Fifty Shades of Child Abuse: How a brave survivor is pioneering a fight back in Cumbria

Resilience Film 2

A snapshot from the Resilience film being shown across Cumbria

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Cumbria is amongst the first regions in England to try and tackle the poisonous chalice of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), including child sexual and physical abuse using medical science developed in the United States and extensively trialled in Southern California and now here in the UK.

The Cumbria community initiative, known as The Cumbria Resilience Project, comes from a 61-year-old survivor himself – a victim of the notorious paedophile and abuser John Allen – sentenced to life imprisonment on 33 counts of sexual abuse against 19 boys and one girl- aged between 7 and 15 – while running a children’s home in North Wales. Allen like so many paedophiles denied all of this and claimed the people making the allegations all wanted to make money. But the jury at Mold Crown Court disagreed.

The  anonymous survivor has just written a very readable  book – available from Amazon here for £7.99p  – Aces in the shadows – Understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences.

He thought he might call it 50 Shades of ACEs because of sadly the variety of adversity, including physical, sexual, and bullying abuse (some inflicted by other traumatised children as well as adults) which damages thousands of children in their homes, schools, places of safety and in war zones and among refugees.

ACEs science comes from a health questionnaire used in the CDC-Kaiser Permanente ACEs Study, which is one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and later-life health and well-being in the USA, can now be used by GP’s and trained counsellors to act as a gauge on how deeply traumatised children and adults have become following adverse childhood experiences through abuse, neglect and household challenges, often caused by members of their family, teachers, children’s home staff , and priests leading to perpetual mental and physical health outcomes in later life including Cancer, Ischemic heart disease, Liver disease, Alcoholism, Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and Depression.

The science, now accepted by the World Health Organization (WHO), shows beyond any doubt that a child’s growing brain can be arrested by such traumatic experiences, but the brain’s plasticity and the building of resilience can help people recover in later life. The book includes views from three professionals, Al Coates MBE, a social worker; Judy James, a coach-therapist; and Laura McConnell, a teacher and ADHD campaigner, on how to tackle this. The survivor adds his own views.

With a score of 10 ACEs, the anonymous survivor has endured it all – three marriages, fathered eight children, 40 sexual partners, 34 homes, two bankruptcies, copious drink and sleeping pills and a range of health conditions. Only the unconditional love of his third wife helped pull him through after years of therapy.

His psychiatrist diagnosed that he suffers from complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – something ( which I will return in a later blog) the authorities don’t wish to know about because of the expense of treating it. He concludes : ” I do not believe however he is likely to make a complete or rapid recovery because of the duration of his symptoms since childhood.”

The good news is that such episodes have become rarer while the work he is doing in Cumbria is growing beyond anything he could have expected.

” Cumbria might appear to be a beautiful place but behind the beauty are some of the highest numbers of sexual and domestic violence offences in the country,” he told me.

The Cumbrian Resilience Project has already attracted more than 300 members belonging to its closed social media forum. It also has free viewings of a film called RESILIENCE – The Biology of stress and the science of hope which explores the damage done to the body by the toxic trauma of  repeated adverse childhood experiences as a child and puts forward a scientific way of tackling it. Film showings this autumn will be in Carlisle, Penrith, Workington, Barrow, Eden Valley and Kendal to name but a few.

Interest has been shown by Cumbria Police, Cumbria NHS and across the care sector and the project founder is planning ACEs awareness training sessions for parents, social and care workers, and all frontline staff so they can understand what is needed to help children and adults affected by ACEs. Sessions this year are being held in Workington, Carlisle, Penrith and Barrow.

The project relies enormously on volunteers and survivor champions. But I hope when the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) moves on to discuss how to help survivors that projects like these (they are more widespread in Scotland) are advocated on a national level. The author is a Core Participant in the inquiry and hopes to have the opportunity to raise issues of ACEs at the inquiry later in the year.

Among the supporters of the project are Graham Wilmer, who runs the Lantern Project on the Wirral :

He says: “There are people out there who are trying very hard to undermine the courageous efforts of survivors of child abuse to come forward and give their testimony. Some of these individuals claim to be survivors themselves, others include a diverse range of individuals, some professionals, others just perhaps misguided folks without much else to do, who, through the advent of social media, believe they have a right to call out and abuse anyone they want to, simply because they can.

