Sunday, 7 September 2014

The secrets that we keep

Note:  Recently I've been watching Downton Abbey, and I'm up to Season 4.  I'm not going to put any spoilers in the post, but there may end up being some in comments, and I wanted to acknowledge upfront what's prompted me to write this.  Content warning for discussion of rape, consent, secret keeping.

As I've aged I've become privy to secrets I was oblivious to.  I discovered, to give but one example, that my family is riddled with adoption stories, some good some not so good.  Every adult in my parents' generation, on both sides of my family, has either adopted a child or had a child adopted, and in one case both.  I'm pretty sure that has all come out now, into the open, but I could well be wrong.  These are stories with their origins in the 1960s, mostly, and some of the people involved are unknown to me or have died, so I'll never know it all.  These aren't secrets anymore, and they were the unacknowledged realities of others, not me.

The difficulty I'm musing on is in relation to the secrets of other people, and how those of us who keep them are obligated, or not, to disclose them.

Take a situation where you're aware that someone is a sexual predator.  You're also aware that the person (or people) who you know they have attacked desperately don't want anyone else to know.  You can shun the predator, exclude them from the realms you control, even let them know that you know.  But without broader disclosure other people will be in danger, the predator is unlikely to realise the horrible error of their ways and seek help, the predator is unlikely to be held accountable, other victims you don't know about may feel isolated and at fault.  You end up keeping a secret for a friend, someone viciously attacked and feeling awful, but that advantages the predator, not least with continuing their heinous activity.

Then of course there is the lack of justice in this country (and most others from what I can see) for situations like this.  If I could put my hand on my heart and say please go to the police if you are raped, they will do a good job, then I would.  But I can't.  And so I can understand the decision of those who don't report, knowing how difficult it would be to do so, especially when the person who has attacked them is in their circle, their family, their workplace.

To disclose a secret that belongs to another robs them of agency, and in cases like the example I've given above, and many others, they have already had power stripped from them, and I don't want to contribute to repeating that experience, even in part.

Silence enables abuse to continue.  Yet speaking out is not without cost, not least for those who have already suffered.


Bazarov said...

In my opinion, the risks of keeping the secret belong to the person who choses whether or not it should be secret - e-g, the victim. If somebody else is harmed as a result of the secrecy, it's on them, not on those who respected their wishes.

Anonymous said...

If someone attacks again, it's n one person only - the attacker. NOT previous victims. The victim's responsibility is to look after herself, to protect herself. No one has the right to ask any more from her.

M said...

I disagree with you in the case of patient/treatment provider abuse. In the case of a helping professional such as a counselor if colleagues know of sexual abuse/exploitation of clients they should be obligated by law to report the abuse.

Colleagues of therapists*/counselors are not obligated to report abuse, and a medical doctor who has had a patient disclose sexual abuse by a therapist/counsellor is under no obligation to report unless they are a fellow doctor.

The lack of reporting leads to a sense of betrayal, being set up for the abuse, nobody caring enough to act protectively. Perhaps that's because nobody does care about this issue. They are all too wrapped up in ethics arguments to give a shit.

*I use the term "therapist" to encompass all the alternative healer types.