Monday, 5 May 2014

Listen to the Victims

Recent cases of maltreatment in a few private care homes prove that "in order for evil to flourish, all that is required is for good men to do nothing."

This became clear to me just a few years ago, when I was unfortunate enough to work on the Ryan Commission Report into Child Abuse. While the report catalogued abuse dating back a century in institutions in the Irish Republic, the stories told and the lessons learned were equally applicable this side of the Irish Channel.

The many reports of widespread abuse stretching back through the decades were of course harrowing, and at times the first-hand accounts were near impossible to read.

But what really left a deep-seated feeling of anger was that such abuse was known about, and yet nothing was done to protect the victims.

The children themselves tried on many occasions to bring their torment to the notice of the authorities. They were not taken seriously and were ridiculed. Indeed on occasions they were blamed for bringing their suffering on themselves, and any childish prank or indiscretion was used to justify their mistreatment. Those who have endured such abuse know how much it means simply to be listened to and believed. But when your pleas fall upon deaf ears, you sink into silent despair.

And yet the evidence was there for all to see. Little was done to conceal the sometimes wretched condition of the children, the perpetrators were so confident they would not be held to account. Why did those in a position to do so fail to intervene? Often it was because the abuser held a position of such standing and respect that their involvement in such behaviour was inconceivable. But more importantly, to admit it would be to upset the ‘natural order of things’, to disrupt the status quo and create a power vacuum. For them, to their eternal shame, that was more intolerable than the abuse. And so it continued.

Though we have come far, recent cases involving young and old alike suggest there is more to be done. We must start by listening.

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