No, I am not scarred for life
I was abused as a child, but I won’t define myself as ‘damaged’. I have chosen to do something more life-affirming – move on.
I have lost patience with the Jimmy Savile affair.
After weeks of prurient coverage in both the broadsheet and tabloid press, I am tired of all the probing. I am tired of the BBC posturing, and the nanny state interventionism. Tired, too, of my daily serving of sex abuse allegations. Freddie Starr… Leonard Rossiter… Tory MPs. I wake up each day wondering who the paedo du jour is going to be. And now, those who have come forward with claims of abuse against Savile are being encouraged to form an orderly queue and sue both the BBC and the Savile estate for compensation.
This is not going to be yet another column examining the culture of complicity at the BBC, the shame of the latest public figure, or the potential culpability of any organisation where abuse has been uncovered. Let’s instead look at British compensation culture and the industry behind it. And let’s examine the viewpoint of someone who has decided to reject monetary gain in favour of something altogether more life-affirming – I think it’s called moving on.
I was abused as a child on a very regular basis for four years, in my own home by someone I knew. Someone known to my family, someone who many will feel has ‘got away with it’, for I chose not to report it. I chose instead to render the abuse an irrelevance in my life. This has taken time and effort, but it has been achieved.
We are, as Brendan O’Neill has warned, demonising one deceased individual at the expense of rationality. Savile has indeed become ‘a metaphor, a symbol of corruption, an archetypal, almost caricatured paedophile, on to which the opinion-forming classes can project their misanthropic suspicion and their distrust of institutions and people and pretty much everything’. On a far more personal level, the person who abused me as a child could have become my own internalised metaphor for all that is wrong in my life. I chose another path.
The spiked commentary (most recently a rather neat unravelling of NSPCC statistics) has made me think deeply about how we as a nation deal with abuse, revealing a country obsessed not only with paedophiles but also with victimhood. And it is victimhood, and the passivity it engenders, that is being repeatedly encouraged as increasing numbers of abuse victims (sorry, ‘survivors’) come forward.
I struggle to understand what seeking compensation for childhood trauma achieves. I struggle equally to understand what is to be gained, aside from the obvious financial incentive, from declaring yourself a victim in front of a courtroom. Just as a whole industry sprung up around post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), we can surely expect the same thing to be happening around child abuse. Will a call centre need to be set up just to handle the Savile claimants alone? Will the most compelling cases be sold on to solicitors? Will websites emerge with a ‘Click here if you’ve been abused by Jimmy Savile’ button? Will there be a checklist to run through? Did he touch you here, here, or here? Tick. Do you, several decades later, find aspects of daily life difficult? Tick. Is it his fault your life is a mess? Tick. Is the world to blame for all your problems? Tick.
Congratulations. You may have a case.
New legislation comes in next April banning referral fees. This, insiders say, will not stop the practice of compensation claim farming, as companies will simply file fees under another area of business. And it’s a business worth a staggering £14 billion a year. Potential claimants are invited to consider the physical and psychological effects of abuse. They are also encouraged to tot up lost earnings, medical treatment, the cost of care, travel expenses. Applications are processed by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, and historic cases have been successful in winning compensation.
I don’t need my bank balance boosted in this way, just as I don’t need my self-esteem bolstered by speaking out against an unfortunate set of circumstances now more than three decades old.
Let’s consider my case. A child abused in their home from the age of eight by a person in a position of trust, while the parents sit in another room oblivious to what is going on. The abuse is devious and damaging. It traumatises. But, crucially, its power can be diminished with time. Its hold can be lessened. And I can safely say that, although I may not have forgotten, I have moved on.
There are other considerations. My family, no doubt, would feel extreme anguish were they to find out, years later, what happened to me in our home. The perpetrator, now very elderly, would quite possibly suffer an irretrievable breakdown in their health were they to be subjected to a lengthy investigation and possible trial. And what would the person at the centre of all this – the child, now an adult – gain? Money? A sense of justice? Or months, possibly years of stress reliving the ordeal and having ‘victim’ effectively stamped on their forehead by the presiding judge, who would no doubt speak with great compassion about a life blighted by a great wrong?
It is for me to decide whether or not my life has been blighted. It hasn’t, believe it or not.
It is for me to decide whether the trauma of child abuse is to stay with me for the rest of my adult life. It won’t, thankfully.
And it is for me to decide whether I want forever to be a victim. I don’t, actually.
I want to live free of these associations. I see no sense in launching an action that at best will net me a few grand. For what? A big shiny badge saying ‘abuse survivor’? No thanks.
Compensation culture in this country is in danger, now that we have the Savile scandal fuelling it, of becoming an unstoppable sex machine. And when I read about a teacher who has won a quarter of a million pounds for being bullied at work, or a fireman awarded £100,000 for post-traumatic stress, I feel sorry for them – not because of their trauma, but because of the lifetime of victimhood these people have granted themselves.
There are people who are bullied, abused or who suffer PTSD through work or a warzone who manage to get on with things. No one is denying people in abusive or traumatising situations the right to speak out and change their situations. People can, at times in their lives, be vulnerable. And they will need help. But where does the help start, and where does it stop? Does it help to go to the press with your ‘sex abuse shame’? Does it help to receive an arbitrary sum of money?
In my case, help came in the form of NHS counselling for a completely unrelated set of circumstances, during the course of which I would sometimes raise the incidents I experienced as a child. Note how I don’t say ‘the abuse I suffered’. My therapist helped me reach my own set of conclusions. I was never encouraged to report the abuse to the police. Nor was I overly encouraged to explore its effects in sessions. I talked about it when it was relevant, but mainly I talked about the other reasons for being in therapy, which frankly were more important.
I could never have achieved the perspective I have now by engaging in an adversarial process through the courts. I realised that the abuse had lost its hold; its power had indeed diminished with time. I saw no reason to dig it all up again, to define myself as damaged goods.
Abuse is stressful. Its effects can be lasting. So why, then, do so many people put themselves through the legal system? Isn’t that hugely stressful? Is it not better to move on? Or is it all about the money?
Do I forgive my abuser? Yes.
And so the person who polluted my childhood has less significance in my life these days. I don’t label myself as a victim, and I don’t behave like one. Only a handful of people very close to me know I was abused. And that’s how I want it to stay. I am comfortable with you reading about it. But I don’t need you to know who I am. I don’t need to be validated by your pity, or by your contempt for a sad old paedophile.
I don’t need compensation. And no, I don’t need a big shiny badge either. Especially not a large square one on a ribbon. I fixed it myself, in the end.
Victoria Scott is the pseudonym of a writer based in England.
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