Child Sexual Abuse, The Whole Truth

Child Sexual Abuse: The Whole Truth

Once upon a time, Peter Ball was the seemingly unimpeachable bishop of Lewes and Gloucester. In the eighties and early nineties he was much admired for his theological insights and stirring sermons. Insiders described him as ‘ one of the most godly and wisest men in the Christian church’. This ‘godly’ man was a sexual predator who abused boys and young men throughout his glittering career. New disclosures under the Freedom of Information Act show just how much blind support this man had from the most powerful people in this land, even after his other, sordid life was revealed.  George Carey, erstwhile Archbishop of Canterbury, some Tory ministers and other establishment figures wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions to defend the priestly paedophile. Before he was convicted in October 2015, Ball was revered by Prince Charles and other royals too. This is the recurrent Grimms tale of our times: little children lured to dark forests and despoiled by famous, invincible charismatic men. As bad as the crimes is the cover up by those in high places.

A letter I received from a woman in 2012, led eventually to the trial and conviction of the TV celeb Stuart Hall, who was realised from prison just before Christmas. There was no name, no address. Her story was meant to be a secret between us. I couldn’t keep such a secret. What I read- the detail and enduring hurt – was so shocking I took the letter to the police and they began investigating. Hall, they said, had not been on their radar. But people in his circle must have known what was going on. They did nothing to stop him. Perpetrators who come from the higher echelons of society, can still get away with it. The girl claimed she was sometimes raped in the home of a Labour MP, now a peer. Since Hall’s conviction, I have heard from other victims of abusers. These high profile prosecutions have given them courage to reveal their own stories.

 Earlier this year I wrote a long feature in the Sunday Times Magazine about my postbag, misery missives from those who have read my newspaper columns or seen me on TV. After publication, more mail arrived than ever before.  One chap, an alcoholic, had lost everything and everyone; ‘ I read this article. You seem like a kind lady. I need kindness. Consider this a marriage proposal. I will write again and send you my number. Is your hair long?’. I never heard again from the mystery suitor. Two Asian men, who had also read the piece, separately got in touch because their hearts were breaking. One was a Sikh, the other a Muslim. They were born here, went to university, fell in love, got married. Their wives are Asian and from within the faith but the parents have never accepted them or the marriage. The men, both high earning, middle class professionals who miss their families and are tormented by guilt. The marriages are falling slowly apart. As the Sikh gentleman put it: ‘I don’t know who I am without my parents, my community. I feel adrift and a nobody. I still love my wife but that is not enough anymore. Love was a trap I fell into. I wish I had just married the girl they chose. Now there is no way back and I have no one to talk to who would understand’.  

Letters keep on coming, Most are anonymous and almost all are unrestrained, red raw and unmediated. The writers are not seeking practical help, but calling out to a stranger to discharge pain, shame and anger, some to verbalise mental and emotional chaos. It is a bit like an imaginary confessional booth where Catholics admit their sins to an unseen cleric and seek forgiveness. Only these penfriends are sinned against ( or claim they are).  The public mistrusts the media, yet, paradoxically, Britons of all ages and backgrounds send their deepest secrets and unresolved agonies to some of us who work for the media.  

I learn more about family and social injustices from these unsolicited letters than I ever can from assiduous research and planned interviews.

The themes and writers change over time. Until the Savile case, I did not hear from readers about  child sexual abuse. Since then and other celeb convictions, several alleged victims have sent in terrible tales of violation during childhood. Some may be fabrications and fantasies, but many ring true.

But it was the Sunday Times article that prompted a fresh batch of letters from victims of British Pakistani grooming gangs.The depraved group abuse has been found to be going on in Oxford, Luton, and elsewhere too. I have no doubt these crimes against children are still going on in other areas.

 Andrew Norfolk, an assiduous investigative journalist working for The Times, first uncovered the organised exploitation way back in 2011. Hundreds of girls were befriended, gang raped, beaten and passed around as if they were sex toys. Communities, social workers and care workers did not protect them. The reasons for this conspiracy of silence remain unfathomable.

When Norfolk started publishing his pieces, it was as if a series of bombs blew up locked vaults hiding dirty truths. Child abusers and gang rapists do not come from any one race or religion. But, within too many Asian families, white females are disrespected and despised and the intolerable is tolerated. This form of cultural supremacy excuses and validates appalling offences against ‘outsiders’. 

