Tackling child abuse should be a priority – for everyone

With each month that goes by where those who have committed violence against children aren’t held accountable, we’re silencing their victims and further demeaning their worth
Resigned ... Fiona Woolf.
Resigned … Fiona Woolf. Photograph: Frantzesco Kangaris
Child abuse used to happen in the past. It is terrible. We should investigate it. But we can’t find anyone to be in charge of such an investigation who doesn’t know some of the people who could be possibly be accused of it.
Does this make sense to anyone? It is neither true, nor justifiable in any way whatsoever, but this is the nub of what Theresa May told the House of Commons this week. May appears to have a massive deflection shield. She escaped much criticism for the fact that the passport office was in a complete mess, though she had been warned about it. And now, having announced in July an inquiry into the allegations of historic sex abuse, both of those chosen to lead the inquiry have had to resign: Elizabeth Butler-Sloss and Fiona Woolf.
Butler–Sloss is the sister of Sir Michael Havers, who was the attorney general at the time both the police and CPS failed to investigate allegations of serious abuse. Fiona Woolf (pictured) was then appointed – but she hangs out with Leon Brittan, who it is said did not act when given the dossier about alleged child abuse.
So the inquiry, which is wide-reaching, is as useful as a headless chicken while survivors complain they are still not being listened to.
The key thing May said in her “apology” is that the public is concerned that in the 1980s, the Home Office did not act on allegations of sexual abuse. How concerned are we if nothing is happening? We are talking about institutional failure on a grand scale here, and what we are witnessing is the establishment telling us it is virtually impossible to find one person, professionally qualified, to lead an inquiry who is not already connected to the institution or individuals being investigated.
This is gob-smackingly untenable and there should be an uproar about it. From all parties. We are – and maybe it’s easy for some to forget – talking about the abuse of young girls and boys by powerful men. This involved the handing over of children from institutions entrusted with their care to abusers and pimps. We are talking about a massive cover-up, though rumours have circulated for years. Certainly, some claim this abuse has ruined their lives. Unless the victims are indeed all lying, they have been telling very similar stories for the past 35 years.
Post-Savile and post-Rotherham, we live with the knowledge that the rape and sexual assault of certain children was something that, at various times, the police turned a blind-eye to. This may be shocking – but what is even more shocking is that experts tell us of how much abuse goes on in families. Senior policemen are now telling us what many feminists have been saying for a long time. Home is where the hatred is.
The various reactions to this are telling. One is denial. So, this is a moral panic and all inquiries are long, expensive processes that reveal nothing. Historical abuse is just that. History. Such a view sees Operation Yewtree as pointlessly harassing old men. I guess the disposable young bodies of the molested just turn into the undesirable hysteria of the now middle-aged?
Clearly, both in the distant as well as recent past, certain kids were seen as without worth. In Savile’s autobiography, he jokingly tells the police he is keeping a teenage girl for the night. We saw in Rotherham a refusal to treat many girls as “rapeable”. We now know of the political refusal to take the allegations against Cyril Smith seriously. Again, the boys in care that he abused now speak to us as broken adults. Then they felt powerless and voiceless – and now?
Are we to accept that the judiciary and the political class are so intertwined that it is impossible for May to find a single person who is independent enough to investigate all this?
This is not, I grant, an easy task. The allegations involve England and Wales. But there have been high-profile cases in Northern Ireland, in Scotland and the Channel Islands.
Child abuse either is or isn’t a priority. All the representatives for the victims want someone to head the inquiry who can stand up to the establishment. Of course, drawn-out inquiries bore everyone – but they matter. Institutional change should not depend on judicial inquiries, but sometimes it can be prompted by them: eg Macpherson on Stephen Lawrence.
Here, though, massive displacement is taking place. What emerged about children’s homes, the free reign the powerful were given in grooming and prostituting the “looked after” children, sold for fried chicken and Bacardi Breezers, disturbs us.
It’s still happening. All agencies tell us they are worried that some kids are totally off the radar of social services. Social work, meanwhile, is still vilified, under resourced and held responsible for all that is wrong.
There is a crisis here. A huge disclosure about the extent of child abuse. And yet, the home secretary can tell parliament that the establishment can’t find a suitable person to investigate its own connection with the abuse of children. It cannot find one of its own powerful enough to help the powerless? Months drift by. Child abuse is terrible and something should be done? In the future.

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