The Meandering Social Worker

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Archive for the tag “sexual abuse”

Confusion all round?

I got some stick a couple of months back around some conversations I had relating to the campaign to have removed from the internet a poster from the 2007 NHS Know Your Limits campaign designed to raise awareness of the risks of alcohol.  The poster in question states that one in three reported rapes happen when the victim is drunk.’s objection to the poster was that it perpetuated the ‘victim blaming’ culture in our society today.  I saw the poster as the NHS trying to give the message that we should take more responsibility around our actions and especially around our use of alcohol, rather than blaming the victim.  I said so in a blog (linked below) entitled Know Your Responsibilities.

But the conversations I had at the time (I was accused of trotting out all the usual excuses, that still blame the victim) led me to ask myself some questions: had I got it wrong, was I a part of perpetuating the victim blaming culture?  Since then I’ve gone out of my way to consider the issue again, I’ve followed various news reports where accusations of victim blaming have been made.

One of the most recent in the news is the case of Archie Reed (20) who went out on a drinking night out with his friend, who happened to be female.  They were both 19 at the time.  They both got very drunk, he missed the train home and she offered to let him stay at her place overnight.  Of that we can be reasonably sure.  CCTV showed them holding hands and hugging.  Other aspects of evidence can only be known to the individuals involved.  Did he offer to sleep on the floor and she insist they slept together in her single bed?  Did she rub herself provocatively against him in bed?  Did he take off her pyjama bottoms while she was asleep? It’s her word against his.  Whatever, he admitted making sexual advances towards her having ‘misread the signs’ of her kissing him and inviting him to sleep in her bed and stopped when he realised his mistake.  He had sexually assaulted her without her express permission to have sex.

The reporting of this case got messed up with the fact that he was an ex-public schoolboy and mishandling of the prosecution and presentation of evidence by the CPS, the latter causing the judge to order the jury to acquit him of rape.

In the middle of all this Drinkaware published research (by ICM) that found a third of young women had been sexually molested during a night out drinking and that a fifth had been unsurprised by it.  One in ten young men had had to deal with some kind of unwelcomed sexual attention.  Two thirds of young women said unwanted sexual attention spoils a good night out, 69% felt disgust, 56% felt anger, 39% felt fear.  That’s a lot of emotional fallout from an apparently good night out.

Two quotes worth repeating here: Retired judge Mary Jane Mowat (66) said it is not right to rape or take advantage of a drunken woman, but also anticipated criticism when she said that ‘rape conviction statistics will not improve until young women stop getting so drunk’.  Daily Mail columnist, Amanda Platell (57), stated “young women must start establishing clear boundaries – and that means realising drunkenly kissing, hugging and inviting a man into your bed might be misinterpreted as an invitation to sex”.

I can’t help thinking their views are less about victim blaming than about generational differences.  Like me, those women would have grown up in a generation when sex outside marriage was still considered risque, when a young woman inviting a young man to sleep in her bed with her really was an invitation to have sex.  Back then young people got drunk at the weekends but not to the extent of the ‘drinking culture’ today.  Back then if a young woman was found to be pregnant outside of marriage both got the blame and were expected to take responsibility for the consequences.  Which brings me back to my original blog – Know Your Responsibilities.

It’s human nature.  Young men DO want sex.  Young women WILL give out mixed signals.  Young men WILL read the signals according to their map of the world (“I want sex”).  Throw in some alcohol and the confusion escalates.  We DO live in a culture that promotes women as sexual beings, even more than ever before.  Young women WILL be traumatised by unwelcomed sexual acts that may well affect them for the rest of their lives – they were in the youth of Mary Mowat and Amanda Platell, and their mothers and grandmothers and generations of women before them.  Young men WILL be accused of making inappropriate sexual advances and their lives will be disrupted and possibly altered forever by those accusations.

We DON’T live in a fair society.  We DO live in a society that expects rights.  We DON’T live in a society that accepts responsibility.  But that’s what it needs.  Men and women are both victims of the rise in the social drinking culture that is prevalent today.  I will go one step further than Mowat and Platell: both young women and young men should take more responsibility to protect themselves from their own vulnerabilities.  And if that means saying that the culture around drinking and alcohol are to blame then that is the message that should be promoted.