“That will change, but, in any case, they matter not. It is the voices of those who had the courage to speak truth to power that will be remembered, not the voices of those who tried to stop them.”

Another is Dr Wendy Thorley who described the book as a ” An open and unrestricted account of the impact on ACEs for not only children but adults. The bravery of the author to put this in the public arena is not unrecognised.”

I would recommend it – the author does not go for intellectual sophism – but is direct, honest and tells the unvarnished truth – and it is all the better for that.

Alexis Jay: A game changer appointment for the Child Sex Abuse Inquiry?

 

Alexis Jay at the Rotherham inquiry Pic credit BBC

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The very fast decision by Amber Rudd, the home secretary, and Theresa May, to appoint Alexis Jay, as the new chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is a very positive move.

After three attempts to appoint leading lawyers  to run the inquiry have all failed, it was a breath of fresh air to decide that a non lawyer could take on the job. Amber Rudd used powers under the Inquiries Act to appoint an existing member of the inquiry to take over the job.

The appointment  shows ministers are thinking ” out of the box” after running into problems – two caused by perceived conflict of interest – over the three previous chairs, Dame Fiona Woolf, Baroness Butler-Sloss and Dame Lowell Goddard.

I fully expected  politicians to try and get another lawyer to run the inquiry – because of the legal minefield surrounding  child sex abuse claims – but I am glad they didn’t.

Indeed it is a shame they did not think of appointing Alexis Jay in the first place to counteract the legal dominance of the inquiry.

Alexis Jay will bring a more human face to the inquiry and will have empathy for the traumas facing child sex abuse survivors. As a former social worker she may at last take seriously the problems of support for survivors – which should be one of the mainstream concerns of the inquiry  and has been sadly lacking until now.

But there are also other big advantages.

Her appointment means there will continuity and the Amber Rudd’s commitment to the inquiry couldn’t be clearer.

As Amber Rudd said:

Let there be no doubt; our commitment to this inquiry is undiminished. We owe it to victims and survivors to confront the appalling reality of how children were let down by the very people who were charged to protect them and to learn from the mistakes of the past.

Any new person coming to chair the inquiry would have needed time and space to read into events and there would have been an inevitable delay to further progress. This will not happen now.

It also means that the driving force of the future inquiry will not be a lawyer – which is my view is a good thing and puts it closer to the model adopted by independent panels.

Hillsborough for example was not chaired by a judge – and its impact on raising issues such as the  re-opening of the inquest into the deaths of the Liverpool football fans – has been enormous.

She  also has enormous experience in the issues of child sex abuse – and contrary to issues raised by survivor  Andi Lavery – there seems to be little potential for conflicts of interest.

Her letter to Amber Rudd dealing with  conflicts of interest also reveals  the breadth of her knowledge of the issue. As well as her inquiry into the appalling sexual abuse scandal in Rotherham  she had done similar work investigating child sexual abuse cases in Scotland.

As chief inspector for social work  in Scotland from 2005 to 2011 she investigated child sex abuse under the direction of ministers and  also took  a wider role in advising ministers on social work policy. As Scotland is outside the terms of reference of the inquiry, there is no conflict of interest here.

So what is the downside. She will need a lot of legal advice on how to handle some of the most difficult cases of child sex abuse -I am thinking of the judicial challenge to the investigation into Greville Janner – as the most pressing example. In a way this will enhance the role of Ben Emmerson, the inquiry’s QC and his team, as they will be crucial in defending the role of the inquiry to investigate this.

Secondly she may have to take some hard decisions about what to pursue and what to decline to investigate because of the massive amount of paperwork from the 13 streams they are already investigating. Otherwise it will become unwieldy.

I still  think the panel as whole is unbalanced in one respect – it has no dedicated investigator to cross all disciplines. The decision to drop having a journalist – Sharon Evans was the chosen person but it fell apart- on the panel was a bad idea. Lawyers are brilliant when they have got all the facts and can cross examine people about them – but they are not natural investigators and do not have the journalist’s mind to think ” out of the box”and make  connections.

