The issue of child sexual abuse is being discussed and debated widely in society today. The allegations relating to Jimmy Saville and the prominent sexual abuse stories centring on Children’s Homes in North Wales has brought one of society’s huge skeletons out of the closet and we seem to be struggling to put it back in. In this blog I wanted to explore my own thoughts and perceptions on this most sensitive of issues.
And sensitive it is indeed. The sexual abuse of children is an issue for our society. It has gone on, it is going on and it will continue to go on. It is insidious and unpalatable and yet it is something we all find difficult to talk about. It seems tied up in some many taboos that a balanced and reasonable discussion about it is very difficult to maintain. The place of the child in our society is seen as sacred we have an overwhelming desire to protect children. Not just because of their vulnerability but also because for many of us our children offer a future and it seems a natural human instinct to want the best future possible for them.
To think of children being sexually abused is extremely difficult. It is not a place we want to be and definitely not a place we want children to be. It wrecks lives and takes away childhood. We have a desire to see childhood as a good time as a positive time as a time we can reflect on and find happiness, most often happiness in innocence if that innocence is shattered then childhood is irrevocably changed. It’s a terrible place. And one we find difficult to inhabit but inhabit it we must. If only to provide support for those who live there and are not visiting. Providing services for survivors of child sexual abuse is one of the greatest challenges to our modern welfare state. Our systems and services were never developed to cope with this and you can see now that we are hideously un prepared to manage this.
Disclosing sexual abuse is incredibly difficult, how do children manage it? Who can they trust remember the abuser abused their trust, making it so difficult to trust again for fear of the same thing happening again. Once you do disclose how can you control what happens next? By disclosing what chain of events are set in place and does this mean you have to go back there? To revisit your abuse? To see your abuser again? For children this must be an impossible place to be.
And do we help? Does society help? Do social workers help? Take a look at registration statistics for child sexual abuse in Scotland in 2005 2006 given what we know does this seem fair and reasonable? We have some insight into the scope of the issue yet our only formal way of recognising it seems unable to grasp the extent of the issue. Disclosure of sexual abuse for children sees the law as having paramouncy; the emphasis in getting the right kind of evidence led carefully and sensitively from children seems to me to be an obstacle in supporting disclosure. The interview process in complicated and requires a child to disclose in front of a police officer and a social worker. Rest assured that if the case ever came to court the debate would not be on “did this happen?” but on “how was this information gathered?” After Orkney Scotland has struggled with Child Protection, local authorities have the responsibility to protect children yet faced with a restrictive economic climate and a mind-set that cannot seem to grasp the issue is it any wonder there is a sense of confusion?
It seems that everyone has an opinion on the issue. Open hatred for those who commit crimes against children is easy. Who would not have these feelings about people who do this? Not to feel this way could be construed as having some kind of support for them. Organisations that have dealt with this issue seem to miss the point instead of looking at the people they look at structures, at the role of managers and see opportunities for restructuring. Being tarnished with the issue results in responses that have little to do with children and much to do with using hindsight to limit or attempts to eradicate risk.
We seem unable to locate child sexual abuse in a place we can deal with it best. As individuals we seek to remove ourselves from it, almost to try and protect ourselves from being exposed to it in any way, it is toxic, it is dangerous and damaging and we don’t seem able to grasp it. All too often the drama is played out in the wings, surely our challenge is to put it centre stage.