And then we can get on with dealing with the problem of the objectification of women in the media and so many spheres of society.


The Meandering Social Worker

The old 2006 UK NHS Know Your Limits Campaign to raise awareness of the risks of drinking (alcohol) is popping up in emails and social media news-feeds again thanks to a petition started by to get one particular campaign poster removed in all its formats.  The offending poster is the one that states that one in three reported rapes happen when the victim is drunk.  The objection to this poster is that it implies that rape is therefore the fault of the victim and not consistent with more recent NHS advice that “a sexual assault is always the fault of the perpetrator”.  Among those supporting the campaign is the NUS (National Union of Students) who state that the “only way to stop rapes is to stop rapists”.

I remember the original NHS campaign: it was designed to shock and the rape poster was just one of many shocking adverts…

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Know Your Responsibilities

The old 2006 UK NHS Know Your Limits Campaign to raise awareness of the risks of drinking (alcohol) is popping up in emails and social media news-feeds again thanks to a petition started by to get one particular campaign poster removed in all its formats.  The offending poster is the one that states that one in three reported rapes happen when the victim is drunk.  The objection to this poster is that it implies that rape is therefore the fault of the victim and not consistent with more recent NHS advice that “a sexual assault is always the fault of the perpetrator”.  Among those supporting the campaign is the NUS (National Union of Students) who state that the “only way to stop rapes is to stop rapists”.

I remember the original NHS campaign: it was designed to shock and the rape poster was just one of many shocking adverts and images at the time.  I agree with both and the NUS that a victim should not be blamed for being a victim.  But isn’t there another message in the NHS Know Your Limits campaign, which is about being aware of our individual and personal responsibility to ourselves?  If the facts are that one in three reported rapes occurred when the victim was drunk isn’t it the responsibility of the authorities to make that information available?  Don’t we then have the freedom of choice as to whether or not to take that information on board and decide whether we want to take it in to account when we make our decisions about our drinking habits?

We live in a culture that has moved from taking personal responsibility to blaming others for all our woes.  We have a government that perpetuates the message of fear on the one hand while they make it look as if they are protecting us, such as recent legislation that automatically sets up filters on home internet to protect the vulnerable from exposure to harmful websites, or allows the government to monitor all emails, texts, phone calls, to enable the authorities to prevent terrorism.  But the underlying message in the NHS Know Your Limits was to take responsibility for ensuring your own safety.

The wider campaign of which this petition is a part sates that the only way to stop rapes is to stop rapists.  And that is true, but until the authorities have successfully eradicated the issues that lead to rape – power struggles, inequality, difference and more – from our society we all, individually and collectively, have a responsibility to look after ourselves.

Rape is a heinous crime, unimaginable in its violence and invasion.  Emotive in all its guises.  Which can make it difficult to consider the message objectively.  There are less emotive crimes where we take responsibility to protect ourselves from those crimes – we lock windows and doors when we go out, the car door when we park it, we conceal purses and wallets to reduce the risk of being targeted by pickpockets, or get a lift or taxi rather than walk through known dangerous areas (for protection against mugging), make sure the car we are driving has brakes that work, use the right ropes and harnesses when rock climbing or bungee jumping.  Sometimes our precautions are not enough, or we are just unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and we become a victim of a crime or an accident.

I often support the campaigns of but not this one.  Not all my social work colleagues will agree with me.  In fact, I know many who will be supporting the campaign.  It’s because I believe the issues are way more complicated and far reaching than the campaign.

The arguments for and against internet blocking

I have already bloged about the British government’s decision to introduce compulsory internet blocking in the UK, at source.  In order to view websites that contain references to drugs, sex, rape, domestic violence, murder and suicide, householders will have to consciously ‘turn off’ the blocking.  The same goes for terrorism and bomb making.  The purpose of this is to protect children in the home from having access to potentially harmful websites, especially pornography and some of the sites that have encouraged eating disorders in children and adolescents.

I argued before that this will only protect the children who are already protected.  Responsible parents could always apply parental controls and take steps to supervise children’s access to the internet.  Children who are already in households where they are vulnerable to neglect and abuse are more likely to experience parenting where there is less or no supervision of internet access, and whose parents are just as likely to turn off the blocking features that would protect their children from accessing harmful material.  These are the same households where children may well find pornographic videos readily available on the shelf next to the TV/DVD.

