It looks like another scandal is hitting the headlines, with someone who is a household name at the BBC being accused of sexual offences against a child. The media frenzy seems to be about identifying who this individual is, whether “a crime has been committed” and what actions the BBC did or did not take when they became aware of the allegation. The reality is that this noise risks drowning out the voice of the victim.
The law is very clear on issues of child sexual abuse: Enticing a child or young person under the age of 18 to share images, live stream sexual acts, and engage in sexual conversations is not only a criminal offence but something that can cause long-term harm to the young person. The trauma inflicted on the child as part of the grooming and abuse can have lifelong impacts.
This harm can manifest itself in many ways. It usually starts with self-blame and shame. The permanency of any images also leads to feelings of lack of control, disgust and the shame is compounded by the feeling that the abuse has been captured for all to see.
Society’s desire to deny child sexual abuse leads to a tendency for people to blame the victim as being the author of their own destiny. In this case it is easy for people to say that the young person only did it to feed a “crack-cocaine habit” – as we’ve seen in recent media reports. This may cause the public to be less understanding of the young person’s role in this scenario. What we do know is that the pain caused by this abuse can lead to drug and alcohol problems as people try to escape the horror of what has been done to them.
The way that this has been reported widely across popular media compounds the victim blaming. We have seen it reported that “Unnamed star, who allegedly gave young person £35,000 which they spent on drug habit” and language such as “sex pics scandal”, “sordid images” and “sexual misconduct”. If it’s shown that sexual images were taken and shared of the young person when they were 17 – and so legally a child – then this is child sexual exploitation and abuse.
The Marie Collins Foundation exists to ensure that the response to victims of technology-assisted child sexual abuse is one that does no further harm. This includes challenging popular narrative that silences and shames victims. We support victims and their families on their recovery journey from the moment their abuse is discovered. Children can and do recover with the right support. This can be a long and winding road.
Victims of abuse are never to blame for what was done to them. Responsibility rests solely with the person who has abused. Abuse is about the imbalance of power. The abuser ensures that they have the power whether that is by threats, payment, or position.
One of the greatest silencers for victims of child sexual abuse is that they will not be believed. Another great silencer is that they think they will get into trouble. We must be careful around the language we use to ensure that we do not reinforce those fears, and instead show that we are here to support victims.
At this stage the allegations have not been substantiated. Nor do we know the identity of the person accused. We respect that people with high public profiles can be vulnerable to false allegations and therefore anonymity is important. At the same time, the fact that the person accused is apparently well-known publicly, creates a noise that can easily drown out the impact on the victim and their family, as we have seen with the early media reporting in this case.
If you want to talk about this or feel you need support, please feel free to contact us.