“The problem with paedophilia is that you have to go to bed really early.” Hands up if you don’t think that’s funny? Hands up, and be honest now, if you were tempted to laugh but then reminded yourself that child abuse is no laughing matter? You’re right, it is no laughing matter, but then triviality isn’t the main aim of jokes; they don’t mean you don’t take the subject seriously. What is damaging is the failure to take seriously the people who really matter – us, the victims.
I told that joke as an aside to camera at the beginning of an interview with Jeremy Vine for a Panorama programme, Are You a Danger to Your Kids?. The BBC came to me because of the widespread publicity around the revelation in my autobiography Beware of the Dog that, at the age of nine, I had been repeatedly sexually abused by a schoolteacher who was a family friend. To make matters worse, my mother was the school secretary at the time. It was a story I had not told to anyone for nearly 40 years and I had not included it in my first autobiography, which was ghost-written.
It’s about people
The programme discussed the thankfully nowredundant proposal of an Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) scheme. It was an illadvised and probably dangerous initiative yet though it is no more, the lessons highlighted by the fiasco have not been learned. This is amply demonstrated by the developing scandal around Jimmy Savile, and soon to be others of fame.
The issue of child abuse has been hijacked by the press as a way of deflecting from its own nefariousness on phone-hacking and bribing of public officials. Why didn’t the papers act on rumours they now say were very clear and publicly known?
Let me get this straight – anyone who witnessed abuse or failed to investigate a complaint properly must be asked and must answer all questions put. However, you can’t apply today’s more vigilant standards of scrutiny to the 1970s. Nor can you legitimately skewer culprits with circumstantial or hearsay evidence which, with the benefit of hindsight and subsequent revelation, appears to raise suspicion.
What is lost in all this is the victims. The accusations are focused on institutions and authority, with the individual cases lost in a running total of victims that the tabloids seem keen to inflate. There are and will be calls for more procedures and schemes and vetting to ensure this never happens again. But it will happen again, and what is not needed is another raft of process-driven, box-ticking certificates of safety.
A simple national register is all that is needed to bar convicted abusers, but the ISA or Criminal Records Bureau registers would not have caught my abuser or Savile or anyone who has not already been caught. Indeed, they would have given them a document to wave around, offering them further cover and confidence.
You cannot have a situation where children view any adult not in their family or not a family friend with immediate suspicion. Not only will this fracture society, it will also put children in more danger. Seventy per cent of abuse is domestic. If children look to their family for safety and are then abused, they are isolated, betrayed and without anywhere to go.
To catch abusers the first thing you need is a complaint; without that the police or any other body cannot start to investigate anything. To attract complaints, you have to give victims the confidence to complain, and that doesn’t just mean informing them of which line to call or person to tell.
I and many of Savile’s victims did not tell because we did not think we would be believed. What we victims need is not just an immediate person being sympathetic and taking a statement. We need to know that a proper investigation will be made if we make a complaint; to know that the Crown Prosecution Service will be robust and that every effort will be made to secure a conviction. So harrowing is the telling of our stories that we have to have utmost faith that as much as possible will be done to rectify the wrong and to help us bear the extra stress of an investigation and trial.
Give us the facts
We are often tortured by the knowledge that many people will associate us with the awfulness of the crime and that, by extension, we will become damaged and tainted. In the case of male rape and abuse, the assumption is that the victim is gay or a likely abuser.
The failure of the government and the media to inform, educate and disseminate the facts around abuse is damaging and makes complaints less likely. It isn’t true that there is a paedophile round every corner and we don’t want the fear of abuse to become as widespread as the fear of crime has become.
If the public is properly enlightened, we will not have to fear allegations that we are making things up for sympathy or, in my case, to sell books. We might be spared the silences that accompany our entry into conversations about abuse, because it will be an issue that, though uncomfortable, can be talked about openly. Only then might we start to know we are not alone.
Blanket broadcasting of just our names does not help. How much do you know about any of us, beyond our abuse? How many stories have there been about the inadequacy of support for those of us who have developed psychiatric problems, are addicts or are at risk of suicide?
The ongoing failure to help us is as much a scandal as the failures of 30 years ago to catch our abusers. If everyone’s starting point is our welfare and we all work outwards from there, at least things will be going in the right direction.
If you really care about the abused and want to catch their abusers, vicarious outrage is of limited use. Sustained lobbying for the financing of relevant social services will do more than hysterical posturing and calls to “cut their balls off”. Then again, the former isn’t really news and the latter is much easier.
Brian Moore is a former England rugby international and the author of the award-winning “Beware of the Dog” (Simon & Schuster, £7.99)