Yesterday my colleague and friend Georgina Calvert-Lee was quoted in the Sunday Times discussing some of the horrendous sexual abuse that occurs in British boarding schools.
After the Jimmy Saville revelations, it’s become clear to many people that horrific child abuse can exist even in plain sight. The closed and authoritarian nature of some boarding schools and churches – the kinds of institutions we bring legal actions against on behalf of abuse survivors – can create safe havens for abusers, who seek out such places precisely because they give access to vulnerable children.
Articles like the ones in the Sunday Times about persistent sexual abuse occurring in settings intended to nurture and develop children, like schools and churches, are upsetting to read. Nevertheless, I am sure that sunlight is the best disinfectant. When abuse survivors come forward and are believed, as they are increasingly, abusers are stopped and punished, the institutions that harbour them reform, other survivors feel empowered to come forward, and potential abusers are deterred. It’s a virtuous circle. So I’m encouraged that the issue of child abuse in elite boarding schools is being exposed, not swept under the carpet as used to be the norm.
This is progress. But my wish for 2014 is that the schools, religious institutions and other organisations that have employed abusers would take real responsibility rather than hide, deny and point fingers as they usually do. Many still act as if they had nothing to do with the abuse, even though time and again you see that patterns of abuse persisted for years and even decades -- because complaints were dismissed, abusers were shuffled to new jobs, the institution’s reputation was protected instead of children’s well-being. In my experience, officials of churches and schools too often act as if their otherwise noble goals mean that abuse survivors should just forgive, forget and move on. Meanwhile they mount scorched earth legal fights that grind the survivor down even further, an added cruelty.
To me, the crucial front in the worldwide fight to curb child abuse must now be to convince the institutions that have turned a blind eye finally to take abuse seriously, and to honour survivors rather than disdain them.
You can find a link to the article here: http://thetim.es/KRknvC