Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

“Witch hunts”, howling mobs” and “Hitler’s dreams”: how a rational journalist reacts to police investigating historic child sexual abuse.

“If it wasn’t so horrific, all this would be entertaining.” Is one of the opening lines of Dan Hodges’ article in the Telegraph about the investigation into the police’s handling of child sexual abuse allegations made against Edward Heath. It transpires that the ‘horrific’ he refers to, is not child sexual abuse and the devastating impact this has on victims, but the allegations. After reading Hodges’ article, one could wrongly assume that the worst thing about these disturbing revelations is not that children’s lives were possibly ruined, but that someone voiced their concerns.

The IPCC investigation into the alleged mishandling first prompted Wiltshire police force to make a public appeal for potential victims to come forward. This has resulted in 6 further police authorities initiating investigations into allegations of historic child sexual abuse by the former Prime Minister. The latest being Thames Valley police and Gloucestershire police. These concerns were voiced by a retired senior police officer and not an actual victim. You’d have thought this would carry some credibility to those reluctant to believe actual victims of abuse.

Hodges criticises the evidence known to the media so far and cites the original allegation made by a man who has stated that at 12 yrs of age he was picked-up off the streets and taken to a flat in London and raped. Boldly claiming, without providing evidence, that this man is mistaken, Hodges also writes that Myra Forde – a former brothel keeper reported to have threatened to expose Heath in order to save herself from jail - is lying, or also mistaken.

Myra Forde has denied making such revelations. However, her lawyer at the time admits in this article that he was aware that she was planning on making allegations against Heath. The article is headlined by Nigel Seed QC clearly stating that the reason this case was dropped was due to the fact that three witnesses for the prosecution were reluctant to give evidence. Now, I’m not an investigative journalist, and I lack many of the required skills, but a retired senior police officer raises concerns about an historic police investigation into child sexual abuse and a lawyer reports that witnesses dropped out of providing evidence for a case does present an intriguing set of events which have rightly prompted the initial IPCC investigation and are perhaps elaborated on here.

Hodges finds it far more important to use emotive metaphors and striking adjectives to describe anyone outraged by the possibility of child sexual abuse. Investigations into historical sexual abuse allegations are often termed in the media as being ‘witch hunts’. The implication being that the Salem witch trials were conducted by fanaticals determined to undercover so-called witches who didn’t actually exist. The implication being that there are no sexual abusers and the accusers are frenzied, therefore not to be trusted. We know now the possibility that the accusers in Salem had possibly been unwittingly poisoned by a hallucinogenic fungus, ergot which grows on grain and may have caused the fever and, importantly, delusional behaviour prompting such misplaced accusations. Hodges’ use of the word ‘witch hunt’ brings all these connotations to discredit any cause for investigation.

It also rightly angers feminists because these modern ‘witches’ are always men which negates the fact that it was women who were persecuted for centuries over fantastical, spurious non-existent claims of witchcraft. We’ve had enough of this word being used.

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The use of three adjectives linked together is something I teach my students to use in their writing in order to achieve a ‘C’ grade at GCSE. ‘Putrid, fetid and sordid stain’ is a particularly effective use of triplets and could push this journalist into ‘B’ grade criteria. What might confuse a potential exam marker, or in reality, Telegraph reader, is that the writer is referring again to the allegations and not the alleged abuse. The stain on a dead man’s reputation is the only concern here.

The ‘howl of the mob’ Hodges refers to could be the many survivors’ voices which have only recently been heard en masse. It has direct allusions to a pack of hounds, animals sounding into the dark night. This imagery is repeated in Simon Jenkins’ article in The Guardian where he directly connects those asking for investigations and the truth with fox-hunting and barbaric blood sports. ‘However loud the mob may howl, there is no sight of a fox.’ Jenkins uses clever sleight of hand to remove all traces of there being an abuser to accuse. There is. He is now deceased, but we need to change the way authorities respond to all victims of child sexual abuse and this is exactly on what these investigations are founded.

Both journalists use animalistic language to dismiss people making allegations of sexual abuse in a way which is alarmingly similar to Jimmy Savile in 2009 during a police interview. I analysed the transcript for EVB and you can read it here including relevant extracts. Savile also referred to a mythical ‘Broadmoor hat’ which he metaphorically wore so that he could supposedly understand the mentality of his accusers. Hodges’ most disturbing use of language has to be the reference to ‘Hitler’s dreams’ conjuring a national pride in a man who, we are reminded, was ‘mentioned in dispatches during the Normandy campaign.’

Hitler’s dreams evoke so many perverse notions that I am staggered that I even have to think about how a journalist thought this in any way appropriate. Hitler: the most evil man in history, ultimately responsible for the Holocaust and someone with an ideology he wanted to force onto the world. This man’s dreams were not of bringing an end to child sexual abuse. They were neither of ‘bringing down’ once prominent members of the British government. Calling investigations into allegations of child sexual abuse the stuff despots dreams are made of is incredible, ludicrous and absurd.

There is so much more wrong with Hodges’ piece. Reference of the 2008 investigation into Haut de la garenne, picking apart CPS response to a statement of drug rape and the notion that all it takes is ‘One letter. One phonecall. One meeting. And it’s done.’ Is simply not true. Maybe he is referring to the media’s response, but I don’t think that’s accurate either. For me, this comical claim of how authorities respond to allegations of sexual abuse are the most fantastical he has mentioned in his article. This brings me back to that opening line. ‘If it wasn’t so horrific, all this would be entertaining.’ There is nothing entertaining about investigations into child sexual abuse. Never. Not for anyone.

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