Felicity Dowling on the child abuse scandal
We should raise our voices in deep anger against what has been uncovered in the child abuse reports, abuse involving the some of the very rich and very powerful. We pledge cold determination that children will never be treated as second class, non-people. We hope such cases are purely historic but will remain vigilant. This scandal goes to the core of this rotten class based society and the situation of children within it.
Scandal after scandal, from the Catholic Church to the Tory party, the same story of abuse; men (and a few women) using their power against youngsters in their care. Children were being hurt, frightened and abused by wealthy men. Wealthy men conspired together to show their power and, by cruel contrast, their victims powerlessness. Using privilege and a sense of entitlement, backed up by political power, by the entertainment elites, by attitudes in the press and the prosecuting authorities, these pampered wealthy men chose to force themselves sexually onto children.
Just as the child abuse in the Catholic Church was reflected in the murderous neglect of babies in their care, and the oppression of women in the Magdalene laundries and mother and baby homes, so sexual abuse of children was mirrored in Tory Britain by the poverty and social and economic neglect of children.
Thatcher and her ilk deserve the hatred and contempt with which they are held in many working class communities, amongst trade unionists, amongst those who fight for children’s rights, amongst the LGBT community, and amongst those fighting for women’s rights. This was the the government of Orgreave and the Miners Strike, of Hillsborough, of the attacks on Liverpool Council, of the Wapping dispute and the rise of News International, of the homophobic Clause 28. The exposure of the child abuse and its cover up amongst the Tory political elite is, though, more than confirmation of our prejudice.
Child abuse is a real and present danger for all children, even those of the elite. All teachers now are trained in child protection issues, to defend children. Grooming and trafficking are part of that horror. It is a dangerous reality across our society.
The national crime agency report’s key findings showed that children in institutional settings are not only at risk from abusers but from adults who fail to notice abuse or, if they do, fail to report it. Our children are at risk from child abuse because of the patriarchal structure of this society; but those removed from their families into institutions are at particular risk. This is an especial worry when the Tories intend to open the biggest ever children’s prison, where even babies could be locked up. Frances Crook describes “A prison within a prison for children with children”.
When ‘Austerity’ is imposed, the needs of children are hit and especially those in state care. The denigration of the needs of children implicit in ‘Austerity’ is dangerous to children, in healthcare, in poor nutrition, in safety and in happiness and wellbeing.
I believe though, that the examples of abuse where the very rich raped the children of the very poor, in children’s homes, demonstrate something that throws particular light on child abuse, amplifies the horror and shows its roots.
Children were taken into “care”, already scarred, and often scared, scared by leaving home and family, but then forced into an abuse circus, a circus that extended to Amsterdam brothels. Our children in state care were taken to Amsterdam to be abused. These children were deprived by the state of their family and community support, stripped of their rights and given as playthings to these corrupt and rotten individuals, individuals who, fresh from their conquests of captive children, go on to rule the country. Then the children were tossed aside, disbelieved and left to live in the hell that follows abuse.
Reflect on those rich elite men. All of the opportunities of the world were open to these wealthy individuals: travel, sport, art, music, education; but they chose instead to organise an ‘entertainment’ for themselves by abusing children. “Shall we go to see the Northern Lights? Dive to the bottom of the seas? Hear opera in Rome or Rock at Glastonbury? No let’s go and hurt kids! Working class poor kids! We have that power.”
Our anger stretches also to the minions of these rich abusers who organised to give the children to these creatures. People who were working for and in these homes, who were prepared to trade their human charges for money and the chance to bask in the reflection of power.
Those brave staff who raised objections were dealt with in many ways but the most scandalous is the case of Bulic Forsythe, whose mysterious death remains unsolved.
Sexual violence against women is well documented. Legal progress has been made since Thatcher in rights for women and rights for LGBT people. Children’s rights too have improved and safeguarding procedures have become much more thorough. Modern rape figures, we hope, are an improvement on the 1980s, but still are shocking: 69,000 female victims, 9,000 male victims per year. 1,070 convictions per year.
