The late Richard Webster, a writer who dedicated many years to campaigning for “abusers” he believed were wrongly convicted, saw analogies with medieval witch hunts. Genuine witches existed, practising magic and calling on supernatural forces, but they were mostly eccentric individuals, not members of an international conspiracy threatening church and state. Since even real witches were mostly harmless and child abusers anything but, the analogy is not exact. The similarity lies, as Webster put it, in how “our need to rid the world of anyone who might conceivably be a paedophile” has become so urgent “that the requirement for evidence has all but disappeared”.
Indeed so. The old adage ‘If it looks too good to be true, it probably isn’t true’ should have been considered here.
But, just like a certain venerated US anchorman, it was potentially damaging to the perceived ‘enemy’ so who wanted to look at it too closely?
We need clarity about three things. First, abuse is deeply distressing and highly damaging to the victim. It is not made significantly more so because the perpetrator holds a powerful political position or wears black robes. Such claims excite journalists and attract more public attention; they do not help victims.
They do, however, help ‘child protection experts’ like Mark Williams-Thomas…
Second, the local authorities that ran children’s homes, like other organisations accused of harbouring abusers such as the BBC and the Catholic church, have access to considerable resources. Some “victims” will make false allegations, often prompted by lawyers, in the hope of substantial payments.
Even worse than that – some make false claims just for the sheer hell of it, for some warped desire for attention.
Third, and most important, while those who allege abuse should be heard, accepting what they say as self-evidently true is not better than dismissing it as childish fantasy. It is just another form of not listening, and relying instead on prejudices and preconceptions.
Quite the most profound (and yet basic and down to earth) comment I’ve yet seen.
It also leads to a new set of victims. Abused children may suffer mental illness and suicidal thoughts. But so may those falsely accused. Precisely because child abuse has become the most odious of crimes, allegations should be made only after the most rigorous testing of evidence.
And only after the most rigorous vetting of your claimant, unless you want to come a cropper like ‘Newsnight’…