So back to the letters. A young woman calling herself Pippa alleged she had been abused by such a gang from when she was only eleven and living with her mum: ‘ I hate them, I hate you, I hate all you Pakis. I bet your son is like them. You stink. His body stinked ( sic) when he hit me and did me again and again. Tear this letter now. Burn it. I hope you all go to hell.’

Three other victims sent a joint letter. Again, there were no names or addresses. . :’ The Paki blokes did us. Police didn’t stop them. We were in care and they didn’t care. But at least the Pakis were nice when they were in a good mood. Why don’t you ask why we were taken into care? The abuse in our families? Nobody stopped them. Now they want compensation from the government.’   A list of allegations followed, including  rape by the dad of a young girl and her brother from the time they were five and an uncle, a gambler who sold his niece and nephew to abusers.  

Another young woman claimed she was the moll of a Pakistani British leader of a grooming gang. He got her when she was eleven and in care. At sixteen she had a baby girl after refusing to have an abortion. She went to live with her aunt and he found another prey. : ‘My girl has light brown skin and green eyes. My dad won’t see her. But he raped my mum all the time when I was little. We kids heard it all. She died when she was only fifty. I felt safer on the streets than at home.’ 

Just before Christmas, a young Asian girl handed me a letter at an event to raise money for refugees. It said: ‘ My Pakistani father is in prison because he raped white girls. But he raped me too when I was young. Why the police not talking to the families of these men? Nobody cares about us’.  

In all the media coverage of child abuse by groomers, euphemisms cover up the gruesome back stories: The girls were from ‘troubled families’. Or had ‘unstable home lives’, or were ‘in and out of care’. Why this coyness? Partly because there is still this romantic idea that all families protect and love their kids. They do not. I am not trying to divert blame. The men who get together to rape vulnerable children are monstrous and should have nowhere to hide. But too many of the victims were also failed and used by their nearest and dearest before the outside predators got to them.

In November came a letter from a social worker from an unnamed town. She gave up her job after the first tranche of sexual abuse was made public: ‘ I left because I couldn’t bear the hypocrisy. You people in the media  accused us of not caring, the police of not doing their jobs. But did you look at the families these girls came from? Wild animals take better care of their young than some of these people I had to deal with. If we take their kids away we are evil witches. If we try to help them become better parents, we are hated. I knew one of the girls who testified in court. She told me but never told the police that her mum was a prostitute and gave her to someone who wanted a young virgin. You think these things happen only in Thailand and Africa. They happen here in our back yards.’.

Reports on in-house abuse are written by experts and neatly shelved, conveniently forgotten. A recent YouGov /4Children study, for example, found that nearly 950,000 children in Britain were living in violent homes, were often terrorised and neglected. Fear and loyalty tie the tongues of the victims. Sexual attacks on very young children remain buried and inarticulated. Some of the victims do speak out when they get older and understand what happened to them. By then they are irreversibly damaged. 

The government has identified 120,000 troubled families which need acute and constant interventions. An NSPCC report found a link between delinquency and maltreatment in the home. We know those who were abused are more likely to become perpetrators. These problems are interconnected.

In November the Children’s Commissioner looked into thi problem. A report based on data analysis in England concluded that : ‘ Up to two thirds of all sexual abuse happens in and around families. The focus has been on child sexual abuse which occurs in institutions and communities…Child sexual abuse which occurs in families has largely been absent from the national conversation’. Our society can, it seems, deal with stranger danger but kith and kin danger is too disorientating and unsettling. It challenges fundamental assumptions about what it is to be human.

The independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse ( IICSA) led by New Zealand judge Hon Lowell Goddard is investigating institutions which failed sexually abused kids. But there is no such investigation into the bigger and more intractable problem of children violated by their nearest and dearest. We are in denial about familial sexual abuse, which often precedes exploitation by manipulative outsiders. The silence needs to be broken for the sake and safety of these poor kids.

 Edited Version in the Sunday Times, 3/1/2016



Racism, Unspoken And Getting Worse


Sorry if this column makes some of you miserable or cross on the first Monday after the Christmas break. I feel weary and dejected too as I turn once more to think and write about racism in Britain. The subject divides people and these days, is seen as insolence or treachery. Tweets will fly, blogs will burn with indignation, online comments will get nastier and more menacing. I am only the messenger. Blame the Rt Hon Oliver Letwin, for setting off the latest furore.

