Why Is Child Abuse Suddenly in the Spotlight in Britain?

By Ridge, Mian | The Christian Science Monitor, July 14, 2014 | Go to article overview

Why Is Child Abuse Suddenly in the Spotlight in Britain?


Ridge, Mian, The Christian Science Monitor


This is normally a languid time of year in Westminster, with Parliament winding down for the long summer holiday. But this season, it has been anything but.

Last week saw the British government announce a pair of historic inquiries into allegations of sexual abuse of children by politicians and other figures in high authority. The inquiries, which follow a string of celebrity child abuse scandals that has dominated British headlines, point to a dramatic change here, in which many hundreds of victims of abuse by the well connected and powerful are coming forward to report decades-old crimes.

In some ways, it seems surprising that this reckoning has taken so long. But it has taken the confluence of a high-profile case, police investigations, and the media's pursuit of a good story to create the storm that is now brewing in Westminster.

"It's a sea change really," says John Bird, who himself was abused as a child and now works for the National Association for People Abused in Childhood [NAPAC], which runs a telephone helpline for victims. "I never thought I would see it happening in my lifetime."

Domino effectObservers believe that the Westminster rumors, which have been quietly simmering for several years, have only bubbled to the surface now because of a string of celebrity convictions for sexual abuse.

"Every time there's one of these cases, the volume of our calls [on the NAPAC helpline] goes right up," says Mr. Bird. "People have been given the impression that they will be taken seriously and that there could be some justice for them."

Earlier this month, entertainer and television presenter Rolf Harris was found guilty of 12 counts of indecent assault. His adds to a litany of cases of abuse of girls and women by male celebrities, including television presenter Stuart Hall and publicist Max Clifford, who were also jailed this year.

But the real force for change came from the posthumous exposure of television presenter Jimmy Saville. Since his death in in 2011, hundreds of people, many of them children, have reported abuse at his hands, and new victims continue to come forward.

His dramatic unmasking seems to have created a climate in which victims of other celebrities have felt able to report their abuse - often decades after it took place - in the new hope that they will be taken seriously.

And the response by the police, which has set up several inquiries to encourage the victims of abuse to report crimes, has encouraged this. Many of the victims of Harris, Clifford, and Hall reported their crimes as a result of the unmasking of Saville.

Westminster next?The media have of course played a central role in bringing these cases to light and empowering victims to speak up. …

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