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.