Brendan O’Neill–last spotted declaring short skirts to be a “definite sexual invitation“–has done it again. This time, O’Neill has decided that the best thing for everyone would be for sexual abuse victims to keep their mouths shut about it.
In a stunningly dismissive opening, O’Neill asks:
If you were sexually abused by a Catholic priest nearly 50 years ago, and that priest was now dying or dead, would it not be wise to keep it to yourself? This awkward question invaded my mind as I watched last week’s BBC1 documentary Abused: Breaking the Silence. It featured mature, respectable and successful men recounting in eye-watering detail what was done to their penises by priests at a Rosminian boarding school in Tanzania in the 1960s. We were meant to be shocked by the alleged foul behaviour. I found myself more shocked by the willingness of these otherwise decorous men to make an emotional spectacle of themselves.
O’Neill, here, states that he is more shocked by men speaking out about abuse than he is by the abuse itself. He is more shocked by men displaying an emotional reaction to trauma than by the trauma itself. Such a reaction is, frankly, terrifying. Where is the empathy? Instead, O’Neill is a little more worried about having to hear about their abuse and the fact that the men involved may have been more than a little bit fucked up about it.
To his credit, O’Neill concedes that it was a terrible thing that the Catholic Church knew about the abuse and did nothing about it. This is secondary, though, to O’Neill’s main point: that this sort of thing shouldn’t be talked about. And that he cannot tell the difference between a decade and a century.
Yet at the same time as we rightly question the morality of a religious institution that seeks to cover up sexual abuse, we are also at liberty to ask about the motivations of those who reveal the details of that sexual abuse almost half a decade after it is said to have occurred. Why now? Why go on BBC1 in 2011 to tell a million viewers about something that was allegedly done to you in 1964 or 1965?
The rest of the article repeatedly rephrases this question, dotted with the declaration that the media has an obsession with people recounting trauma.
I agree with O’Neill that the media does have a ghoulish fascination with horrific tales which it replays in gleeful, pornographic detail. However, O’Neill conflates this with abuse victims speaking out, and presents his argument in the most astoundingly disdainful manner.
The trend for inviting Catholic men in their fifties and sixties to redefine themselves as mental victims of childhood experience is even more pronounced in Ireland and America. In Ireland, the state has explicitly invited its citizens to reimagine themselves as the hapless, unwitting victims of warped Catholic authority.
O’Neill’s contempt for abuse victims speaking out extends to state-led enquiries, and, according to O’Neill, the investigation made people who had experienced something reimagine themselves as abuse victims. Perhaps, before the state investigated abuse, they had thought that being sodomised by someone in authority was a perfectly ordinary part of Mass.
The fact is, if abuse victims are willing to speak out, they have every right to. In the case of the Catholic Church, it is particularly important to hear the voices of the victims: this is an institution which has systematically covered up institutionalised abuse of children–particularly young boys–for decades at the very least. Those who are in a position to do something about this, the bishops, the cardinals, the Pope himself, are thoroughly unwilling to put an end to this. The Vatican has refused to hand over documents regarding abuse to the police. The usual channels are powerless to bring justice for this abuse in the face such a cover up.
So people speak out. And they might do so over the television. It is the only way for their stories to be told, for the small chance that perhaps something may happen to prevent another generation of children suffer as they did. The public become outraged and, perhaps, more mistrustful of priests. With sufficient pressure, perhaps justice can finally be served.
Brendan O’Neill does not care about this. In his devastatingly simplistic analysis, all he wants is for these survivors to shut the fuck up and get off his telly.
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