I am not making a bid for myself – I am already on one national independent panel inquiry – but I think the issue should be re-examined and they should attach an investigative journalist to the inquiry.

Otherwise at this stage one can only wish Alexis Jay well in her new and demanding job.

Is social media fuelling hatred and contempt in Britain?

jo cox mp

The late Jo Cox MP. Pic credit: BBC

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The killing of MP  Jo Cox has caused many people to pause and question whether political debate is becoming too callous and extreme because of the  way social media and Twitter in particular encourage polarised views.

Today’s Inforrm blog carries a very thoughtful article from Sharon Coen, a senior lecturer in media psychology at Salford University. Her article as you can see here is mainly framed about political debate.

However what she says says about politics can easily be extended to the way trolls treat women and survivors of child sex abuse.

As she says on politics: “The adversarial communication style we see in politics today is certainly counterproductive and polarises opinions. Disagreement is great and is at the heart of democracy. But, as political scientist Susan Bickford argues, it is only by really listening to other people’s positions, not just discarding them, that the democratic process can be successful. And – as in face to face interaction among politicians or televised debates – the internet has proved so bad at enabling people to listen to each other that there are now attempts to redesign the way we communicate online to make us better listeners.”

On social media she says:

“Social media …is a double-edged sword. On the positive side, it fosters political engagement both on and offline. For example, in a small (unpublished) study I conducted, I found that when people used the internet to debate and comment on news online, they were also more likely to be politically active in the real world. Again, this is in line with other research in the area.

“But (my emphasis in bold) social media also fosters polarisation. People tend to connect to like-minded people – and engage with content that reflects their pre-existing attitudes and beliefs. Social media focuses political debate even further around individuals who have active profiles on social media sites. It can effectively put a big neon target on them, attracting more personal abuse from those who disagree with them.”

She goes on:”The recent launch of the Reclaim the Internet campaign has highlighted the amount of abuse individuals (and women in particular) are subjected to online. The issues of cyberbullying and cybermisogyny are ones that deserve serious consideration for the negative impact they can have on the recipients of such abuse.”

In my view this aggressive stance by some people – often more aimed at women than men – is becoming particularly nasty with MPs like Jo Cox (before she was killed) and Jess Phillips, Mp for Birmingham, Yardley, being recent targets.

I am also thinking of child sex abuse survivors like Esther Baker – whose allegations are the current subject of a police investigation – who has suffered egregious abuse on line from people who claim not to beleive her.

It is time that these bullies and cowards put up and shut up. They should think before they tweet. Would they say  that to a person’s face in public? If not why say it on line behind some anonymous or not so anonymous twitter handle? Their actions also encourage  more hate and division but most of them are not man enough ( yes they are mostly men!) to stand up in public and say what they think.

The problem  is that this type of behaviour is beginning to have nasty consequences and turning this country into a nasty place to live.

 

Westminster Paedophile Inquiry Row: A shrewd move by Scotland Yard

Sir Richard Henriques.

Sir Richard Henriques. Pic Credit: Blackpool Gazette

The decision by Sir Bernard Hogan Howe, the Met Police Commissioner, to ask Sir Richard Henriques, a distinguished  retired judge, to review police procedures covering Operation Midland is very shrewd.

At a stroke it will knock down the hysterical coverage in some newspapers of the investigation which has involved prominent VIPs being interviewed by the Met following allegations of sexual abuse and murder from a survivor known as Nick.

The papers- some of whom seem to act as judge and jury  before the investigation has been completed – in wanting to clear prominent people and cast doubt on the veracity of the victim in alleging such crimes. They have  also complained about the Met Police spending time and money looking at historic child sex abuse cases.

It will also prevent Keith Vaz, the  Labour chair of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, grandstanding when  Sir Bernard comes before him at the end of this month.

He will know as a lawyer that he can hardly grill Sir Bernard about the procedures of the investigation while there is an inquiry by a retired judge looking into the same issues. Nor can he second guess Sir Richard’s findings.

