Shaping our Silent History.

I watched Lord Patten undergoing  abrasive questioning  at the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee hearing, over the decisions made by the BBC. The vexed  problems of how much did he know, and what should he or could he have done ? The subject matter was of course, the decisions made about the timing of revelations in the wake of the detritus and debris left behind after the allegations of pedophilia that arose after Jimmy Saville’s death.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/nov/27/patten-bbc-savile-hearing-put-down

I watched him being hounded. And I paid attention to his response.

I noted his quiet dignity and unquestionable integrity, authority and humour. It was an object lesson in keeping calm when you are being fired on by all sides. He was a living demonstration of  Kipling’s words:
“If you can keep your head while all about you

Are losing theirs, and blaming it on you”……

Such  immaculate behaviour can teach many, should they wish to learn. Our behaviour, after all, is one of the few things over which we have full control. Not long ago, I was at a lecture which Lord Patten delivered with a beautiful balance of surety, confidence  and humility. I am unaware of having felt particularly strongly about him before I heard him speak, but he  conveyed his essence powerfully to the audience. He would never be just a name again. I paraphrase his words that night, when he was asked about the various negative press articles, affecting so many Members of Parliament. He stated wistfully:

“There seems to be a laddishness that has crept into politics….. behavior that would not have been countenanced at one time”

Now, apparently, he must endure this public questioning of his behaviour, habits, and decisions,  because the BBC  had decided to take on the very thorny problem of pedophilia. The difficulty with such a decision is that such revelations will cause chaos to all affected.  Pedophiles do not necessarily fit the public perception: they are infrequently sad  and lonely men. They exist across the social spectrum: there are the rich and powerful, with many friends being able to exert influence. There is the executive, who has fought hard to build up his reputation: the bank manager who would be ruined, if such things came out. The victims are usually at the opposite end of the social spectrum: people who find it difficult to be either heard, or believed. pedophilia cannot stand the oxygen of publicity – it thrives on secrets.

To illustrate how deep rooted this is, I offer you a true account.

A friend of mine was working on a voluntary basis with a boy from a children’s home in the 1970’s.  This boy – let’s call him David – complained that he was being sexually molested by a member of staff in the home. After much questioning,  David’s answers eventually convinced my friend  that he was telling the truth. Therefore, she decided to report it to the Head of Home. To her surprise and amazement, she was laughed at. This Senior Social Worker told her that children’s homes attracted this kind of individual. It was unfortunate, but there was nothing to be done about it. If such deeds were brought to light, you would just create a great deal of trouble. It was far better to let sleeping dogs lie.

So she went her GP, and shared her information with him, and asked for his advice. Again, she was given encouragement along the lines of “let’s do nothing” . Her G.P. had heard more funny stories than she had enjoyed hot breakfasts. These things happened . They were part of life. All problems could not be solved. Leave it alone.

Astonished at this lack of action, she went to the Church and spoke to her minister. She explained the two reactions she had received. To strengthen her argument, she now had  evidence. This Church  interview was slightly more reassuring. The Minister was shocked at the reaction of the two professionals. However, given that they held this stance, what could be done? If they were unwilling to act, what could the Church do? It is better not to stick one’s neck out.

And so David continued on his journey, without one adult lifting a finger to help him. NHS, Social Work and Church were not interested in causing a scandal. Today, we would cry “Shame!” and hold up our hands in horror.

From my position of knowledge, I watched with interest as the BBC tried to tell the story. After death, when the individual cannot fight to retain their reputation, it is possible. But it is  difficult  in the extreme to find proof, facts and corroboration  against those who are still living. And yet consider: the victim wants to be believed, and the story to be told. The bystander would like the truth to be told, as would Society as a whole.  Ranked against us, is the strength of the perpetrators and their collaborators which will always forbid disclosure. It cannot happen.

The BBC, like my friend from years ago,  discovered that revelation was not going to be viable.  It would be too uncomfortable for too many, who have spent a lifetime being thought of as pillars of the Community. These people would fight for their reputation: lawsuits for libel and slander, defamation of character would bog the BBC down for years.

So, as we cast around blindly, and blame anybody and everybody at the BBC, the answer lies elsewhere.

I showed the words that I have written here to a friend of mine, who said:

” I don’t know why you bother. I’m not interested.”

And with that statement, he proved my point.

He highlighted, through his disinterest, the missing ingredient. We have failed to engage the genuine  interest  and care of the bystander.

“Perpetrators, collaborators, bystanders, victims: we can be clear about three of these categories. The bystander, however, is the fulcrum. If there are enough notable exceptions, then protest reaches a critical mass. We do not usually think of history as being shaped by silence, but, as English philosopher Edmund Burke said, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing.’[i] (Emphasis is mine)

The problem is not with George Entwistle or Lord Patten, whom I consider to be honorable men, from what I have read. Neither attempted to stop the full story coming out, although it could have been handled better. But you don’t know that until you are involved.   Then  those who stand idly by are exposed, yet blaming everyone but themselves.