In the currently reported scandals, abuse extended beyond the women not believed in rape and assault cases, to other adults who were for some reason vulnerable. Savile took Rolf Harris to gawp at mentally ill women forced to strip and shower in front of staff and these disgusting onlookers. This is so far from human love and affection, so far from human sexuality that it clearly demonstrates the terrible use and abuse of power.
Kindness, care, time and nurture can help heal many woes, even the multiplicity of wounds involved in abuse. But none of this was given to these victims of the well-heeled, well dressed and powerful abusers. We are told childhood bullying can impact on people into their fifties. How much more so childhood abuse? It has taken decades for the survivors to be believed. Then these abusers lied and lied and used the power of the state to cover up. Their circles of protection were powerful indeed; ‘D notices’ which forbid publications were employed in some cases, it is said. No kindness care or nurture was offered to these victims.
A dirty and malevolent belief lay at the core of this abuse: a belief that they, the elite, had rights quite different in nature from the rights of ordinary folk, and certainly different from the rights of the children of the poor. The children of the poor were, available to the elite, available to them as part and parcel of their privilege. The rights of the children of the poor were utterly dismissed. Rich friends of the abusers who might have thought “it’s not on!” still thought it more important to cover up for them than to protect the children.
The abuse of children in children’s homes is at the core of this whole scandal. This is where the most explicit abuse of the children of the poor occurs.
Children are traditionally disbelieved. Thirteen little girls told the police the Soham murderer had assaulted them, but none were believed, so he was free to kill.
Dangerous, dismissive attitudes to the children of the poor are found today. Many hours of media time and much money has been spent developing hatred for the poor, the ‘chavs’, hatred of people with disabilities and the jobless. No one by this logic is more reviled than the children of the poor up to and including today.
Just as we need to listen to women, we need to listen to the voices of children
Jimmy Savile, Stuart Hall, Rolf Harris have all now been found guilty. Savile’s story is well researched in Dan Davies book “In Plain Sight”, here reviewed in the Observer.
“‘I have a policy,’ he told the officers. They were calling him Jimmy. ‘Can I call you Jimmy?’ they said. ‘What do you mean by a policy?’ ‘Well, I have a policy that I will pass this to my people and my people are big important people and we will be able to put time in the Old Bailey and you will be in the Old Bailey and these people will be in the Old Bailey.'” It worked. The investigation was dropped.
Some of the survivors have been heard and been believed, but the sickness at the heart of this is still there. Thatcher, we are told, knew of abuse by senior ministers. Edwina Currie gave Savile the keys to Broadmoor!
Children are open to abuse right now because the services in place are being dismantled by ‘austerity’. Children’s centres across the country are closing. Inadequate and relentlessly impoverished social services mean even the most vulnerable children are looked after by a succession of agency social workers, foster carers often with inadequate support and in privatised children’s homes, employing workers with great heart but in inadequate professional development and support and rotten working conditions. High turnover is again a major problem. How then can this system protect our children?
The media, the police and others know that politicians have decided that the unborn babies of very poor mothers are no longer entitled to free NHS maternity care. They know this policy will kill but they keep quiet because these are the children of the poor, of the immigrant community.
The whole experience of childhood has changed since Thatcher’s time. The James Bulger killing, the Dunblane massacres and strings of child abuse cases marked turning points. Traffic and the press descriptions of the prevalence of violent crime have changed the whole experience of childhood. Children no longer play on the streets, few even play outside unsupervised. Wildlife geek Chris Packham complains that children are not even allowed to get slithered on and scratched by the snails and twigs.
Children are, in the ideas of the present, the responsibility entirely of their parents. When parents can’t cope family members are left to struggle. The struggles of kinship carers raising children on old age pensions are unbelievable in the 4th richest country in the world.
Two education ministers, Keith Joseph and Rhodes Boyson, are mentioned in the press comments on the issue of sex parties involving teenagers “bought” for the purpose. These men had huge power over the whole state system of schools and are seen as the forerunners of Gove’s policies on schools.