The National Archives released papers from 1985. Among them was a note by Letwin to Margaret Thatcher, penned after the Broadwater Farm and other inner city riots. The government was alarmed by scale and fury of the uprisings; some ministers and civil servants argued that policies were needed to reduce poverty and improve opportunities for embittered, excluded black Britons. Not so Mr Letwin, who has long been considered a caring and wise Tory. Investment in black businesses, he opined,  would inevitably go to the ‘disco and drug trade’.  Furthermore, ‘riots, criminality and social disintegration are caused solely by individual characters and attitudes. So long as bad moral attitudes remain, all efforts to improve inner city life will founder’. He has now apologised and has found many apologists who have jumped up to confirm that Letwin is a fine man, who would never say anything so crass today. I am sure he would not say ITALS PREVIOUS WD anything so crassly racist today, even in a private memo.

Society has got more civilized and does not tolerate expressions of bigotry. Public discourse on race is far less vicious and malevolent than it once was. Nobody admits to being racist, presumably because the word is stained with shame. And from time to time, politicians of all parties make emotive speeches on equal opportunities for all. The prize for the best of these goes to David Cameron, who at his party conference orated thus: ‘ In our country today, even if they have exactly the same qualifications, people with white sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names …that, in the 21st Century Britain, is disgraceful.’ It is progress of sorts.

Does this mean the country has wiped out racism, except in small, extremist circles? That we are now living in a post-racial paradise, where all of us can pick fruit off the trees without fear or favour? Of course not. Online, racism, prejudices, sexism, bigotry and group hatreds spread multiple infections, immune to all remedies. In real life too, many of us people of colour are entering an age of pessimism. It suppresses aspirations, hope and the imagination. In all institutionS, every profession, almost all workplaces, race discrimination has returned with a vengeance.

In the sixties and seventies, Roy Jenkins, Lord Lester and other influential, fair minded men and women pushed through the first race relations legislation. The laws were weak, but gave a strong message: migrants were equal citizens who would be protected by the state. But discrimination carried on. In 1981, Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw, trusted confidante of Margaret Thatcher,  appointed Lord Scarman to look into the causes of the Brixton riots. Scarman concluded that racial disadvantage, inner city decline and unaccountable, racist policing  were to blame for the ‘disposition towards violent protest’. Many of his recommendations were implemented by Thatcher’s government. You would not get such a constructive response from Cameron, who is more to the right and more of a charmer than the iron lady.

Labour in its last years in office also turned away from race equality. 9/11 made them all paranoid and focussed on Islamicist terrorism- a real and deadly threat, which has only got more deadly and real. The LibDems remain a white party. One LibDem funder told me recently: ‘ The party never reached out to the minorities. Nick Clegg and co never cared about the white poor either. I do not know a single coloured ( sic) person. No wonder we were wiped out.’

The truth is none of the parties care. Highly qualified, talented black and Asian doctors, teachers, lecturers, lawyers, journalists and artists are denied their big breaks through fortified glass ceilings. Ironically this is happening when we have more men and women of colour in the Commons and Lords than ever before. The BBC, Channel4 and most other media outlets think they have done more than enough for racial minorities and that we should be grateful. A producer before Christmas informed me that I was ‘on too much’ on BBC News. Were Polly Toynbee, Peter Hitchins, Steve Richards told off too for being ‘ on too much’?

Opportunities are better for low paid black and Asian workers and recent migrants, partly because most white Britons decline to take up these jobs. Employment rights are no longer protected and taking cases to tribunals is prohibitively expensive. Western lives are deemed much more valuable than the lives of those from the east or south. Students who strongly object to the Rhodes statue in Oxford are daily vilified for challenging white-washed imperial history. Attacks on Muslims and migrants are increasing and sympathy for the victims is waning. We, who question white male power or fight for equality and justice, are branded ‘racist and sexist’. And when riots break out, our PM denies they are about race or austerity: The protestors have a ‘twisted moral code’. Just what Letwin observed way back then.

Racism today is more invidious than it was even in the days of Thatcher, and it is harder to get any redress. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission is scandalously silent on the matter. Poor blacks and whites are pitted against each other and there is no collective movement for a fairer nation. I feel things will only get bleaker.