Indeed instead he may have to explain why his committee was so quick to condemn the Met for its handling of  its investigation into the historic alleged rape  against the late Leon Brittan  brought by  ” Jane” now an independent review by Dorset Police has largely cleared the Met of any errors.

It should also provide a valuable breathing case for the Met to take a balanced decision on whether it can proceed further with Operation Midland rather than all this orchestrated hue and cry that it must be stopped now.

Obviously it has been painful for Leon Brittan’s family and the 92 year old war hero  Lord Bramall to be at the centre of such allegations but that doesn’t mean that the police should not investigate them.

Also it is not only cases brought by Nick that will come under scrutiny but also Darren where the Met Police appear to have taken the opposite decision and decided that Darren’s claims were not worth pursuing.

One of the most interesting findings by the judge will be how he sees the police handled two entirely different victims and  their allegations and what standards were applied.

In a statement announcing the review on Wednesday, Hogan-Howe said the aim was “whether we can provide a better balance between our duty to investigate and the interests of suspects, complainants and victims.”

The Met commissioner added: “We are not afraid to learn how we can do these things better, and that’s why I’ve announced today’s review in to how we have conducted investigations in to non-recent sexual allegations involving public figures.”

Henriques is a former high court judge who conducted an inquiry into how Lord Janner escaped justice over abuse claims.

He is  also the prosecutor who  brought the killers of James Bulger to justice and nailed Harold Shipman,the GP who murdered his patients..

Before retiring he was a judge presiding over  terrorist trials including the trial of eight terrorists who would have slaughtered almost 3,000 people had their plan to bring down transatlantic airliners been successful.

So he seems a good choice to cut through all the hyperbole surrounding the VIP paedophile ring  allegations and make sound recommendations on how the Met should handle such allegations in the future. My main reservation is how much of the report will be made public. Transparency is very important in this case.

 

 

Child sex abuse survivors: a dangerous precedent to withdraw funding

 

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Graham Wilmer, head of the Lantern Project charity Picture reproduced courtesy Rory Wilmer Photography

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The recent media row over the alleged therapy techniques used by the abuse survivors charity, the Lantern Project, which led to the withdrawal of funding is a dangerous precedent.

The row pushed essentially by two newspapers by the Sunday Times and the Daily Mail ( see article here) could have much wider implications than just in the Wirral where the charity is based.

Essentially the allegations centred around two high profile survivors Esther Baker and one known as ” Darren” . Esther’s allegations are currently being examined by Staffordshire Police in a very detailed investigation which  has already led to one arrest and another person being interviewed under caution.

I am not going to comment further on the investigation particularly as the Solicitor General, Robert Buckland, has warned the media of ” the risk of publishing material that gives the impression of pre-judging the outcome of the investigation and any criminal proceedings that may follow, or which might prejudice any such proceedings.”

Indeed I am frankly surprised that both papers thought  they could comment on an active police investigation by casting doubt on the credibility of a survivor and perhaps there may be a case of drawing this to the attention of the Attorney General.

What more concerns me is the decision of the Wirral Clinical Commissioning Group to withdraw substantial funding for the charity in the wake of the Sunday Times allegations.

The reduction appears to be part of a £20m cut affecting other services but by withdrawing the £150,000 and stating firmly they disagree about the use of the therapy -Unstructured  Therapeutic Disclosure – which some people think can cause the medically  unrecognised false memory syndrome- is specifically aimed at cutting support to survivors. As it says “There is no recognition or recommendation of this approach by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).” And it questions whether the Lantern Project has the skilled staff to do this – even though the charity itself refers people back to the GPs in these cases.

However the effect of the withdrawal of the money  is not confined to just two high profile survivors – one of whom-Darren – doesn’t seem to have received the therapy anyway.

It turns out that the charity has been helping  at least 200 to 400 other families and provides or did provide a website forum for some 1000 survivors in the area. Wirral, faced with these other cuts, is not going to provide any money to other organisations – even if they could provide the services, which they can’t anyway.

