Warning: This is a discussion of the treatment of sexual abuse. Although there are no graphic descriptions, you may still find it upsetting.
If you normally read The Sun, or watch Jeremy Kyle you should read these first:
Otherwise, start here.
Is it time we asked ourselves afresh how to deal with abuse? Should we be using more of a mixed approach – not just prison but psychiatry or other therapies? We used to put ‘madmen’ in prison until we realised they were acting ‘without control’ and needed help. Now we try and cure them. Do we need to start curing abusers?
I personally don’t care too much about the welfare of the abuser. Or do I? Surely an abuser put in prison who comes out with nothing and no-one is more dangerous than before? So I seem to be forced into having to care for the abuser, because if I treat them badly, I just make them more dangerous.
Perhaps I could put them in prison forever? That would fix things. But it turns out that 93% of offences are committed by people who have never been convicted of a crime before. Lifelong prison would not help here at all.
What can we do about these people? How can we create a society in which people don’t commit abuse? How do we stop the ‘desire to abuse’?
These thoughts come from a story of a young man who was abused but who did not want his family split up. After reporting the abuse he was given no choice, his family were split up. Having lost the wage earner they then lost their house. Even when he asked for contact it was denied. The family wanted to work through things but they were not allowed to. In the end the father killed himself in prison and the mother became addicted to sleeping pills and anti-depressants. The victim still believes reporting the abuse was the wrong thing to do, and blames himself for his fathers death and his mothers chronic depression.
All of this was in the news at some point. Next time you read about a ‘vile monster’ in the newspaper, try and imagine being the child who loves that ‘monster’. Our somewhat sick obsession with sensationalism has a high price for some.
In no world should this horror be the result of disclosing abuse.
It is clearly time for us to be able to discuss this like adults. We will never prevent child abuse while we respond so hysterically to it and just throw rocks. Just as a paramedic must learn to be calm in the face of terrible injuries, we must learn to be calm and careful in tackling this issue.
What we are doing isn’t working, so doing more of it is obviously not going to help. Having counselled a number of people who have suffered abuse I have been led to the following ideas.
We must stop sending twisted sexual messages. In our media we cry ‘respect women’, while we flaunt women to sell goods; we cry ‘protect children from sexual predators’, then in our shops we sell padded bra’s for kids; and in our lives we often seem obsessed with sex but still can’t talk reasonably about healthy sex with our children or each other. These conflicting attitudes are confusing and hypocritical.
It seems as though stopping abuse is not just a police issue, but requires all of us to change somehow. Children must be armed against abuse through careful education. It doesn’t require that we show them pornography or graphically describe genitals and traumatise them for life. They only need to know that if anyone does something they are uncomfortable with it is never okay, and they can always tell mum, dad or a teacher. Too many say that they were confused, didn’t know it was wrong or were too ashamed. It is awful to think of a child suffering and feeling unable to speak. Children must KNOW that there is someone to talk to.
Part of making them comfortable to talk is keeping the power with them. The child should have a reasonable say in what happens next, not be swept away on a tide of missionary zeal. Abuse is traumatic and our response must be utterly gentle. Abuse takes power away from a child and we must give it back. If relationships can be saved this should at least be an option.
More than anything communities must stop treating abusers like monsters, not for the sake of the abusers but for the sake of our children. If we don’t have a safe place for people afraid they might abuse to get help – they won’t seek help – they’ll just abuse. If victims feel telling the police will make things worse, they won’t tell them.
Anyone seeking help regarding abuse can START HERE