I’m sure I’ve written on this subject before, but it’s driving me a little mad again so I’m diving back in.
I read the paper today to find that there is to be an advertising campaign to promote possible compensation to victims of Jimmy Savile.
They are actually going to run a national campaign that effectively says ‘if Jimmy abused you – you might get some cash,” in some dreadful parody of the accident compensation commercials. The idea that the suffering undergone during sexual abuse can be reduced to some tawdry financial sop makes me feel sick – for so many reasons:
- That there will be vultures who lie about experiences to attempt to get money
- That people in need of therapy will instead develop expectations of some magical closure as a result of selling their experience – and when the money doesn’t work – what then?
- As a normal human being I am utterly sick of seeing abuse used to create sensation in order to sell newspapers on days nothing else interesting has happened.
- I’m sick of seeing abuse dealt with in superficial, unhelpful victim and monster stereotypes in the media
- As a person who has experienced abuse I am tired of being reminded of it on a daily basis
- As a person who has supported the abused I am sick of the experience being reduced to a matter of law at the expense of the emotional and personal
I could go on…
There are more problems here than one rant can accommodate, but I’d like to at least try and offer something more than a one-dimensional, knee-jerk spasm of superficial and ill-thought rubbish in the hope I can do a tiny amount to counter-act a seemingly endless piss-stream of medial effluvia.
Sexual abuse is not a shared experience, it is a private experience. If abuse is to be shared it should be in a careful and respectful way, through therapy and family support, it is not something made better by sharing it with the general public in sensationalist stories.
The experience of abuse is unique to each person. The effects of abuse are unique to each individual and situation. One person may survive severe abuse and feel only minor effects, others will undergo mild experiences which nonetheless cripple them for years afterwards. Taking these situations to the law or the media at present only serves to strip them of all nuance and treat them as somehow a single kind of experience, as if each sufferer will have identical experiences, thoughts and repercussions.
Our whole approach to abuse is beyond awful, the needs of victims lost at every turn, lost to twisted compensation claims, simplistic media imagery and hypocritical public outcry riddled with a fundamental moral hypocrisy. We abhor abuse while we revel in the sexualisation of almost every area of our lives, conflicting ourselves and our children by denying our sexuality on the one hand and selling lipstick, cars and magazines with sex on the other.
On the flip side we do no better when we deal with the abusers. Someone who commits such dreadful acts is clearly in need of help; they have become so mixed up in their thinking or suffer from such appalling drives that they are willing to cause appalling harm to another human being – sometimes even believing they are not causing harm at all.
These people surely need to be brought closer to us, to be helped to integrate, to see the harm they do and be helped to develop the necessary empathy, the healthy patterns of thought that might prevent future harm.
Instead we find it ugly and shocking and so take people already marginalised by their own illness and push them still further away. In reality we outright refuse these people – we will not allow ourselves to believe their behaviour is normal human behaviour – harmful and dreadful yes, but human. We can accept that people commit murder, robbery, violence and a multitude of awful, hurtful crimes and we can say “I’d never do it but I can understand how this person might…” But with sexual abuse we cannot. Here we say “I could never do that.” Yet those who abuse are human – so it only stands to reason that some of us can – even while that reality may feel quite terrible.
I know this is all very shocking but if I’m honest I don’t see our attitudes to abuse as very different to our general attitudes. Millions go hungry while we partake in societies which consume well beyond their needs. We kill thousands in wars which masquerade as humanitarian but are really only politics and greed. Every day new laws are created which are only laws for the poor and disempowered – who cannot afford lawyers to help them evade prosecution. Each day the rich grow richer while the poor are blamed for our country’s poverty.
We live in a society riven by forms of abuse, abuses of power, financial abuses, war crimes and political deceit. In this climate sexual abuse is only an extreme example of the fundamental sickness in our society. We refuse to see ourselves as capable of harm, or culpable, yet we cause harm every day. The cure for this is not to isolate, to reject or refuse those we feel have failed our supposed moral standards – the cure is to embrace, to recognise and accept.
While we continue to make whatever we cannot accept into a cartoon monster – to declare anything too uncomfortable as ‘inhuman’ and thus deny it, we will fail to reduce the harm it causes.
Just as I must accept that I am both good – a musician, a parent, sometimes hard-working, kind – and bad – I don’t do enough to help others, I am in other ways lazy and often ill-tempered – and that both these sides make the whole; so we must come to accept ourselves, our societies and our communities as being both good and bad, filled with good people who do bad things, and bad people who do good things.
If we could bring such tolerance and genuine, open-eyed acceptance and understanding to our treatment of sexual abuse we might help both victim and abuser to continue to feel like normal people – normal people who have been wronged or who have done wrong, but who are still part of the world, still have hope of a good future, of healing and change.
Maybe then we would finally see an end to the sickening parade of abuse stories which infest our media and yet fail to make any impact on abuse itself. I for one could live without this daily reminder of little pain matters when money is at stake.
If you need somewhere to turn to help cope with abuse or talk about your experience you could try: