Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Child Abuse: Can we Learn the Lessons?

I have been reading the Attorney-General's statement about the decisions not to prosecute in relation to Haut de la Garenne. He writes that:

A decision not to prosecute is capable of being perceived as denying the complainant the right to be heard. Indeed, this can lead to a pressure to allow the complainant to have his or her day in Court.

Reading the comments in the JEP, especially by those who have been abused, I think that it is not particularly to have "a day in Court" that is the strongest feeling, although that sentiment is expressed; it is the way in which the Island seems to want to "move on" and forget about the whole matter, even to "write it off" as unfortunate incidents in the past. It is this kind of silence which Daniel O'Leary, writing in The Tablet last week about the Irish child abuse scandal, noted:
Most commentators pointed to that deliberate silence as the most serious failure of both Church and State. This was the kind of silence that has outraged the victims of abuse. It is the unspoken collusion with darkness, they believed. It is institutional power at its worst - the prolonged, corrosive cover-up to save its own face at any cost.

He notes that:

These are very hard, even terrifying, words, and a first instinct is to react defensively... But that is not the way to go just now.

One of the lessons learned in Ireland, and which Daniel O'Leary notes is from a comment by Einstein that "the mindset that causes its own inner collapse can never carry the seeds of its own renewal":

The necessary paradigm shift we long for cannot happen only from within any more. A new source, maybe from a place as yet unknown to us, must be found for another start, a new healing, a new hope. Otherwise, in systemic thinking, left to itself, the organisation will clone itself back into business as usual.

I think that steps are being taken with the Williamson report to address this issue, as in particular, with the policy on whistle blowing, which was seen by the Wales Child Abuse enquiry as essential - not just that it was available, but that employees had a duty to blow the whistle when they saw abuse, and failure to do so was in some degree, a measure of complicity. It is not a question of witch hunts, but of a "change of mindset".

Moreover, a serious concern must surely be that the employee responsible for thinking out and implementing the "Grand Prix" system is still employed by the States of Jersey for working with children. Now it is entirely possible that he admits that system was flawed, and has had a complete change of perspective, but there is no public record of that.  One of the figures involved in oversight of child care has been reported in the Guardian as saying that "My father always used a belt on me. It did me the world of good." It is this mindset which may still lurks beneath the surface, which must be addressed, or the same problems, as Einstein warned, will return again.

The Kathy Bull report - still not in the public domain, which is also an indicator that we have a long, long way to go - condemned the Grand Prix system. I think that for those children who suffered under the Grand Prix system, and those who suffered at Haut de La Garenne and elsewhere, there is a duty to seek some kind of closure, and there are avenues available apart from the legal ones, which no one seems to want to explore, such as the Truth and Reconciliation model from South Africa.

In their book "Public inquiries into residential abuse of children" by Brian Corby, Alan Doig, Vicky Roberts - which should be in the States library - the authors note that "there is reason to believe that having the opportunity to give their evidence may have cathartic effects for some".  When looking for a model, they were impressed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in that - although the subject was apartheid rather than child abuse - the underlying principle was that "it was trying to find a way forward without ignoring the past", and it was "concerned to compensate the victims both spiritually and financially".

Desmond Tutu said "Ultimately we must concentrate on forgiveness and reconciliation because if we concentrate on retribution, I am fearful that the spiral of violence, resentment and payback will never end." And the Commission noted that: "the road to reconciliation requires more than forgiveness and respectful remembrance .. reconciliation requires not only individual justice, but also social justice". This is one path to closure. Again to quote Tutu: "Having looked the beast of the past in the eye, having asked and received forgiveness and having made amends, let's shut the door on the past - not in order to forget it but in order not to allow it to imprison us".  This statement draws attention to why Tutu thinks forgiveness and reconciliation are so important, that is to free us from history, and this is one approach which could be applied in Jersey.

The book also notes that in the Canadian case of abuse, in most of the states, "victims of abuse had been given apologies by the state, another concept that had might be considered in Britain". They comment that "we are convinced that a broader-based acknowledgement of victims' needs that is not reliant on the courts or a series of full blown public enquiries should be considered in response to the large number of allegations of residential abuse that are still emerging"

This is why the statement by the Attorney-General's statement, has caused so much dismay, because it is sending out the message that the matter is closed. This again is a fear that is taken up by Daniel O'Leary:

That is why many fear that religious and state leaders are now pushing too fast for closure without learning any vital lessons. What alarms them now is that in the wake of the recent report, church leaders are already looking anxiously for a premature closure. The experience of an abuse, they say, that has turned you into a depressive, unemotional father, a hopeless alcoholic, a suicidal introvert, just cannot be set aside like that. Regaining a lost trust takes ages. Too many take the pain to the grave.

He says that politicians "should resist attempts at quick closure to the shocking revelations of criminal mental, physical and sexual abuse perpetrated on the country's most vulnerable children. Rather, they should spend a lot of time of their knees." This is why he argues against closure that is premature: "There is a necessary waiting time - to feel the shame of the abused, to hear in our soul the abandoned lament of theirs, to stay in that place of utter confusion and desolation - and even then, we will never even remotely glimpse the awful anguish they will carry to the grave. "

There is still much that remains to be done in Jersey so that that voice is heard, and not forgotten, not silenced, so that Jersey can come to terms with this part of its past. As John Donne remarked, "No man is an island", and this child abuse diminishes all of us. But O'Leary ends on a hopeful note:

Nothing is ever completely hopeless. If we doubt that then indeed all is lost. Sooner or later, grace will always find a way to enter in. And in that, at least, we can trust.

Useful resources:

Public inquiries into residential abuse of children By Brian Corby, Alan Doig, Vicky Roberts
Edition: illustrated Published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2001
ISBN 1853028959, 9781853028953

The Tablet

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think what some of us believe is that the AG (and the "Jersey system" itself), when judging whether or not there is sufficient evidence to prosecute or not is not judging the strength of evidence accurately. Whether this is for corrupt "cover-up" type reasons or "head in the sand" reasons or simple inability of the law to bring criminal prosecutions like this is open to debate.