I recently read a novel by Philip Pullman titled The Broken Bridge, in which a girl named Ginny tries to find her true identity. Although I found the novel to be clunking in places, and certain parts of the plot to be not very well explained or put together, it was thought-provoking. At the end of the novel, Ginny is discussing her life and everything she has found out with her father. He explains that the reason why he has lied to her about so many things is because of the intense fear he had felt since childhood, due to his abusive mother; and a father who always looked away.
It was this idea of “looking away” that got me thinking about my own family – not just my parents and sisters but my aunts and uncles, cousins and especially my grandparents. The status quo set by my grandparents seemed to be to sweep things under the rug, to “look the other way”, but also to be “tough”, to not show any emotion that could be construed as weakness or vulnerability. From a very young age my mum and her siblings were given the message that not everything was acceptable for discussion – only certain subjects, certain feelings. This included not just their own feelings, but those of others. They learnt that it was easier to look away, to pretend everyone and everything was alright.
But how does this relate to abuse? Well, my mum’s generation grew up in a world where Jimmy Savile was able to abuse hundreds of children with no consequences, despite dozens, perhaps even hundreds of people knowing. My generation’s experience is almost the antithesis of that: we grew up in a world obsessed with abuse, with newspapers telling us there was a paedophile waiting around every corner, where a man who is nice to a child he doesn’t know is viewed with heavy suspicion.
Despite the constant reminders of “stranger danger”, stories of child abuse of terrifying proportions (such as in Rotherham and Rochdale) still surface in the news with scary regularity. What I find most worrying about these stories is that they were originally covered up – be it for political reasons or just plain incompetency – just as Jimmy Savile’s crimes were. My cynical side wonders if, despite all the progress we have made, we are only able to talk about abuse if it is sensationalised – that despite our culture’s constant awareness of abuse, those faced with it in reality are still inclined to “look away”.
We have come a long way, however. My boyfriend pointed out to me that when Jimmy Savile began abusing children, ChildLine didn’t exist (it wasn’t established until 1986). What could children who were being abused do? Go to the police? The police themselves would have been ill-equipped to deal with such issues, even if they did believe the children. There was very little training to deal with adult victims of violence and rape, let alone children. And if their families were anything like my mum’s, abuse would be an unheard of subject. So yes, we have come a long way, but we also have a long way to go. We need to find a place for abuse in the public mentality that is not thrust under a glaring light by the media, but where it is also not lurking in the shadows – a place of understanding and compassion, where everyone’s main concern is to help the victims.
I do remain hopeful, especially on a personal level. When I was at two of my cousins’ joint birthday party a couple of weeks ago, my boyfriend took a picture of all ten of the cousins. Every time I look at that picture I think of us, and I think of our parents, and our grandparents. And what I think is that we are going to do better than them. I love them dearly and will always be grateful to them, but I think that we will not look away the way they did.
(Featured image from Frankenfotos)
© Kate Warren and Rebuild, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kate Warren and Rebuild with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.