   The Independent, 4/1/2016

Our Poor Wretched Strivers


The Tory MP, Lucy Allan, has been tied to the stake and burnt by online flamethrowers after some of her aides accused her of being a bully and making them ‘feel inadequate’. When one of them wanted time off to see her terminally ill granddad, Allan allegedly admonished her: ‘I don’t give a shit about your dying grandfather’.  At the weekend more such grievances were aired by named and unnamed sources. This month Mike Ashley, millionaire bossman of Sports Direct also found himself in the hot spotlight after an undercover investigation found that exhausted workers were underpaid and terrorised by the company. A BBC investigation in October found ill employees who were too scared to take time out. At one depot, paramedics had been called out 76 times over a two year period. The media, union members, web vigilantes and MPs have damned the abrasive Ashley, who denied the charges and is now heading a review of agency worker terms and conditions.  

 These two just got unlucky. Some celestial forces led collective ire to them. Throughout history and across the world, people have found and vented their furies on chosen individuals- witches, adulterers, sinners, paedophiles, deserters and so on. Tribes and societies feel cleansed after these punitive, diverting, intoxicating dramas, but the bad stuff goes on, sometimes gets worse, after the orgy of rage has come and gone. Does anyone really believe that no other MPs treat their teams as badly as Allan allegedly does? Or that Ashley is a particularly hideous capitalist? That these two are bad fairies in a world full of lovely, charming, caring politicians, royals, journos and businessmen? The truth is that Allan ( if her accusers are telling the truth) and Ashley are archetypes, representatives of contemporary Britain . More people are becoming selfish, greedy, hard, demanding and anti-social. Admittedly some still hold on to good values such as mutuality, kindness and generosity. But they are an endangered species in the fast changing habitat.

The gods of consumerism have vanquished Jesus, painted adverts and mean graffiti over his messages. Christianity has fallen before these forces. Too many of us on the left have rolled over, stopped fighting back, no longer think too deeply about the massive social and economic shifts and implications. Instead we go shop. This may be the most irreversible change of all.

I was ill for several weeks and then felt low and tired through most of December, so am now rushing around buying, buying, buying for Christmas. Like most migrants, I have learnt to love the festival but hate how it is now almost all about presents. But in the name of integration, I join in with the rest of the madding crowds. In a vast mall  on Friday at 8.30 pm, in a reputable high end shoe shop, a sweet, exhausted looking Italian assistant was helping me. She would be there till 11, she said, back again the next day and then working till midnight till Christmas eve. Back again at 8 on Boxing Day. Will they get overtime? I asked. She didn’t know what the word meant. Turns out they get no extra money at all, but their shifts are adjusted, though over this hectic, festive period , staff are also expected to generously give extra time for no cash. Her manager came up because he recognised me and said:  ‘You should write about this new cheap labour. But please don’t name the shop or the place. I agree, we are really suffering and nobody cares. All I want for Christmas is sleep’.

At another shop we heard one assistant consoling another who was in tears: ‘ Look, it is not about you. Managers come and shout at all of us because they want us to be scared so we work harder.’ In the toilets some customers were shouting at the young Rumanian cleaner, because she was, well, cleaning while women and children rushed in and out. I thanked her and apologised on behalf of the ignoramuses who were making a tough job unbearable. Do these workers not celebrate Christmas? Are they just worker bees without rights, joy, family life or dreams?

Supermarkets this week will stay open till midnight in some places, just to squeeze more out of their workers and our purses. The most successful cheapo outlets must pay suppliers and workers abysmally. There have, for example been many complaints made about working conditions at Lidl. One manager told a newspaper he had had to work 75 hours a week and to sign away his rights under European law. The company denies any wrong doing. The stories keep on coming, but the company gets bigger and more popular. Why even the middle and even upper classes turn up now seeking out low priced lobsters and Prosecco.

Remember the Tories and their slogans on the ‘skivers’ and the ‘strivers’? Well look what is happening to the wretched, exploited strivers working in retail. The same is happening to agency workers in the care sector, to farm and factory workers, the those toiling away in the service sector. Unions have been castrated and can only yell impotently. So yes, Mr Osborne, employment is rising fast, but men and women are doing the sort of jobs that make them feel subhuman. This is why productivity is so low in GB.

Many right wing politicians and business people want us to get out of Europe because the EU gives workers protection, a fair deal, respect and entitlements. This government is determined not only to slash all state safety nets, but to become a mini US, where workers get few holidays or basic employment rights and citizens pay for healthcare or die. That is the big Tory idea. They don’t put the details in their manifesto, but by stealth and non-intervention, European social democracy is being pushed out by American social Darwinism.  Is that what you want? Think about that while you shop till the sales people drop.

The Independent, 21/12/2015