An issue we’ve tried to hammer home again and again on this blog is that when people use the issue of child sexual abuse to further their own agenda, it hurts real survivors.
We’ve made the point that dramatising imaginary “Satanic ritual abuse” cases rather than focussing on the very real and much more mundane sexual abuse of children drains much-needed resources from those who need it most.
The same applies to so-called “VIP paedophile” investigations such as the ill-fated Operations Midland, Fairbank, and Conifer: massive amounts of police time and energy, not to mention public money, went into chasing alleged high-profile paedophiles (some of whom were deceased) on the say-so of fantasists who told improbable tales which ought to have been easily debunked early on.
This is not just a hypothetical argument. One contributor to the IICSA’s Truth Project, called “Lucy” in the report, illustrates the real harm done to survivors:
Hospitalised at the age of 11 years because of an assault by her mother, Lucy was taken into care and placed with a foster family. There, she was raped repeatedly by a violent man and his two teenage sons.
Lucy’s attempts to seek justice have not succeeded and she has suffered severe mental health difficulties. Despite this, she has managed to build strong and happy relationships with her family and loved ones.
In the foster home, Lucy was sexually abused on a weekly basis by the foster father (“Mr Ambridge”) and two teen-aged sons (“David” and “Stephen”):
The three of them raped and sexually abused her every week for a year, and she was given money each time it happened.
One day David hurt her even more than usual and Mr Ambridge beat him as punishment. He made Lucy watch, asking her how much he should hit David. She was very distressed by this.
Eventually Lucy was returned to her mother. She told her what had happened, but her mother called her a liar and beat her severely. Lucy resolved that she would black out her experiences, and for many years she was successful. Eventually though, she suffered a breakdown due to physical and mental problems.
Feeling suicidal, she went to hospital, where she saw a psychiatrist and began counselling. As she became more able to talk about her past, she reported the sexual abuse to the police. She gave a statement and was reassured by the officer that the case would go to court and she would have the chance to face her one remaining abuser, David.
By that time Mr Ambridge and Stephen had both died. In a voluntary police interview, David denied even knowing Lucy. She persuaded the police to seek other potential victims, and several others came forward who had been fostered by Mr and Mrs Ambridge.
While the other former foster children reported physical abuse in that home, they did not disclose sexual abuse. Lucy’s case was passed to another police officer, who she found to be “cold, rude, and dismissive”, and whose main concern seemed to be with the harm her allegations might do to David.
Lucy’s case was eventually closed without prosecution.
She felt upset that the police had not followed up several leads she had given them, and particularly angry to see in the media that police resources were being put into investigating high-profile allegations of child sexual abuse.
One cannot draw a straight line from Lucy’s negative experience with the police to, say, Mike Veale’s fruitless pursuit of a dead prime minister. Just because one police organisation was willing to go haring off on a wild goose chase does not mean that another would reject a more “ordinary” case such as Lucy’s.
However, it’s quite easy to see how survivors of sexual abuse could feel that their concerns could be overlooked in favour of more “glamorous” or “important” cases.
We also know that in one year—2015—Scotland Yard spent £5 million on three investigations into allegations of historical child sexual abuse by celebrities and politicians. Meanwhile, organisations such as Scotland’s Fresh Start Foundation have made it their mission to spread the gospel of SRA in the course of their “road shows”.
While the FSF operates on a comparatively tiny scale, their determination to privilege SRA as an “extreme” form of child sexual abuse is worrisome. The fact that they were recently relieved of the presence of Catriona Selvester on their board of directors does not alleviate their core problem. They seem determined to promote the idea of SRA, and are allied to the group “Izzy’s Promise”, which has been found to use various dubious techniques which promote “recovered memories” in clients.
Such memories are co-inventions of the client and therapist, and are generally unprovable in court—and so a client who might have sought assistance for real child sexual abuse issues can find their true story buried under a mountain of improbable, unprovable “memories” which can actually prevent them from receiving the justice they deserve.