told us what we know – that sexual crimes against children are too big, too tolerated and altogether too much. Goddard, the New Zealand judge who resigned from the inquiry into historical child abuse last month, said in a memo to MPs that there was “an inherent problem in the sheer scale and size of the inquiry”.owell Goddard has
It was set up in 2014 after a tsunami of scandal: the deaths of prolific but protected abusers, BBC DJ Jimmy Savile and Liberal politician Cyril Smith, and longstanding suspicions about other Westminster politicians. Speculation about organised networks of men sexually exploiting children amplified the clamour to do something. The inquiry announced 13 initial investigations. Goddard is the third chair to step down, after the previous two appointees resigned. Her memo, drawing attention to the unmanageable scale of the problem, has encouraged cynicism and scepticism, but scale should be no deterrent. Nor should the shame that suffocates survivors of sexual assault.
Victims and survivors don’t expect and don’t get justice. The great American specialist in crimes of sexual domination, Judith Lewis Herman, warns that the perpetrator’s goal is to maintain domination by terrorising and shaming. It is this “dishonouring” of victims, she argues, that makes sexual abuse “so impervious to the formal remedies of the law”.
What Goddard and her inquiry have not been able to do, we as a society haven’t been able to do either: sexual crimes against children are ubiquitous and abusers act with virtual impunity.
Sexual abuse of children is one of the great issues of our time. For decades it loitered on the doorsteps of institutions, with nowhere to go. Theresa May’s efforts as home secretary to launch the inquiry in 2014 revealed a rush to judgment and a faith that the great and the good – our own or somebody else’s – could get hold of this and control it.
They can’t. Unlike the Iraq war inquiry, or the Hillsborough inquiry, this is not about one time and place, but about everywhere: all bodies with any responsibility for children – from police to schools, churches, the justice system, the NHS, private schools and public charities – are implicated. Some have been named. I’m currently updating my book Unofficial Secrets, on the Cleveland child abuse crisis 30 years ago. It was a controversy about medical evidence of abuse and how to respond to it.
An inquiry chaired by Elizabeth Butler-Sloss – the same judge appointed in 2014 to lead the new inquiry, before she resigned under pressure over family links – was the defining moment in our era of child-abuse politics: it was a model of not-knowing, of not answering the questions on everyone’s lips. Although the Cleveland inquiry did not doubt the medical signs that were suggestive of sexual abuse, its report neither asked nor answered the question: were the children abused? And it thus created the context in which thousands of childhoods would be ruined. The government squandered a generation of professionals. And it denied justice – or if not justice, at least honour – to the survivors.
There are millions of us – survivors and professionals and their advocates – waiting, waiting, waiting for recognition and respect and the opportunity to participate in a cultural revolution. Goddard has suggested there should be a complete review of the inquiry she has quit, “with a view to remodelling it and recalibrating its emphasis more towards current events and thus focusing major attention on the present and future protection of children”. But to abandon the excavation of the past because it is too big and too hard – as Goddard seems to suggest – is to demand that we commit collective amnesia. It would mean “giving up on a better past” – in Herman’s phrase – for the millions who will suffer in the future.
Some victims may boycott the troubled sex abuse inquiry. What has gone wrong? Eric Allison and Simon Hattenstone
The inquiry needs to be brave, to innovate. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission could be a useful model. It had a target, the old apartheid state, and a mission: to name the guilty men and validate their victims and cement a new consensus. Yet that commission was set up by a post-apartheid government, whereas we are not a post-sexual abuse society. And that commission’s brief – to address individual victims of violence and perpetrators – did not extend to the millions subjected to “social suffering” caused by apartheid.
The child abuse inquiry’s brief is not just to consider abuse in institutional contexts, but the experiences of anyone “failed by an institution”. Nevertheless, a historical inquiry into institutions ignores the place where most sexual abuse takes place – the family. The Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) in England calculates that 1.3 million children will experience serious sexual abuse in their families by the time they reach 18. In the past year the OCC has reportedly lost half its staff. That’s how committed the government is to abused children. SOURCE
Huge extent of UK Child Abuse problem is revealed by senior officer: UK ‘will be probing 200,000 child sex cases by 2020’