These people were part of the government that passed Clause 28, intended to sow hatred of gay people and to demean and oppress them and their teachers. The amendment stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.
The lies and hypocrisy stink. That gap between the truth and the “message”, though, is one of the ways the ruling elites manipulate political discussion. Blame public services and the North for child abuse, blame public servants for the financial crisis caused by the bankers, claim concern for the failings in the NHS whilst privatising it, claim to be improving schools whilst wrecking them. Claim to be making peace whilst making war. Claim concern for children whilst letting them go hungry and un-protected. Keep the truth far from the message; that’s the spin doctor way.
Left Unity is committed to LGBT rights. Stonewall has shown the extent of hate crime against gay people. A quarter of young gay people report that many have no adult to talk to, partly because many teachers are uncomfortable or untrained to do so. The prejudicial message of Clause 28 still affects schools all these years later. If these children feel unable to talk, how safe are they to report abuse?
David Cameron linked homophobia to the child abuse crimes in an interview, for which his office offered an apology of sorts. Peter Tachell commented, excusing him.
We have to make very, very clear that homosexuality is not linked to child abuse. Child abuse is a pervasive evil across society. Girls and boys, children and young teens are at risk.
The UN Convention on the rights of the child has been ratified by every country except the USA and Somalia. It would be a good starting point for challenging the vicious anti-child attitudes of our rulers.
The Convention states that every child has:
•The right to a childhood (including protection from harm)
•The right to be educated (including all girls and boys completing primary school)
•The right to be healthy (including having clean water, nutritious food and medical care)
•The right to be treated fairly (including changing laws and practices that are unfair on children)
•The right to be heard (including considering children’s views)
Across the globe reactionary regimes damage the rights of children – to life, to education, to peace, to housing and to health care – by their rhetoric and by their actions in peace and in war.
Left Unity must be the party of children, defending their basic rights to food, education, childcare, health care, family life (including shorter working hours for adults so parents, grandparents and the community have time for children) and, of course, a planet fit to inhabit. More than that, children must be allowed to be happy, free for the stresses of poverty. Our children must be free from the hate speech pushed by the Tories and their media friends in attacks on benefit claimants, on asylum seekers, on immigrants and disabled people and people in ill health. Children must have access to the inherited cultural wealth of our society in libraries, museums and art galleries, national parks and zoos.
We must call for far-reaching studies into how best to help survivors of abuse and how best to prevent it happening now and in the future. Our prisons must be reformed to become therapeutic rather than crudely punitive, so abusers do not go though a revolving door. We recognise the link between the abuse of children, women and men as part of patriarchy (the rule of men in society). We know that the rule of men permeates the institutions of our society, in law, in the economy, in the media, in sport and much more. Changing the legacy of abuse will take many resources and much time.
An enquiry into this organised “historic” abuse was initially intended to be headed by Lady Butler-Sloss, sister of Sir Michael Havers, himself mentioned as attending some of the sex parties. Surely, some organisations other than those of the elite who perpetrated these abuses must be involved in an enquiry, organisations like the trade unions, organisations of care leavers, of the survivors of abuse?
On the left, in the unions, in women’s organisations and children’s support organisations, we raise campaigns for good childcare, decent wages for women, funded social services and an end to ‘austerity’. We raise good points of discussion on how “our leaders” operate.
In talk of this scandal, though, our politics must go publicly to the need to remove the rule of a corrupt elite. They are a very efficient elite, efficient at gathering ever more of society’s wealth into their own pockets, efficient at delivering mass media hate campaigns, at creating war out of peace. They are efficient at pollution of the land and water, at delivering terrible inequality and at championing an economic system good only for a tiny elite. By opposing the rule of the elite we begin to protect the children of the poor, the children of the working class and perhaps all children.
By raising the idea that the elite must go, that we must become a real democracy – political, social and economic – we open up a chance to talk of how a different world is possible, a world where generations might thrive without the cancer of child abuse, without poverty, with more joy, and healthier, happier and safer children. A future worth fighting for!
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