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What amuses, annoys, concerns or otherwise interests me – Noodlemaz

The sound of silence

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A probably-triggery post about people’s attitudes towards abuse, institutionalised and otherwise.

I’m going to have to jump on the Savile-comment bandwagon, simply because I’ve had a lot of conversations about it so it’s kind of cathartic to get some of my thoughts down in a post. Also pertinent given the fresh turmoil happening at the BBC as of yesterday. Edit: the Guardian liveblogged the Panorama episode looking into why Newsnight dropped their investigative work on Savile.

Essentially I’m disturbed by how many people are following the typical pattern that allows abuse to become institutionalised, sustained and widespread in the first place. Doubting victims’ testimonies, defending alleged perpetrators to the last (even when they’re dead!!) and putting the what-if-they’re-innocent scenario above the what-if-all-these-people’s-lives-have-been-shattered one.

It is strange that false accusations of rape and abuse are so much more abhored than other more common false accusations; yes, whenever it happens, it’s awful and the false accuser should (and in all likelihood is) punished. But I’m afraid I find the low conviction rate and shockingly high incidence of rape and sexual abuse far more offensive and worthy of address. Yes, false accusations can ruin lives. But actual child abuse ruins more lives far more severely, and unless we’re looking someone with a life ahead of them in the face, who is charged with something and found to be innocent, I’m afraid I’ll believe the people who stand up and tell their stories over – importantly here, I think – a dead man.

Why are they only coming forward now?

I think this smacks of a severe lack of empathy and thinking through the situation. Imagine yourself an abused child, with no frame of reference, in a structure that protects the people taking advantage of you. What are you going to do? How long is it going to take you to come to terms with that? When you finally do, what are you going to do now? Is that power structure still in place? Given all the people who are so ready to doubt those who come forward, I know I wouldn’t be comfortable or confident in doing so. Edit: do read this excellent New Statesman piece by someone with personal experience.

Also, how many people did come forward earlier, at the time, and you’re just not aware of it? How dare you judge people you’ve never met, who likely have severe trauma in their past to be dealing with, just because they haven’t come under your radar? That’s the thing about being silenced – it’s easy to miss, being all, you know, silent.

How many of them were silenced? A quick look on @everydaysexism shows that even when people do have the guts to complain about the way they’ve been treated, it’s generally easier to silence a complaint than to address the problem by way of discipline, sacking or appropriate legal action. People take the easy way out, the culture is protected.

We can probably compare with catholic abuse cases. Often laughed about, how the choirboys were ‘fiddled with’, but how many of those men and women have had to grow old with their secret, learning to live with it as best they can, perhaps finally being able to come forward when their abuser dies or somehow another allegation brings them into disrepute, thus opening a window? Child abuse is not an isolated violation, it has long-term and far-reaching consequences.

I have far too many friends who have suffered abuse and left it unreported because the perpetrator is in a position of power. Not even one so immense as Savile’s, just a friend or acquaintance or colleague – you know their friends will believe them over you. By the time you’ve worked out what’s happened and come to terms with it, surely it’s too late? Wasn’t it a bit your fault as well (no)? Imagine the victims of even more powerful individuals. Our culture is set up to protect them, and it will continue to do so while you stand there and ask me what I think about it all, because…

What if he’s innocent?

In all honesty, I don’t give a fuck – I’d rather more and more real victims feel safe in coming forward. Not just in this case, but others as well. The ball is rolling, take a look at what’s there, think on what happens every day that you’re unaware of, and try being supportive and trusting, instead of defending an incredibly destructive culture that surely we would all rather see changing for the better.

Again, it’s bold to accuse so many people you have not met of being liars. It’s hardly something I’d make up for a laugh, nor would most. Why do you care so much about a dead man’s reputation? His family? Sure, it’s got to be a tough time for them, but similarly with any close to those who commit crimes, or are accused of them. What about the individuals who claim to have been affected, their families, the victims and their lives, still ongoing? I’m simply inclined to care much more about the living than the deceased.

I think a major stumbling block is that people would rather believe folks are nice, and can’t reconcile knowing someone in one capacity (i.e. a popular public icon) with them also being a criminal. We see it whenever a murderer is convicted (or killed) “oh but they seemed so lovely, I didn’t think they’d hurt a fly!” – why would you? But it is an interesting and strange contrast with people judging those coming out with very difficult things, people whom they don’t even know, to be money-grabbing liars. That feels like a huge double-standard, and why is it that way around? Funny how innocent-til-proven-guilty only seems to apply to the accused in these cases?

I think they’re the main things that have been getting to me. It’s interesting to see how it develops, and I’m going to remain optimistic that this will mean changes for the better in the structure of the BBC and other institutions. There are far more serious problems coming to light here than just the reputation of a presenter who liked cigars, bling and tracksuits.

Edit: the consensus seems to be that this comment is probably the most disturbing, and indicative of a wider culture of disbelieving victims and marginalising women in particular:

“Our sources so far are just the women and a second hand briefing.”

“Just the women”? “Just” people coming forward to report things that have happened to them? Just that? There’s your problem.

Some links:

  • An excellent guardian article on issue of power and silencing paedophiles plus media involvement.
  • A journalist explains that silencing, sexist, pressuring behaviour was commonplace.
  • Heresy Corner asks why the whole thing didn’t come out earlier in the year. Let’s not forget the extraordinary power the media tends to have over our awareness, knowledge and opinions.
  • 2014: Guardian summary of Savile’s victims, aged 5-75, from many walks of life – and how various systems failed them, and assisted him.
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Author: noodlemaz

I prefer to think of myself as a realist rather than a pessimist, but perhaps that's just optimistic. Honest, atheist, scientist, feminist.

3 thoughts on “The sound of silence

  1. I can’t believe people are asking “Why are they only coming forward now”. Surely the issue is: Why did those who were seemingly aware it was happening (colleagues and contacts, not victims) turn a blind eye?

  2. To the point of “What if he’s innocent?”, I don’t understand why, or at what point everyone decided he was guilty. I’m sure when this started out it was “allegedly” this and “claims of” that in the media, but there appears to be a critical mass beyond which innocent until proven guilty becomes guilty until proven innocent.

    For the record, I’m not saying I believe he was innocent, far from it, but I’m sure there are laws about the media / journalistic institutions making clear that these are merely allegations until a criminal conviction is handed down, irrespective of how overwhelming the evidence is. Are there different rules when the person who is being accused is dead and a conviction can’t be brought?

    • I don’t think everyone has – that’s a matter for the courts, and kind of my point. This is very close to conversations I’ve had re: the Assange affair now.

      Obviously they are still allegations and remain so until a judge decides otherwise. I believe (and I’m looking at the TV now, which says “Jimmy Savile allegations”, so it would appear so) that the media is careful to include the fact that nothing has been proven when reporting. I would venture that this very idea he’s already been convicted (to be fair the sheer scale of this sets it apart as a case and it’s quite difficult to relate it to others in that respect) and people are being unfair, is a part of people’s reluctance to believe victims as well, actually.

      The point of my post isn’t really Savile himself, it’s about the wider problem – I think this is a springboard to talk about that, it really shows up that structure. How many people were silent, and often reasonably so – where does all that come from? How is it maintained? Hopefully a lot of people will gain an education from this, and the sadly inevitable future victims might have a slightly better chance of seeing justice.

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