And of course there is still the risk children from ‘protected’ households will be friends with children from vulnerable households and access these sites unsupervised.

This is what seems to be the case in a recent report of a 12 year old boy who sexually assaulted his younger sister after watching hard-core porn on an Xbox with a group of friends at the house of one of the friends.  At home his internet use was monitored.  When his parents had discovered he had accessed porn using his phone during a sleepover at a friend’s house they had confiscated his phone.  They were not aware at the time of the abuse that was happening with their daughter.  Everything in the reporting of this case suggests that this boy came from a ‘protected’ home but had friends whose parents were less vigilant.

The case is tragic and underlines the association between viewing pornography and sexual abuse.

But it doesn’t change my mind on the reasons against automatic blocking:

  • as tragic as this case is, the boy was clearly able to access inappropriate pornography at a friend’s house – that won’t change
  • vulnerable people, victims of domestic violence or other forms of abuse may find it harder to access websites where they can get help and advice – the internet is increasingly a source of information in these situations, especially where the victim is unwilling to risk approaching the authorities (common) – and it is unlikely that public internet providers, such as libraries, will ‘risk’ turning off any blocking on their systems
  • genuine research by social and health care professionals and university students will require the lifting of many of the automatic blocking – employers and universities are likely to be cautious about turning off internet blocking
  • and finally, this is a removal of individual responsibility and accountability in society – an attack on freedoms and liberty (in my previous blog I mentioned concerns that have been raised regarding the sub-conscious pressure on self-censorship and worries about official interference and spying as ‘opting-out’ will be recorded by internet providers)



Hiding in plain sight

On 30th December 2013 the UK Telegraph newspaper reported the shocking news from an appeal in the high court in Italy of the release and the order for a retrial of a 60 year old social worker convicted of sexual acts with an 11 year old girl.

Was it a false allegation?  Had he proved his innocence?  No.

The child was from a poor family who knew and trusted the social worker.  He had been caught naked in bed with her after an investigation by police.

Shockingly the Italian high court overturned the original verdict and subsequent appeal on the grounds that they had not taken into account “the ‘consensus’, the existence of an amorous relationship, the absence of physical force, the girl’s feelings of love”.

It’s hard to find the words to comment on such a decision, but most especially for the reasons given.  If ever there was an example of one sector of society being out of touch with the views of other sectors of society then this has to be it.  I would hope that in England such a high court decision would lead to calls for an investigation into the practices of the high court judges who consider an 11 year old girl can have amorous feelings of love for a 60 year old man (as opposed to the kind of familial love a child feels for their parents and grandparents).  Where are their sexual boundaries I wonder?

All the time paedophiles hide in positions of authority, such as social services, the courts and the police, or publicly as famous faces, such as the recent scandals concerning Jimmy Saville and the subsequent Yewtree investigation, the public, and children especially, will be at risk.

As social workers, as police, teachers, health professionals, legal officers, we should be alert to injustices and the potential for our positions of trust to be occasionally abused (and fortunately for most it is only occasionally).  We must be prepared to speak up when we see or hear of such injustices.  That the Italian high court did not support this child and her family, and instead will put them again through the traumas of legal proceedings and a retrial is utterly incomprehensible.

Since the news of the October ruling became public in December a heated debate has begun through the Italian social network media.  Long may it continue.

(this blog is based on the news reporting as it has been available at the time of writing)

The man who “groomed a nation”

January 2013.  The UK news is full of reports of the early investigations into the activities of what appears to be one of the most prolific paedophiles in recent history.

Jimmy Savile

Born in Leeds on 31 October 1926, the youngest of seven children, Jimmy Savile lived a very private life in the public eye.  It is reported he injured his spine in a mining accident in 1940, when he was 14.  A little later he began what would become his public career as a dance hall DJ.  He went on to become a national icon, a man famous for his white hair, cigar, charity fundraising and eccentricity.  He never married and remained devoted to his mother, whom he called “The Duchess”, and who died in 1983.  Jimmy Savile remained a public figure until his own death on 29 October 2011, two days short of his 85th birthday.

We now know that his privacy and eccentricity were an effective cover for interests and activities that, when they became publicly known in 2012, met with shock and horror.

