Friday, 6 February 2015

Child Abuse Inquiry: Survivors' Approval of New Chair is a Step in the Right Direction

The following was published in today's Independent:

Cathy was a child and a prostitute. From the age of four her parents had sex parties where adults would abuse each other’s children. On the few occasions that Cathy found the courage to tell trusted adults, no-one believed her. Her parents were both doctors and “respectable” people don’t behave like that. She was living on the streets at 12, a drug addict at 13 and by the time I met her, at 14, she was “owned” by a pimp in central London. I spent Christmas night with her in casualty. She had been raped with a broken bottle and was severely traumatised.

The psychological theory I studied at university did little to prepare me for that night in A&E almost 20 years ago. As someone with professional experience of working with survivors of child sex abuse, I welcome the appointment of Justice Lowell Goddard, with reservation (she has a lot to prove). The credibility of the inquiry was at risk of derailment when two previous chairs were forced to resign due to their links to the establishment.

The outgoing chair, Fiona Woolf, vehemently denied being an establishment figure but was about as convincing as Jim Davidson claiming to be a feminist. Watching Woolf talk about her dinner parties with senior political figures and her (personal) Christmas card list of over 3,000 , yet concomitantly claiming to be just an ordinary gal, would have been comedic were her appointment not so ill conceived .

In the end, the survivors’ objections were heard. If they don’t trust, absolutely, in the integrity of the process, starting with the appointment of the chair, they will (rightly) boycott it and the whole process will unravel. If their views were treated with contempt at this stage, why should they put themselves through the nightmare of reliving historical sexual traumas?

Cathy, though writhing in agony, refused to be examined by the belligerent male doctor. Under the circumstances, I didn’t think her request for a female doctor was unreasonable, but he clearly did. He lectured me on his innumerable professional accolades. I pointed out that Cathy didn’t get to choose not to be raped with a broken bottle, particles of which remained lodged in her vagina. That having found herself ripped asunder and in A&E on Christmas night, she didn’t choose to be bullied by a condescending doctor. But she did have one choice left. She chose not to have another man anywhere near her, let alone her private parts, for the foreseeable.

We did get a female doctor, though it was a long wait. Hopefully Theresa May has learned something I realised as a graduate advocating for a traumatised child, that sometimes, the most important criteria for a role can’t be found on a CV alone. It doesn’t matter how many letters you have after your name or what university you went to. If you cannot command the trust and confidence of your key stakeholders, you’re not the right person for the job.

A credible and therefore qualified candidate will be able to command the trust of survivors by having the capacity to relate to them on a personal level. Ms Goddard appears to meet this criteria.

There was no fairy tale ending for Cathy. But to do her and other survivors of child sexual abuse justice, this inquiry must proceed apace and be unimpeachable.

No comments: