Yesterday in a community hall in Loughborough a new group calling itself Reflections UK representing survivors of child abuse across the UK was born.
It has arisen because many survivors – at first buoyed up by the creation of the over arching child sex abuse independent panel – have been knocked down by its replacement body, the statutory Lowell Goddard inquiry. While there was a populist demand for a statutory inquiry – many don’t seem to have realised that the price of that was to exclude survivors from sitting on it.
There has now been a strong backlash from survivors who believe their voices have been excluded and they have decided to do something about it. Yesterday’s meeting was the start.
It is a powerful 21st century response to a government trying to find a traditionally 20th century solution to a very, very serious issue. The Goddard inquiry is a classic way governments try to solve problems – appoint an eminent judge, bring in a bevy of QC’s, hold hearings, make recommendations and spend a lot of money on an inquiry to sort it. The great and the good solve it all for the great unwashed who are eternally grateful.
Reflections UK is a 21st century response to this – made possible through instant communication on Facebook and Twitter – and expecting the survivors to be treated as equal partners. And they are not going to keep quiet and nor are they going to have their very emotive, raw and angry response to what happened to them filtered by the Whitehall bureaucracy. And in the 21st century they have the medium and the power – through the internet – to do it.
Perhaps the most telling example was the treatment of Jenny Tomlin, one of the organisers of the meeting. ( Local blog followers should know she lives in nearby Tring), She is a survivor of sexual abuse and a successful author ( see her book list on Amazon). As she told the meeting ” the great and the good” (not her words) asked her to apply to sit on their advisory group. But when she received the form it was more interested in academic qualifications than raw experience and direct personal knowledge so she was rejected. How very last century!
The meeting itself drew a very strong cast of speakers. it was opened by Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, who made it very, very clear that she was there as the MP for Loughborough and not as a Cabinet minister. She also refused any media interviews and managed to make a speech without commenting on child sex abuse. But at least she turned up.
More interesting was newly elected MP, Jess Phillips.Labour, Birmingham,Yardley, who defeated Liberal Democrat John Hemming in the last election.
She didn’t hold back. As a Victims Champion for Birmingham, a person who had worked with a charity handling domestic abuse -she was well aware of the issue.
She is already making waves in Westminster as an MP. As she says in this article in Total Politics she has ” too big a gob” to shut up. And she certainly went down well at the meeting saying ” My mother told me you only go for power to give it away” and promised to take an active role in raising cases.Indeed before she had left she had already taken some up.
Other key speakers included a GP Dr Sanjay Panwar; Graham Wilmer ( an ex panel member); Survivor Esther Baker, an Iman Muhammed Al-Hussaini and a lawyer Nigel Thompson who pointed out how Lowell Goddard has already signed a contract promising to keep secret some of the information she may receive in her role as inquiry chair -presumably from the security services.
The most devastating personal contribution – to my mind – came from Diane House from Loughborough. She told a very familiar tale and illustrated it by going silent in the middle of her contribution. It had all the familiar ingredients of a tale from a person who had been sexually abused by seven different people. Family not believing her, friends calling her a slag, police lacking empathy and even today given a very low priority to investigating her case – which unlike some – did not include any VIPs just nasty human beings.
What was clear from this meeting organised by Phil Lafferty is that out there is a very large group of angry, frustrated people who are determined not to be ignored by the authorities and will make their views known. Lowell Goddard ignores them at her peril because they have the power in the 21st century to tell their stories which would have been denied them in the last century.