Saturday, 30 August 2014
Nobody’s Children Are some children easier to love than others? Are the sufferings of some children less legitimate than others? If we care less about some children than others can we as a society profess to love children at all? These are but a few of the questions that will haunt the nation’s consciousness for a generation following the horrific revelations from Rotherham this week. Perhaps, post Savile, we are collectively so numb to the suffering that adults seem routinely to inflict upon children in Britain that we can no longer process the horrors that happen on a daily basis. However, process them we must because, as with Savile, the crimes were an open secret, happening in full view of the police and the local authority and the only factor that prevented the victims from being rescued from the perpetrators was the backgrounds of the victims. In Rotherham and across the country, we do care about some children more than others. The images of vulnerable, angelic children that stare out at us from the covers of tabloid newspapers, immortalised in death after yet another shocking case of child abuse, Daniel Pelka, Baby P, Victoria Climbie, James Bulger - these are the images that haunt us. What is different about the 1,400 victims in Rotherham, why did their suffering and pain not elicit similar responses? Many of the girls and boys in question were vulnerable, came from chaotic or damaged family backgrounds and were themselves emotionally scarred, abandoned and brutalised long before their abusers caught them. These were children who were desperate for someone to love them, to care about them, to show compassion to them and to prove to them that they were important, that they mattered and that they had worth. Many no doubt exhibited all manner of challenging behaviours and attitudes, as children and teenagers do when they are acting out the pain in their lives. This fact, and the fact that they were easily duped by their abusers into thinking that they would be loved, cherished and valued for who they were, seems to have condemned them in the eyes of the very policemen and council workers who were meant to be protecting them. Adults have no right to pick and choose which children are ‘good enough’ to be loved and which ones are not, furthermore, it is the children that are hard to reach, the ones who live chaotic lives and who are already full of hurt, anger and bitterness that should be our society’s priorities? What teacher worthy of the name expects a class full of A grade students and ignores those who struggle? What doctor simply treats patients with illnesses that are quickly remedied with a prescription and ignores the rest? And what of the perpetrators? What do we do with these uniquely dangerous men? This week has been an opportunity for the ‘hang ‘em and flog ‘em’ columnists (who cared nothing for the victims last week, it should be stated) to appeal to our basest, angriest instincts. Ruining a child’s life is quite possibly unforgivable or at least beyond the ability of most of us to forgive, but simply engaging in a crescendo of rage will do nothing to help their victims and it will blind us to the fact that however monstrous their crimes, the men who manipulated, terrorised and raped so many children are no less human than we are. This last fact is probably the most uncomfortable, frightening and distressing of them all, which is why we seek to ‘other’ the perpetrators, describing them as ‘monsters’. Well sadly, these monsters are frighteningly mundane and everyday and unless we try to engage with them as human beings on some level we will learn nothing from this terrible story. They should of course be punished by the law and kept far away from children for many, many years, but if our default setting as a society is firstly to throw our hands in the air and wail for the victims and then to vilify and hate the perpetrators, we neatly exempt ourselves from any rigorous evaluation. We all contribute to a society in minute, minuscule ways that periodically creates these scenarios so we all have a responsibility, an accountability and a shared culpability for the fates of so many young girls and boys in Rotherham. We all participate in a society that has at its core a desire to brush uncomfortable truths under the carpet and in doing so, we help to perpetuate abuse and we fail its victims.