If we are not a perpetrator, collaborator or victim, we are the bystanders.  We bystanders have not achieved our critical mass.

Doing nothing is our failure – and ours alone.

Linda Jane McLean


[i] Martin Porter, 2002,  “A study of web quotation”

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3 thoughts on “Shaping our Silent History.

  1. Pingback: Shaping our Silent History. | Pioneer513's Blog

    • Back in that same era or a little earlier in the City of Philadelphia, I was a young undergraduate student on a co-operative job placement with the Philadelphia Department of Public Welfare. The placement was for six months and during the later months I was appointed “temporary placement emergency caseworker” which basically meant that I was the one dispatched to move children from one placement situation to another when regulations or circumstances required it. I had one case which sticks in my mind vividly after all these years. In some respects it provided me with the motivation to choose another career path rather than accept a “commitment” to obtain a Master’s in Social Work degree from a very well repsected local program in Bryn Mar. The situation came to the attention of our agency when a private charitable institution most inappropriately named, The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, SPCC appealed to the ciity to find a placement for a client they “could not handle.” In those days SPCC only took boys! In the process of making a placement and doing follow up on the case this is what I learned:

      A young boy was “picked up” by the Philadelphia police for sleeping in a car. He had no prior juvenile record. I discovered later that the reason for his being in the car was that he was staying with a cousin who was a practicing homosexual living in a one bedroom apartment. His relative did not want him, at his age, to be witness to his involvement sexually with other men, so he had agreed to spend the night in the car. His school records indicated that he was very nearly the brightest in his school. His action which preciptated my involvement was one which involved a dormitory supervisor employed by SPCC primarly for his size and controlling behavior (6′ 2″ and over 240 lb). The first night the young client was housed at SPCC after being dropped off from a police station, he was given no briefing on the house rules. The next morning he went to breakfast without making up his bed. This was apparently grounds for physical intimidation by the dormitory supervisor. The young man defended himself with a chiar and when subdued, was summarily “kicked out” of the placement with a written report indicating that he had psychological problems making his presence in a dormitory inappropriate. Before I got involved, the intake worker at DPW in collaboration with SPCC had made a referral to a hospital psychiatrist often consulted in such cases. When I picked him up at the hosptial for transport to a foster home which agreend on short notice to take him to his scheduled placement it was already late in the day. He had been given 100 mg of Thorozine by the time I picked him up, and was accompanied by a prescription for 50 mg tablets for the next 90 days!

      When I delivered him to the foster home situtation, I discovered it was a “baby factory” containing 8-12 infants in cribs with one currently empty single room for a foster placement of an older child, typically a girl. The room was available because the social worker represtinting the girl who was last there had “pulled her” from the placement when she discovered that the foster mother was essentially using the girl as a “diaper changer” for the babies and was not sending her to school regularly! I believe that the foster mother was paying off her mortgage with the income she generated by housing public welfare foster care cases and that babies were the most efficient revenue generators, expecially when the system provided a “house slave” as well. When I saw what was going on during my short placement visit, a took the boy out to my car to “say goodbye” and advised him to do whatever he could to not take his medicine, and gave him my home and office phone numbers and the office address in Center City, telling him that I would do what I could, as soon as I could, to get him out of there. Two days later, when I arrived at work, the 13 year old was waiting for me at the agency, several miles from his foster home placement location. He had left the house with no money on the pretense of going to school. This had propted the foster mother to call the agency worker she dealt with, who fortunately for the child, was on vacation. I ended up getting both sides of the story, from the child and from a colleague who was filling in for the vacationing worker. The boy told me that he’d ridden on the back bumper of public busses in order to get to the agency, and that it took him a good 24 hours to figure out how to palm his pills and get over the Thorozine sufficiently to think clearly. The vacation relief caseworker said that the foster mother had called to complain that the boy “was not working out.”

      Since I was in the office and not officially “in charge” of his case, the child was “sent back” into that situtation, on the grounds that there were no other avaialable placements at the time. The child would have been a whole lot better off if he had been returned to the situation he had been in before coming into placement. There he attended school regularly, had excellent grades, and was being surprisingly well cared for by a loving relative.

      I turned down the fellowship offer for a “free ride” to obtain my MSW in return for a four year “commitment” to work as a social worker at the DPW. At the time, I noted to myself that if I took that career path, I would be dead by the time I reached retirement age. Now, at age 70, remembering that case still makes me angry with “the system” which organizationally cannot be flexible enough to evaluate circumstances fully and deal with them on a case by case basis.

      • Thank you for this poignant tale. Systems – and their failure to respond to the simplest of scenarios – will be our downfall.
        We complain about them, and I feel we are in a dangerous place. We are no longer encouraged to aspire or to become leaders. We are encouraged to let other people think for us: we are told not to rock the boat.
        And if enough people say that it is okay, then it is okay.
        We simply swallow our standards and believe them!
        Who is willing to stick their head above the parapet, and say: “That is not right!”

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