophilia, directed both at weeding out potential paedophiles at the entry to the seminary and at dealing promptly and fully with any incidents instead of covering them up.
The shocking thing is that priests who are paedophiles are in a position of trust, and parents happily hand over their children to them, not realising that priests are no better than the general population. The same goes for Jimmy Savile, who was also in a position of trust, both on his TV shows and in the hospitals where he worked. In all those scenarios, the alleged abusers were in positions close to children where they were seen as helping them and as being on their side. But the reality was the complete opposite as we now know. And we also know that paedophiles often try to get jobs where they are likely to be in touch with vulnerable victims, either in their care or near at hand. CRB checks, introduced in 2002, have gone some way to prevent convicted paedophiles from getting jobs near vulnerable children and adults, but they do not weed out the unconvicted and those who have managed never to have come to the attention of the authorities.
Child abuse is a crime of power and abusers may be rich or poor, executives or blue-collar workers, men or women; many appear to be upstanding citizens. Children who have experienced abuse tend not to tell what they have experienced; they have many reasons for not reporting and often it is because of threats by the abuser that they will not be believed or about what might happen to them or their families. Those who witness or suspect child abuse may also have their reasons for not reporting it: because they don’t want to get ‘involved’; because they believe that the abuse is not ‘serious’, especially if the child does not have visible or severe injuries; because they do not believe that reporting the abuse to the authorities is in the child’s best interest; or because they do not understand their responsibility to report abuse.
This is an area where we all have a duty to be vigilant and aware of situations where abuse might be occurring. Then we need to have the courage to report any concerns in the interests of the future well-being of the child. We should never ever turn a blind eye. Paedophilia, like domestic violence, straddles all classes of society and paedophiles do not see their conduct as wrong, often transferring blame to their victims. We need to be sure that offenders are stopped and brought to justice so that vulnerable victims are given the full protection of the law as well as the aftercare and therapy that is needed. It is up to each of us to make sure that this can happen.