Not Guilty – does that mean innocent?
I've avoided the semi-celebrity child abuse / rape trial (or whatever soundbite you subscribe to) in the news this week, and to be honest have been struggling with my own issues, and not felt up to hearing about it.
But the jury came back today with not guilty verdicts for everything, and twitter kicked off. Which is why I feel compelled to write this now. I need to add my voice, my tuppance ha'penny worth, my opinions and thoughts - just a single thread pulled into the vicious tangle of the internet melee, for those individuals, that woman, man, child, teenager, adult, who takes their own journey into the dark every time this hits the headlines - every time.
To start off being very clear, Mr Michael Turner, also known by the stage name Michael Le Vell, has been found not guilty of all charges against him, including rape and indecent assault.
And while obviously I have no first hand knowledge of his actions, here is what I do have first hand knowledge of.
It is not easy to accuse someone of sexual assault. Not legally, not practically, not emotionally. Statement after statement, question after question after question cuts through your mind, creating fresh trauma, agonising reminders, sickening realisations as you look with adult eyes into situations that a child had little understanding of. Forcing your focus to periods of time you would give anything to be able to wash away, like mud on your knees, grass stains on your jeans - so much easier to resolve than these stains on your heart, your soul, your mind, your memories, your life. Some words are so hard to say that they literally stuck in your throat . . . it's not easy.
The CPS does not bring a prosecution against someone purely because their career brings them into the public arena. These professionals have limited time and limited financial resources, and decades of experience of spotting the truth, even if this truth is buried in confusion. The specialist police officers who are trained to recognise those details, the hands that shake, the voice that loses power halfway through a sentence, the eyes that range the room, unwilling to be seen, and known.
Individuals who have endured physical / emotional / sexual trauma are often fuzzy on the details. A lack of absolute clarity can be a result of trauma so distressing that the mind has to collect all the detail into a corner of the brain and wall it up, because otherwise ordinary day to day life - basic functions such as eating, sleeping, talking, concentrating - are simply not possible. There can be hope that without light and air these memories will wither and die, will be wiped out, will be somehow taken back, will disappear like morning mist.
I don't know what happened.
But I know that there are people out there, ordinary people like you and I and your neighbour and my bus driver and your piano teacher and my hairdresser who fracture anew every time the media seize upon a fake victim, a fantasist, a wrongly accused.
I don't know if this girl was assaulted.
I don't know if this man raped a child.
What I do know, is that individuals who have the strength to live through abuse do not always have the courage, or the opportunity, to face their attackers.
What I do know, is that the fear of an outcome like this is an incredibly strong deterrent to reporting these types of crime. Worry about being disbelieved, being talked about. Being embarrassed. Being ashamed. Feeling responsible.
What I do know, is that whether this girl, or any girl, or any boy, or any child, or any adult or anyone speaks the truth, there are those who have lived or are living with terror and pain, whose wounds are ripped open and bleed afresh with every condemnatory tweet and report and story.
What I do know, is that you can live for years in fear. That intense fear of being discovered, being found out - not being revealed to be false, but even worse than this . . . being recognised to be truth.
What I do know, is that not guilty does not necessarily mean innocent.
And anyone out there who happens upon this and recognises themselves in what they have read here, know that you are not alone. You may look it, you may feel it, but there are so many of us out there - stretch out your arm, and find that hand reaching towards you in the darkness. You are not alone.Download this post as PDF? Click here