By 1955, when Savile was 28, he had begun a second ‘career’ as a paedophile.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that in the early 1960’s  he faced at least a couple of investigations for “messing about with girls”, charges which were dropped when he “paid them off”.  In 2009, when Savile was aged 82, the CPS analysed information regarding allegations against him but did not prosecute due to “insufficient evidence”.

Since the ITV revelation of allegations against Savile at the beginning of October 2012, more information and more allegations have come to light.  The collation of this information suggests he was most prolific as a paedophile during the 10 year period 1966-1976; however allegations of abuse date to as recently as 2009, making his paedophile career span over 50 years.

There is anecdotal evidence that his activities were an “open secret” at the BBC, schools and hospitals where he worked, visited or with whom he was involved for ostensibly charitable purposes.  Managers, colleagues, professionals, all knew Savile abused, and especially liked young girls.

Despite this his activities were not yet public knowledge.  In 1971 he was awarded the OBE, in 1990 a Papal Knighthood, the highest award the Catholic Church can give; in 1996 he received a knighthood from the Queen.  During his lifetime he successfully dodged the occasional questions about his sexuality and liking for young girls. The only real flaw in his public profile came from the Louis Theroux documentary in 2000, in which he came across as strange and creepy to some viewers.

The victims

After collating more than 450 reports from individuals since the revelations in October 2012, there are currently 214 recorded allegations of abuse against Savile, covering 28 police force areas, and including 34 allegations of rape or penetration.

The likelihood is that these are not the only incidents in which Savile was involved.  Of the 450 reports some were deemed to have insufficient information to record an allegation, while in other cases the victims did not want their allegation pursued.  It is probably reasonably safe to assume there are other victims who have chosen to not come forward to give information or evidence, and, considering the time span and level of contact Savile had with hospital patients, there may be other victims who have already died.

Whatever the actual number of victims the majority appear to have been teenage girls between the ages of 13 and 16 at the time of the abuse, although the full age range is already known to be 8-47.  73% of victims were under 18 at the time of the offence.  82% of victims were female.

Allegations or fact?

Like it or not Jimmy Savile is no longer with us to answer these allegations.  He cannot be prosecuted and found guilty beyond all reasonable doubt, or found innocent in the presence of doubt.  The best conclusion is that of the police who have noted that the victims’ accounts paint a “compelling picture of widespread sexual abuse by a predatory sex offender”.

Taking into account the number of allegations made and the possibility there are many more incidents that have not been included, together with anecdotal comments by former colleagues, the probable outcome of a trial would be ‘guilty’.

In the words of Cdr Peter Spindler, who is leading the abuse probe, Savile had “groomed the nation”.

What next?

Questions are being asked about how such a prolific abuser could have got away with it for so long.  David Cameron’s official spokesman is quoted as saying it is “absolutely right that every institution involved gets to the bottom of what has gone on”.  Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt wants to be able to assure NHS patients that it would be “much, much harder” for abuse on such a scale to happen again by establishing whether NHS procedures were to blame, and that the scale of the challenge for the NHS investigation into Savile’s abuse on its premises was “absolutely huge” because it would cover a period of about 40 years.  Labour shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper called for “a proper overarching review led by child protection experts into why everyone failed to stop Savile and what should be done now”, and that “a myriad of small reviews and inquiries into how it could happen in different hospitals or the BBC are just not enough”.  Most of this is political posturing.

When a child dies or other significant event of public concern happens it is right that reviews and investigations are held in order for organisations and society to learn from what happened and work to prevent a tragedy from happening again.  But does that apply in this case?

Victims and lawyers are talking of “justice”, “closure” and “compensation”.  In the absence of a criminal court hearing those reviews may well be useful in handling those claims, especially against the BBC and the Savile estate, both of which are probably the most vulnerable to claims.

Past or future?

Reviews are about blame.  Those being blamed, whether individuals or organisations, naturally take the position of defence.  Conclusions are still drawn and recommendations for change made.  But analysing what went wrong forty or fifty years ago and trying to draw conclusions about it for today is not the way forward in the Savile case.

The data currently available shows that the vast majority of Savile’s acts of abuse occurred at a time when knowledge about, and attitudes towards, sexual abuse and the protection of the vulnerable, was vastly different and underdeveloped compared to today.

