Category Archives: Abuse

What happens when The Kids Company closes its doors?

Last night there were rumours beginning that The Kids Company was going to close its doors. This made me feel incredibly sad. I’ve long been a fan of the outspoken Camila Batmanghelidjh, and the quest of her work. However, it has always been viewed as work at the fringes of conventional practice, but then, the client base has largely been working with those kids that existed on the margins of society.

I worked for a year in Place2Be in 2005, which is when I first came across her. Camila was one of the original founders, although no one would really talk about her contribution – perhaps unfairly, but I had the feeling that it wasn’t an easy parting. She was viewed as high risk by the professionals I came across then, undoubtedly with some results, but it was viewed as being beyond the place of ethical safe practice. Hell, we weren’t even allowed to touch a child who was in distress in the Place2Be room. If you read Camila’s book, Shattered Lives, a series of letters to the damaged children she has known and worked with, it gives an idea of the strength of her passion, resolve, way of working, and the results.. not always orthodox.

In August 2011 Britain seemed to be on the edge of a revolt and uprising by a movement of disaffected youth. I was intrigued to read what Camila had to say in her headline piece in The Independent. She made some bold statements, but that isn’t uncharacteristic. Camila has often been called on over the years to speak about Britain’s sub-culture of youth, and what causes it. It is always fascinating.

The fact that The Kids Company is about to close has to go beyond the role of one person. It is a registered charity in receipt of public funding. In both cases it has to be accountable, BY ITS BOARD. Perhaps this is why two directors resigned in January. From recent reports in the media storm, this is where the charity has come undone, with the latest reports suggesting that the government bailout, meant for restructuring (on condition that Camila resigns as Chief Executive) has been used to pay staff – a staggering £800,000 payroll bill. It would also seem they did a deal with HMRC. Questions also have been made about the number of children treated in the centres, some 36,000 children. Apparently it includes the ‘whole class’ of any child that was directly treated. It is the bending and stretching of facts and ethics that troubles me.

What is now sad is what will happen to those children (and that won’t be 36,000) who were being supported. Hopefully as the closure will take place in school holidays, the children will have had a managed and ethical exit as the school term closed. It’s how we used to manage it at Place2Be back in the day. Let’s hope that the rise and fall of The Kids Company retains the focus on what happens to these children, and not solely the colourful, and inspirational, Camila Batmanghelidjh.

 

Operation Yew Tree’s first conviction – why is it so significant?

It’s been some time since I wrote about the fallout of Savile, and the investigations into the sexual abuse of children. Yesterday, Max Clifford was found guilty of eight counts of sexual assault against young women, and girls as young as fifteen. Within the case heard at Southwark Crown Court, there was an account of sexual abuse of a girl who was twelve, but as this was alleged to have taken place in Spain, it could not be heard in a British court of law.

But why is the conviction of Max Clifford so significant?

It is significant on many levels – for his victims, for all victims of sexual abuse, for Operation Yew Tree, and for us, the public as protectors of our children.

The process of justice is a long and painful one. Clifford was first questioned in December 2012, and arrested in April 2013. A year later his case went to trial. His victims, who would have given their evidence to bring about his arrest and trial, have been in the justice system long before the cold arm of the law reached out and knocked on Clifford’s door. They endured his abuse many years ago, and for most, kept it quiet, but because of Operation Yew Tree, they chose to speak to the police. This might have happened eighteen months ago, perhaps. Perhaps longer. Since their statements were taken, they will have been living with their own stories in a more public domain, not knowing what it might mean, if anything at all. It is a brutalising process, and because of them, their bravery, their conviction, this sex offender has been found guilty. Who knows what the victims feel, but let us hope that they feel that justice has been done to them. I know from my work, as evidenced in the stories in Hurt, this isn’t always the case – because the nightmares, the fear, the repercussions live on. In this, I pray that his victims can feel proud of the strong women they have become. They have helped bring down a monster.

