Thoughts on Newsnight and the aversion of naming an abuser

Trigger warning: this post discusses rape and rape apologism

I watched Newsnight tonight. Word on Twitter was that it would be about a senior political figure who had raped children.

When I heard this, I admit I was frantically wracking my brains to work out who it was. I thought of several people who I most suspected. I thought of all the politicians I could who had engaged in rape apologism to my knowledge: they were the ones I suspected most, with their passionate defences of rape culture. (I’m really going to try hard not to libel anyone in this post, but I’m quite drunk). I’d heard whispers of names–was it going to be them? Who could it be?

Then I watched the segment. They were clearly going out of their way to avoid naming the abuser. All we learned was that it was a senior Tory politician. As I watched, though, I realised how largely irrelevant it was for me, an uninvolved member of the public, to know this rapist’s name.

We heard about what happened. We heard of abuse of vulnerable young people. We heard of how the police were uninterested in investigating what happened, even as the survivors tried to seek out justice through the channels that society is taught is proper. We heard how the rapist is a powerful man, surrounded by other powerful men to keep it quiet. We saw evidence of the fear of libel, how even as a survivor talked about what had happened to him, Newsnight would not name the rapist for fear of legal threat.

They didn’t have enough to name names, they said, even as a survivor talked openly about how as a culture we needed to move towards believing survivors. He was begging us to be believed. I believed him.

Yet in our culture, this is apparently not enough. Newsnight knew of the threat of libel, and thus opted not to name a man who had abused and raped young people, because the only evidence available was their word.

The word of a survivor is enough. It should be enough. It must be enough.

We live in a society where this word is not enough. It’s not valued. We have a legal system which protects perpetrators of rape and abuse by operating on this principle. It silences survivors by telling them their experience is not enough, by pretending that being accused of rape is the worst thing that can happen to a person, that it’s worse than being raped.

In a way, it doesn’t matter that we, as the uninvolved public, don’t know the name of the man who did these things, although it would be better if we did. It does matter, though, that survivors were brave enough to speak out, and if they wanted their rapist named, they should have been able to do this without the culture of silence surrounding them.

Our response to this must not be a game of “guess the paedo”, making it more about the perpetrator. We should–and must–criticise the system that would not allow a survivor’s wishes to be respected, repeatedly. But in this case, ultimately, what we as the public needed to know was the story presented to us, and to look between the lines at the continuing cultural cover-up which became slightly more visible. And what we need to do with that knowledge is fight to ensure that this cannot continue to happen.

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16 responses to “Thoughts on Newsnight and the aversion of naming an abuser

  • Laura

    This is a brilliant response. I don’t think many could say it better

  • Zarathustra

    Yes, it’s disappointing that they felt unable to name names, though not entirely unsurprising given our draconian libel laws.

    Even so, with a bit of luck they’ve put enough information in the public domain that there will need to be a new investigation. I’d imagine certain senior Tories are likely to be very nervous right about now.

  • Andrew

    To do that we need to know who we’re dealing with. Newsnight should have named and shamed, and if they didn’t feel they could do that then they should not have run the story in the way they did.

  • Em

    He was brave enough, the BBC wasn’t. I used to think it was a brave organisation, no longer.

    • stavvers

      Absolutely. I’m disgusted they disrespected his wishes after having got him to open up these wounds so publicly.

      • Em

        Yes Stavvers. Apparently if an adult makes an allegation of rape that’s at least followed up. If an adult who was raped as a child does the same there’s “not enough evidence” – with the appalling insinuation that they are somehow not credible. Well on Newsnight, Steven Messham was credible and bloody brave.

        I don’t know how the survivors can bear it – and sadly they often don’t. I always wondered why it was always plebs that got done for child rape, when it was obviously far more prevalent in our decrepit ‘elite’.

        When are the rest of us going to start demanding that this is properly investigated and that far more protections are put in place for the vulnerable? I am so angry that these bastards are all over children’s charities and get away with i.

  • boostick

    stavvers – have you seen this?

    http://cdn.lrb.co.uk/v34/n21/andrew-ohagan/light-entertainment

    It explains a *lot*

    • Mary

      That’s a very jumbled article. It doesn’t seem to have a framework for what it’s trying to say, except something rather concerning like, “well, artists, what can you expect?”

      The only interesting bit worth chasing up seems to be they link John Peel makes about sexual abuse tolerated at public schools leafing to a much more casual attitude about the age and coercion of sexual partners. But that’s not really followed up.

  • Suzanne B

    Excellent piece. I agree. Not naming the person involved wasn’t as significant as the revelation that so much has been covered up – and continues to be – so that abusers can get away with it and carry on abusing, evidenced by the fact that Newsnight was gagged. A perfect example of how the law is used against victims in an attempt to silence and discredit them.

    People have been pouring scorn on the journalist for pre-publicising this programme, yet I thought it to be a clever strategy: the effect of that alert early in the day was to assure a massive audience for the programme, who then saw for themselves what cover ups have occurred and what travesties of justice have been done in the British public’s name. Some people feel that Newsnight “bottled out” but that’s not what happened. It was almost certain that the person concerned would use the law to protect himself, and that’s exactly what happened. Newsnight prevented from naming him by the very system that has enabled child abuse to go on for so long.

    Now we need to hang on to the lid that’s been lifted and prevent it from being shut again. Evidence about Haut de la Garenne and other children’s homes will provide leverage.

  • stavvers

    Note: I’ve moderated a few comments out of this thread for rape apologism. Essentially, there’s some commenters saying survivors shouldn’t be believed.

    I try to keep this blog a safe space, so they’re gone.

    http://stavvers.wordpress.com/comment-policy/

  • tiggerim

    This whole situation puts me into a quandary for I abhore a system that silences victims and protects perpetrators equally, as a victim of a false claim of sexual assault, realise that a victims word without other supporting evidence is problematic given the potential for unjustly labelling someone as a sexual predator.

    Should Newsnight have run the story…but that’s silencing the victim
    Should Newsnight have named the alleged perpetrator…but without collaborating evidence that’s using one persons word to label another as ‘pedophile rapist’.
    Should Newsnight have taken a middle way? Well they did and it’s cause a wealth of issues…

    • stavvers

      His word is enough. It’s not “unjust”.

      • tiggerim

        [comment moderated for derailing]

      • Tamm

        Except that it turned out that it was actually a case of mistaken identity. It was a member of the McAlpine family, but not the Tory peer whose name was being bandied about (It appears that Newsnight never showed him a picture of the person THEY thought it was, and his original identification was of a man he was told was a ‘McAlpine’).

        I mean the person should definitely be believed that something happened and supported in pursuing justice, but there also needs to be a system that makes sure it’s the right person and not mistaken identity or an accusation made to protect the real abuser (because of intimidation or manipulation).

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