Where is this rotten culture? Oh look, it's in Westminster, at the BBC and in the Catholic church
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Cardinal O’Brien has resigned over allegations of abuse, which he denies.
'Sexual intercourse began/ In nineteen sixty-three," wrote Philip Larkin. And to judge by recent coverage, sexual abuse began last year, in 2012. Well, it had been going before, apparently, but no one knew too much about it. Except those actually being abused, who were on the whole young, female, damaged, unreliable and not "credible" witnesses. This is what anyone who has watched the media coverage of the past few months might ascertain. From Savile to the Socialist Workers Party
, from the resignation of Cardinals to the allegations
about Lord Rennard. No one knew much at the time at all! Raping a child is not the same as putting your hand on the leg of an adult woman, but what is this but a spectrum of systematic abuse being uncovered?
And what is our response? Still, the victims are mute, dispensable, irrelevant. Speaking out has not empowered them as it should: they remain a lumpen mass of unfortunate people to whom unfortunate things were done. The focus remains on the powerful as they scurry between media outlets changing their stories.
Abuse is shocking. Its covering up even more so, and a culture that is prepared to do this is rotten to the core. So where is this hidden culture? Oh look, it's in Westminster, at the BBC, in the SWP, in the Catholic church, in the police force, in care homes and even in the godforsaken Lib Dem party. Sex scandals in the Catholic church are decades old. After Cardinal O'Brien resigned
over the allegations against him, one of the men who had made them talked about his own decision to leave the priesthood: he said it had been presumed he did so to get married, but this was not the case. "I knew he would always have power over me." This is key to understanding how abuse wrecks lives. Those detectives trying to meet their targets by persuading women to drop rape charges
in Operation Sapphire are not much concerned with this. Those who covered up Cyril Smith's grooming and abuse
of institutionalised boys can't be either. Those who knew the "difficulties" about Lord Rennard have known about them for some time, though, like O'Brien, he denies them. Likewise those in the BBC and the police who heard the Savile rumours ignored them.
The BBC's exercise in self-flagellation distracted from the actual victims. Some weird displacement occurred where the real victims were not fragile teenage girls but successful TV executives whose who were now "ruined".
Watch the Lib Dems, who are spectacularly bad with women
, now do the same thing. This is a crisis for the leadership, clearly, not the women who are making the accusations. So we hear yet another anonymous female voice talking of being crudely propositioned by a man who had a say in her career.
She could, of course, be making this up. But what we have in all these abuse scandals is institutional redaction. You get someone's life, someone's story, someone's trauma, and you put a big black marker pen through it. So that didn't really happen, or if it did it cannot be on the public record. Someone still has the power to shape your past. That's how abuse works.
Sure, women are used to low-level sexual harassment. We tough it out. I was often told when younger that I only got a newspaper column by sleeping with the editor. I used to say that I had in fact slept with everyone in the building (sorry guys). The language of groping is all rather Carry On. Having a hand violently thrust between your legs in a lift down to a dark car park is assault, not groping. I know that, now.
But all this abuse and harassment can only happen as a result of the unspoken agreement that it is covered up. Men cover other men's backs. So no one knows for sure. They hear rumours: "He likes the ladies." And political culture revels in women-hating: neither the extreme right nor extreme left websites hide it. Personally, I find the long ago move from being regarded as "totty" to "harridan" is a great relief, but I am still sickened by the refusal of so many to challenge the culture in which harassment and abuse thrives.
Men have to do this, as there are too few women. Do nice men want their daughters touched up by creeps? Told to make the tea while their brothers do research? I am sickened by their collusion.
I don't give a fig about the amateur dramatics of the Beeb, or the Lib Dems or the Church. I want more than self-pity. I want this to be about the victims, what happened, and what protections need to be in place. But they are as voiceless as ever.
This massive sidestepping from the actual revelations to exercises in self-preservation tell us about power: the strong abuse the weak, and they do so in our institutions, because like all crime this is opportunistic and they know they can get away with it.
Burke's famous "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing" is being rewritten, but not with my consent: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men kid themselves they knew nothing and set up yet another inquiry."