Also its stance on staff could have implications for other groups that provide counselling to survivors.The Wirral decision on staffing required could provide an excellent excuse for a cash strapped NHS to withdraw support from other charities by saying they should employ psychotherapists as well as trained counsellors. And it is clear that the NHS is going to face a grim winter just providing  basic high profile services to the elderly and sick.

Those who have been concentrating on attacking the charity for supporting these two high profile cases seem to be totally unaware of the effect on other survivors who will now lose support.

They have not entirely been successful either. Norfolk Police Commissioner’s Office which is distributing the £7m to survivors organisations earmarked by the home secretary, Theresa May, is NOT withdrawing money from the Lantern Project, despite being briefed by Wirral CCG. And subject to a professional audit will continue to do so next year.

And the Daily Mail and Sunday Times coverage has had an unintended consequence- the Lantern Project has received £55,000 in two large donations from survivors or their families helped by the project. The money is part of  large compensation payments awarded by the courts on other cases taken up by the Lantern Project.

This means that the charity can continue to do some – but not all of its work. But the damage to services helping survivors has already been done.

UPDATE Dec 13: Since publication of this blog the Sunday Times (see below) has withdrawn its allegation that Esther Baker received the controversial Unstructured Therapeutic Disclosure at the time she made allegations of child sexual abuse. This does cast some doubt on  Wirral’s decision to withdraw the money.

sunday times correction

 

A damning indictment of the DPP and its failure to prosecute Cyril Smith

My  Exaro colleagues Nick Fielding and Tim Wood deserve a big commendation for doggedly pursuing the Crown prosecution Service to force them to release a damning report revealing how the authorities missed their opportunity to prosecute  paedophile MP Cyril Smith while he was alive.

After using the Freedom of Information Act the CPS has finally  a year later released a police report showing the Rochdale authorities knew what Sir Cyril was up to – but  the Director of Public Prosecutions declined to prosecute,.

The police superintendent in charge of the investigation in 1970 wrote;

“It seems impossible to excuse his conduct. Over a considerable period of time, whilst sheltering beneath a veneer of respectability, he has used his unique position to indulge in a sordid series of indecent episodes with young boys towards whom he had a special responsibility.”

No action was taken, and the paedophile MP was free to continue sexually and physically abusing boys for many more years. The full report is on the Exaro website.

One can only say if they had acted a lot of people would have been spared suffering such predatory sordid practices and could have gone on to have had fulfilling lives and enjoyed the innocence of the rest of their childhood. The authorities have a lot to answer.

Child Sex Abuse Inquiry: Theresa May’s more sensible way forward

Theresa May, home sercretary. Pic Credit: conservatives.com

Theresa May, home sercretary. Pic Credit: conservatives.com

After the complete debacle over the rushed appointment  and swift resignation of Baroness Butler-Sloss to  head the overarching inquiry into child sex abuse, Theresa May met six of the ” Magnificent” seven MPs again.

An account taken from a  couple of them appears on the Exaro site today suggests that the Home Office has now reverted to the way it has followed in setting up all other independent panels, including the Daniel Morgan and Gosport hospital inquiries which means consulting people before appointing people.

From my own sources I always thought Theresa May was rushed into making a decision by a Downing Street panicked by newspaper headlines.

The good news is that the six MPs were unanimous that a survivor MUST sit on the panel and  the home secretary  was open to names. It was also clear that the government will not be rushed again to announce a new chair of the inquiry. MPs also stressed the need for proper help for victims

As important will be the terms of reference for the inquiry, how the inquiry gathers evidence, how far it can investigate and whether the police and the security services get immunity in passing over information.

Here the Home Office will have to do some hard thinking to make sure that the inquiry panel;  must be both seen  to act without fear or favour or people  will lose confidence in its ability to  get to the real facts.

It must be able to go anywhere and tackle the issues in places where there are still secrets like Jersey and Northern Ireland.

It must not just be a lessons learned exercise from previous work – even though that  is all-encompassing in itself – given the large number of inquiries and police investigations.

This is a once in a lifetime chance to sort out the sordid history of child sexual abuse in the United Kingdom and make recommendations – from the investigation of the scandals to proper after care for survivors. The government – and any future government after 2015 – must not blow it this time.