Monday, 8 October 2012

a culture of silence

i've been reading about jimmy savile, and the news that is now coming out regarding allegations of sexual assault [trigger warning for these links which contain descriptions of sexual assault and rape].  some of which he appears to have admitted to quite clearly in his own autobiography.  it seems that the police are now investigating, even though the alleged perpetrator is now dead, and i'm really hoping that the investigation will shine some light on the people who may have been complicit in allowing this offending to continue, even though they knew something criminal was going on.

people in a similar position to those who enabled the offending of jerry sandusky by their silence, or what should be called active covering up.  and people who are or were also offenders.  maybe i'm being overly optimistic, but i'm really hoping that this inquiry will lead to criminal prosecutions and some justice.

mostly because there is nothing worse than having this stuff hushed up.  there has been such a silence around sexual assault, particular of young people by much older adults, in a variety of social settings. it's time to pick apart the reasons for that silence, and to challenge each and every one of them.

complicity is a separate issue - those who actively provided sexual abuse victims, or provided places for the assault to happen.  they are committing a more direct crime.  i'm talking more about those who know or strongly suspect offending is taking place but do nothing.

one of the main reasons for silence is to protect an institution or organisation.  i have real difficulty with this one.  it seems to stem from "the greater good" type of argument, in that the institution/organisation is providing such a valuable service to so many people, and a few victims of sexual abuse should not be allowed to put that to risk.  especially since they could be making it all up anyway, right?  it's such a stupid way of thinking, because of the sheer lack of humanity, but also because of the lack of logic.  the organisation will be found out hiding or covering up sexual abuse - sooner or later - and then the fallout is going to be much worse than if they took the first case seriously, ensured that justice was done and put in place measures to ensure the safety of all people within the organisation.

another reason is that people don't want to be dragged into the situation, don't want to deal with the nastiness that comes with being a whistle-blower.  it's not just the victims who get blamed for doing [xyz] action that lead to the abuse.  other parties who try to something about it are just as much targets, criticised for trying to ruin someone's life, that someone who now gets defined as a pillar of the community or a nice young man whose shining bright future is about to be ruined, or a good person who works so hard for charity (this latter being all the more sickeningly ironic because it is often the charity work which allows the perpetrator to cherry-pick vulnerable victims, as it appears mr savile was able to do).

it's tough to be the one that calls out sexual abuse, especially when others in the family/ institution/ organisation gather around to protect the perpetrator and to isolate & shame the victim and those associated with her.  the consequences can range from isolation and ostracisation to outright bullying and threats of physical violence.

one of the reasons for silence, or for the cover-up, that i find most difficult to deal with is the "protection of the victim" defense.  i've seen this so very often, and it sickens me every time.  the argument goes like this:  if the offending is brought to light, the damage to the reputation and the very life of the victim will be so high that it's better to be kept quiet.  in some cultures, a young woman will be considered as tainted, she will never receive an offer of marriage, even though she is the one who has been offended against.  in pretty much all cultures, there will always be doubt that she shouldn't have allowed herself to be in a situation that such a thing could have happened to her.  she is culpable of the crime against her for any number of reasons, so best that it is all hushed up.  let the victim be sent away, or let the perpetrator be sent away, but let the reason never be known.

the thing is, with the latter defense, cultural norms and practices make the reasoning valid.  the appalling treatment of victims of sexual abuse means that it is much easier, much more the logical option to stay silent.  and when we have silence, we have conditions where sexual abuse and violence continue & even flourish.

perhaps this is why i'm hopeful about the police inquiry into the alleged crimes of jimmy savile.  so many women have come forward to speak out.  the culture within the BBC and other media organisations is coming out into the open.  i'm really hoping that there are some people who are feeling incredibly scared right now, because the crimes they have committed might come to light.  and maybe, just maybe, we'll see a culture change that makes life safer for a lot of people.


mark said...

Careful, this is a tough read.

K said...

Something you didn't point out was the need to come forward en mass at the same time.

One or two women just aren't enough to go up against the wall of silence.

One women here, a second one a year later, and spaced out over time doesn't get anywhere either.

ONE STAND ALONE REPORT needs to be enough to lead to a full investigation, with no exceptions for position/fame of the abuser, no "but I know him...he's a nice guy" crap, and no undermining of the credibility of the victim regardless of mental state, history etc. Of course we are still some way off.

K said...

@Mark - thanks for the warning. Great in depth article.

stargazer said...

@ mark, thanx for the link. definitely a tough read, but shows the level of confusion consciously created by perpetrators grooming not just their victims but the community in which they live. if i have one criticism of the piece, it's that the author kind of gives a pass to mr paterno & management of penn state. the fact is that these people deliberately concealed facts in a way that is beyond silence and enters into the area of complicity and enabling abuse. in particular, this:

As four of the most powerful people at Penn State, the officials singled out by Freeh exhibited a "striking lack of empathy for Sandusky's victims" by failing to find out about them, in particular by not trying to determine the identity of a boy who was assaulted by Sandusky in a shower in 2001. They exposed that boy to further harm, it concluded, by alerting Sandusky to what was witnessed by another member of staff who saw the shower incident. The victim's identity is still not known.

the fact is that none of these men were in any danger nor had reason to fear sandusky. the only possible concern they could have had was to protect the reputation of the institution, and so they decided not to report or investigate.

@ K: excellent point.

mark said...

Thankfully there are people who're more than willing to expose the awfulness of the crimes.

And again, careful, triggers within.

Moz said... is also worth reading. A reminder that Sinead O'Connor's "rip up the pope pic" was all about the Catholic problem. Which the media managed to very vigorously ignore.

stargazer said...

@ mark: i watched the trailer and i have to say it made me really uncomfortable. it doesn't centre the victims of abuse, it doesn't centre the abuse or even the perpetrators. it seems to me to be more about protecting the reputation of the university, or about disassociating from the actions that took place at the university. a stronger statement could have been made by centring the victims of abuse (& by that i don't mean interviewing them or going into graphic details of the crimes in a voyeuristic way), and having people strongly condemning what went on; and condemning the actions of those who covered up what was happening. mr paterno was clearly one of those, and for him to have taken the attitude that he had done all that was required of him by reporting to his superiors is just appalling. he was required by law to report to american child services; he should also have gone to the police. but he didn't. the man is culpable, and the way he was portrayed in the trailer was sadly lacking. perhaps the full film is better than what the clip makes it out to be. but even the opening bit is about getting "a student perspective" which clearly shows who the makers of this thing want to focus on.

mark said...

@ stargazer. Yeah, had a dig around and point taken, the whole thing does seem to be about protecting reputations.