The 1960’s was about the growth of “free love”.  The 1970’s saw the development of the contraceptive pill and the acceptance of cohabitation, at a time when it was still called “living in sin”.  Women still regularly suffered sexual harassment in the workplace with no recourse for justice.  The crime of marital rape was not yet recognised in law.  Sexual abuse was hardly considered and child sexual abuse barely acknowledged.  Those families who knew of the ‘unusual interests’ of one of their members monitored their behaviour and protected the children in their family and wider network as best they could.

That is not to say any of that was right, it’s just how it was.  Had Jimmy Savile been successfully prosecuted in those decades he would have found much less controversy than we are seeing now.

The way forward?

For better or worse we are now living in the 21st Century.  This is no longer the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Some things have not changed.  Children are born, people get sick or grow old and die.  Divisions of wealth and poverty remain.  We know paedophiles existed then and we know they exist today.  But there are new ways in which they have to operate.  The internet did not exist 50 years ago.  Social media did not connect people thousands of miles apart in anonymous intimacy.  Families and communities are more fragmented, leaving the vulnerable more vulnerable than they were fifty or more years ago.

Instead of wallowing in what went wrong in the past we need to be looking at the now and toward the future. We don’t need blame oriented investigations to look at whether or not a Savile type reign of abuse could be happening today.  Instead we need to be asking how well today’s preventative measures are working.

The exception in the Savile case is the Crown Prosecution Service which has made a start in publishing their review.  It was right that they should investigate their failure to act in 2009.  It was only three years ago.  Their prompt response, apology and pledge for enhanced information sharing and additional training for prosecutors is to be applauded.

But what of the rest?

Today Jimmy Savile would have to have a CRB check to visit children’s homes and hospital wards.  But does the Enhanced CRB check system work?  Personally I have my reservations about a system that depends on records of someone having been reported, investigated or prosecuted.  Most paedophiles have long reigns of abuse before they would fail an Enhanced CRB check.

News media should be asking themselves, honestly, what they would do now if they became aware of allegations against a famous and apparently much loved public figure.  Some quarters of the media might leap at the chance of such an exposure but could they also be persuaded to ‘suppress’ a similar story today?  Especially if their reports would damage well established charities and institutions.

What of the BBC?  They are looking pretty bad at the moment.  Operating as a private company they are not only facing the Savile crisis they are also under pressure from negative press for their actions in encouraging their ‘stars’ to operate ‘companies’ that enable both the stars and the BBC as their employers to avoid their income tax obligations.  But they can still ask themselves some hard questions.  How would management respond today if they had reason to believe that any of their employees with access to children and vulnerable adults had improper motives?

Public and private institutions, including private and NHS hospitals, care homes and schools, should all be adhering to current safeguarding legislation.  Each and every one should check their systems for reporting abuse and suspicions of abuse.  Does their culture deter whistle blowing?  What would happen if a member of staff reported concerns regarding not only another member of staff but of visitors too, whether friends, family or respected members of the public?

In some of Savile’s cases professionals were guilty of suspecting or knowing what was going on.  Again we need to take into account the period in which these things happened and how professionalism, particularly of the nursing and child care professions, has changed since the 1960’s and 1970’s.  The expectations, training, values and ethics of all the professions have developed and moved on since that time.  Hopefully for the better.  However, as their employing organisations look at how they would respond to such a high profile case today, professionals need to have a voice in those considerations.

As members of the public we should all be asking ourselves how we would respond if we suspected someone of carrying out abuse.  Would we ignore it, think it someone else’s responsibility, not consider it important enough?  Would we think, just because they were famous, they could not be guilty?  Or are we prepared to accept the evidence when presented?  As adults are we willing to take responsibility for ourselves, our vulnerable members and our children?  Parents sometimes make the difficult decision to drop charges in order to protect their child from the traumas of giving evidence and potential publicity.  How as a society do we respond to their very valid concerns?  But it goes beyond these questions.  Are we concerned about how the media presents the sexuality of children and exposes our children at ever younger ages to sexualised attitudes and material?  These are just some of the questions we should be asking ourselves.

Could our nation be “groomed” by a charismatic eccentric today?

Data and quotes taken from the plethora of reports on various UK news websites, including the BBC, and Wikipedia (

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