And this is why it is significant to all victims of sexual assault and sexual abuse. Convictions are hard to come by, and against the weight and burden of the justice system, it can be a wholly daunting process. But, this must give hope. The system is changing, with the police and CPS promising more support to those that have suffered under the violent abuse of sex offenders. The criminal justice services want to listen to victims now, which seems a sea-change to where it was only five years ago. Operation Yew Tree has played a major part in this, but as have the victims who are collectively saying ‘this is no longer acceptable’.

Operation Yew Tree has been lambasted as being a celebrity witch-hunt, looking for scalps, and after some unsuccessful cases, here is a massive achievement. Raking over crimes of the past, crimes where there is little forensic evidence makes for challenging convictions. This success will give Operation Yew Tree more credibility, quieten the cynics, and perhaps encourage more victims to come forward. In the absence of ‘hard’ evidence, it is the consistency in the stories (and I don’t mean ‘made up’ in choosing this word, but the lived experiences of the abuse) that help build a picture of evidence beyond reasonable doubt. I remember hearing that this struck the early investigators of Savile, just how extraordinarily similar the ‘method’ of seduction, abuse and subsequent threat. It must have been the same for the jury in the Clifford trial. If there are to be more convictions of these prolific sex offenders, then possibly more corroboration will help.

Lastly, I think that this is extremely significant to us, the public. People who work with the victims of sexual abuse know that most sex offenders and paedophiles do not have the appearance of grimy, scaly monsters. They are ‘nice’ men – caring, considerate, people who you’d want to give your children to. And here we have a very public profile of a sex offender. Charismatic, charming, influential – but also very manipulative, cruel, deceitful and determined. We, all of us, need to recast the image of a sex offender, and look around us, because they will be among our children today, in our schools, our clubs, our churches and possibly, our lives.

Today Operation Yew Tree can celebrate the achievement of this last trial, and today the work must also continue anew, because although it is a landmark, there is still a long road ahead before we can end the sexual abuse of vulnerable children and young people.

A question of ‘risk’

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“Risk” used to be the area of work that I knew something about.  Understanding risks, assessing risks and managing risks.  It’s a field of work that I left sometime ago, and it came as quite a surprise to be round the dinner table at the weekend talking about it.  Especially in the context of current Social Worker training.  Now, in my own risk management, I’m not going to name the person, the Social Services Team or the leading Children’s Charity that delivered the training.  I wasn’t there, but I wholly trust the person who was. Continue reading A question of ‘risk’

Another Catholic cover-up

I find the whole business of the story of Cardinal Keith O’Brien troubling, and at the same time, sadly it doesn’t surprise me.  The Catholic Church has a shameful history of abuse, which the hierarchies have tried to hide.  But, truth will out, and so it has over the years.

The latest scandal involves Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who has today issued a statement to apologise for conduct that fell short of what was expected.  That he has done wrong according to his faith – and hopefully not committed any criminal act – is for his own conscience.  That others have felt shamed and betrayed is something else.  I read today that they were, perhaps threatened is too strong a word, but being leaned on to keep the story to themselves, as they risked bringing shame on the Church.  This is a greater wrong.  The deception, the lies, the hypocrisy of Religion.

What is perhaps more troubling, is that it was going to be swept under the carpet by Rome.  Cardinal O’Brien was summoned to Rome last year, according to The Times today:

A first complaint was made against Cardinal O’Brien last October, when a parish priest from Scotland wrote to the Congregation for Bishops at the Vatican.

He was summoned to Rome and it became known that he would retire as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh on his 75th birthday this month, supposedly because of ill health. A week ago allegations from four other men were made public and his resignation became immediate. It emerged yesterday that complaints included “lewd, bawdy, inappropriate behaviour” and “drunken fumblings”.

How can this institution be trusted when this is the tone from the top?  I also heard today, on the Radio, that Cardinal Mahony, a US Cardinal is still entitled to vote, despite facing legal prosecution for covering up for priests who have sexually abused children.  Read it here.  How can one Cardinal resign, and one stay?  How can it be trusted to heal itself from these endemic, systematic cover ups?  It is deeply troubling.

