The Guardian, Wednesday 27 February 2013
‘Sexual intercourse began/ In nineteen sixty-three,” wrote Philip Larkin. And to judge by recent coverage, sexual abuse began last year, in 2012. Well, it had been going before, apparently, but no one knew too much about it. Except those actually being abused, who were on the whole young, female, damaged, unreliable and not “credible” witnesses. This is what anyone who has watched the media coverage of the past few months might ascertain. From Savile to the Socialist Workers Party, from the resignation of Cardinals to the allegations about Lord Rennard. No one knew much at the time at all! Raping a child is not the same as putting your hand on the leg of an adult woman, but what is this but a spectrum of systematic abuse being uncovered?
And what is our response? Still, the victims are mute, dispensable, irrelevant. Speaking out has not empowered them as it should: they remain a lumpen mass of unfortunate people to whom unfortunate things were done. The focus remains on the powerful as they scurry between media outlets changing their stories.
Abuse is shocking. Its covering up even more so, and a culture that is prepared to do this is rotten to the core. So where is this hidden culture? Oh look, it’s in Westminster, at the BBC, in the SWP, in the Catholic church, in the police force, in care homes and even in the godforsaken Lib Dem party. Sex scandals in the Catholic church are decades old. After Cardinal O’Brien resigned over the allegations against him, one of the men who had made them talked about his own decision to leave the priesthood: he said it had been presumed he did so to get married, but this was not the case. “I knew he would always have power over me.” This is key to understanding how abuse wrecks lives. Those detectives trying to meet their targets by persuading women to drop rape charges in Operation Sapphire are not much concerned with this. Those who covered up Cyril Smith’s grooming and abuse of institutionalised boys can’t be either. Those who knew the “difficulties” about Lord Rennard have known about them for some time, though, like O’Brien, he denies them. Likewise those in the BBC and the police who heard the Savile rumours ignored them.
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