Thursday, November 08, 2012

Sexual abuse in children's homes is not a new discovery

Channel 4 News this evening was a curious mix. It reported that:
From the initial investigation into north Wales child abuse in 1991 to the Waterhouse inquiry in 2000, Sian Griffiths has collated details of every allegation and document surrounding the scandal.
More than that, Sian Griffiths revealed something important about Sir Ronald Waterhouse's method of conducting his inquiry. Some insignificant local was accused of abuse, he was summoned to the inquiry to give evidence himself. But if a more prominent or influential figure was mentioned Waterhouse stopped the proceedings and refused to allow any further evidence on that point.

Perhaps that is what comes of putting a judge in charge of things?

But these revelations were framed by the device of "the past on trial", which sounded dangerously like something out of Brass Eye.

In particular, the talking heads interviewed took it for granted that, 20 or 30 years ago, no one had heard of the sexual abuse of children - in care homes or anywhere else.

I am old enough to remember Britain 20 or 30 years ago, and my recollection is that people were no more naive or stupid than they are today.

My impression, rather, is that there is a repeated process of discovery and forgetting about child abuse, or that it is known about by different groups and professions at different times - I have written a book chapter on this theme.

Certainly, the possibility of sexual abuse in children's homes was well understood in the 1950s.

Chris Arnot and David Brindle, writing in the Guardian in 2009, remembered John Stroud:
John Stroud's The Shorn Lamb is a novel that encapsulates the zeal and idealism of a generation of students training as social workers in the years after the second world war ...
Stroud had returned to the UK after service with the RAF in India, determined to make a difference. His book was first published in 1960. Two years later, it came out as a Penguin paperback, sold extensively and was eventually serialised on the radio by the BBC. Social workers had probably never been so widely popular before with the public at large. And certainly not since.
And what should we find in The Shorn Lamb but this passage?:
"Oh God, Charles, more trouble!" she said, beating her hands to and fro in her hair. 
"That hostel warden." 
"What, old Christmas?" I said. "What's the matter with him?" 
"The usual," she said. 
"Oh, no! Little boys or little girls?" 
"Little boys. Well, big boys - boys in the hostel. It's been going on for months." 
"Oh, hell!" I felt sickened, as I always did, though none of us was unused to this sort of revelation. You never saw it coming, and in someone you knew quite well it was always revolting.
No further questions, m'lud.

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