 

It’s not your fault…

Its not your fault

 

Today I’m thinking about the headlines in the media that say that victims of abuse feel glad that they have been heard, that they are believed. That’s one thing, when there is no risk of trial, since the key perpetrator is dead, and the secret has been locked up for decades, told once to an investigation.  However, in my experience of working with families of children who have been sexually abused, it’s not always so clear cut.  The process of gathering evidence in most cases brutalising, with extensive questioning in order to try and achieve the best evidence for a trial.  In the case of Jimmy Savile, there was no real need to be so careful with the evidence – for it will probably go nowhere.  The child, or adult reflecting back on childhood experiences, doesn’t feel so believed.  They often feel the opposite, that they are not believed, and that the questioning begins from the place that they are not being truthful, and worse, that they are to blame.

The work of a skilled child sex offender (a concept that makes you involuntarily shudder) means that a web of words, attacks, lies, blame, is woven around the abuse, so the victim feels complicit in it, or even that they are responsible for it.  The words that sooth the most here, are “it’s not your fault”.  This is equally true when spoken to the victim, but also the non-abusing parent/carer.  Those are the words that few think to say, but are more powerful than the act of listening in itself.  The only one at fault, where blame should be laid, is directly with the perpetrator.

Age of consent

The term ‘age of consent’ is an interesting one.  It rarely occurs in legal terms, or rather in the statute book, but  there’s a generally assumed view that it refers to the minimum age at which a person (importantly, both male and female) is considered to be legally competent to consent to taking part in sexual acts.  In the UK, it’s 16.  I think this is what determines our held view on what’s appropriate, but it’s not the same age in every country.  The world holds different views on sexual maturity.

Irrespective of what the age of consent is, surely it must remain the responsibility of both parties to understand the age of the other?  And if you can’t work it out, move on.  It’s all a bit creepy.  I’m moving away slightly from the predatory paedophile here, and thinking about the argument that it can be ‘impossible’ to tell the ages of younger people, around the age of consent, particularly young girls.  I read somewhere (not sure where), that the Rolling Stones had a list of numbers on their tour schedule, which referred to the age of consent in different states.  A quick google search has yielded that my childhood heroes Duran Duran did the same…. Duran Duran touring back in the day  *sighs*  Surely a simple question, or series of questions can’t go amiss?  How old are you, when were you born, where were you when Princess Diana died, how’s school, what was the first CD you bought (as opposed download now for most)?  There are possibilities of working something out, and if someone lies, then that must put a different defence on things.  I’m no lawyer, but I’d imagine that it would be the case.  Aside of this, is a more moral issue.  Why be interested in someone who might be that young?  Ego?  Sex drive?  I don’t really care, it’s a moral thing.

Back to the world view on consent, evidently it’s different in different US states, but that’s not surprising.  In Europe it varies between 13 (Spain) and 18 (Turkey and Malta), with most seeming to be 16.  In some countries, like Saudi, you have to be married.   The Vatican is interesting – you have to be married, but given that, it would seem to be fine in law if the female (girl or woman??!!) is 14.  Nothing is straight forward, and there are legal clauses which protect young people in countries where it would seem to be low – like Spain.

Whatever the law may decide, I’d contest to anyone, is that it has to be your responsibility to find out.  And if in doubt, then walk away.  The law maybe one thing, but there must also be a personal moral code.

Publication of Police/NSPCC report into Jimmy Saville – due today

I wonder what the report will cover, and what it will conclude.  I wonder how much of a tome it will be.  I wonder how much will be ‘not said’ for fear of recrimination.  I bet it’s been crawled all over by lawyers from the Met Police and the NSPCC.  I wonder what might be passed off as being a different time. I wonder what recommendations will be made.

I wonder how much the accounts of the victims will be reported.  I wonder what they will get from reading the report.  I wonder whether they will feel heard, believed, as early reports claim.

I wonder how much will be moved on because of this report, or is it that more power for change comes with the media and social media.  How many of us will actually seek out and read the report and try to decide for ourselves.

I wonder how much will change because of this report.  Will the scandal, the investigations, the reports make us better equipped to protect our children from predatory paedophiles, or the chancing celebrity?

There will be no one solution, but let us hope that it moves us along the path to a safer future, in not too many words.

BBC news in advance of the publication of the report…