Friday, 17 January 2014

It may be 'historic,' but that doesn't mean it's in the past

[Trigger warning: this post talks about abuse]

Yoga class generic image I've been giving serious consideration about how to write this post for some time, then a few news items in the last few weeks have just made it clear that now is the time.

The first was an article about the founder of Bikram yoga - the not so humble and modest Bikram Choudary - and claims against him that he has abused and harassed women. I first heard these allegations a while back and had intended to write about it back then, but didn't and now there are more cases coming forward.

The other is the ongoing saga of 'historic abuse' of children in the seventies by various TV personalities, two of whom are in court this week. The term historic suggests that it is all in the past. As though because it's not still going on it may in some way be less serious.

Years ago I worked with a woman in Romania who was systematically removing children from institutions and finding them family homes. Many of these children were traumatised and she was passionate about tackling abuse and neglect. I challenged her assertion that only men abuse and she argued that so few women do that is it negligible and that women are held to a different standard when they are found to have committed abuse or neglect - especially of children. That is a thought that has come to mind during all these events. The power dynamic and the position of authority that has enabled these people to commit abuse and the willingness of others to overlook their actions.

Bikram is not the first yoga master (self-proclaimed) to be accused of inappropriate behaviour with students and teachers. He is the latest in a long line of men who spend a lot of time around body conscious women and men and who consider touching bodies to be a part of their job. At what point this touching becomes abuse is what I guess is being decided in court. In the past gurus and so called faith leaders have exerted the same influence and some have also been accused by once devoted followers of taking advantage of their acolytes.

Being from an indian family I grew up to understand that you do not answer back to your elders and that men are to be respected. If an older man then abuses you what does this mean for your self-respect and wellbeing ? Many who are seeking inner peace or fulfilment have insecurities and vulnerabilities that can be exploited by a 'charismatic' leader. Not that I ever thought the deluded Bikram was at all charismatic. He's a canny business man who has become very rich and considers himself beyond reproach. Abusers often do.

It has always struck me as quite poignant that all those who were abused by Jimmy Savile came forward after his death. At first I wondered why this was and if there was some unknown influence that had stopped them from saying anything. As more information emerges it turns out that people had tried to bring about a conviction in the past and it didn't happen. So for all those who experienced abuse it must have felt like there was no point as no one would believe them or nothing would happen. As if having to go through the shame wasn't bad enough, they also had to wait until he was dead before they were able to say anything and be believed. Then we have those who have been found guilty being given sentences that take into account their 'advancing years.' If we are to take this 'historic' terminology to the logical conclusion then surely if a person is proven to have abused in the past they should be sentenced as they would have been back then ? Either that or serve the same amount of time as their victims* have had to live with it.

As we discover more and more cases being reported of 'historic' abuse it can trigger flashbacks or memories for others who have lived with and possibly buried their own experience of abuse. For many their abuser is not famous and it may have taken years to cope with what happened or to conceal the pain and anger. So much carelessly detailed reporting can send a person back into the place that they've worked hard to remove themselves from. This is the only way in which the term historic really makes sense as it does indeed take a person back in time to a place that seems so far away that it could almost not feel real. Sadly it is.

*I hate using the term victims, but felt that as it is used in court it was appropriate in this context.

32 comments:

  1. It is so horrible hearing these stories on the news isn't it. Like you say, although they may be historic, for those that suffered they have to live with it every day.

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    1. I find it upsetting, but if it means that people feel able to come forward and report it then maybe it serves a purpose. It does seem gratuitous to me though.

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  2. As an abuse survivor I can say that hearing about it on the news did take me back there and for a while it really played on my mind. I started writing about it, not on my blog and not for anyone else to read, just to help me work through it again and not bottle it up and it really did help. I tend not to watch the news anymore because I don't need to hear about those people anymore; they're not worth my time.

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    1. Good for you finding an outlet for yourself. I agree it's not worth wasting time thinking about it, but for some it does unearth things that have been deeply buried and if there is no support available that can be quite destructive.
      thank you for your honesty and sharing :) xx

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  3. We hear abuse mentioned so much in the media at the moment it is frightening unfortunately it had always existed but is not publicised more.I hope with the publicity that abuse victims will feel the courage to come forward and report it and get the support they need to get justice and move on as best they can.

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    1. I agree - if it means one person feels they can talk about what they went through and get some support through it then it's not just upsetting news stories any more.

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  4. Its all very shocking whats going on at the min .x

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  5. I think you're so right about it bringing up memories for people. I also feel that your post dealt with the difficult topic of abuse sensitively. A very interesting read, thank you.

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    1. Thank you so much - it was difficult to write and I left so much out. Maybe another time.

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  6. It seems more and more women are being the abusers now a days. That poor little boy who was found over night. I know his mother hasnt been found guilty and we don't know the details, but surely they wouldn't realise information if they didn't have any evidence. It is so sad. x

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    1. I don't know what the facts are on this case or any others, but I do think that irresponsible reporting can be harmful to those who have suffered abuse.

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  7. I think that often there is no past for victims of abuse as they relive it everyday

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    1. Absolutely

      Thanks for commenting.

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  8. Such a great post for something that is very difficult to write about. As you say they have the shame and fear and insecurities. How sad is it that they are then forced to 'wish someone dead' to get a little peace. Terrible.

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    1. I think the only good to come out of this has been that people who've suffered in silence for decades have felt able to finally tell someone what happened to them. If it's easier when someone is no longer alive then so be it.

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  9. Definitely,women can be as cruel as men and the orphanages in Romania back in the 80s proved it! I truly hope healing of some sort will come to these people.xx

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    1. The experience of children in orphanages was (and is) shocking. Systematic abuse that some children may not ever fully recover from.
      Thanks for reading and commenting :)

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  10. As you say, it's terrible that so many people who've been abused appear not to be believed when they report what's happened.

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    1. It is often a reason to remain silent - if anything comes out of this public attention maybe it will be that people feel more able to report abuse and feel they will be believed.

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  11. The law has tightened up in recent years too, in the past abusers like Stuart Hall should have received much tough sentences but were sentenced as if they had been trialled at the time of committing the offence. Given how many years their victims had had to wait for justice I think that's wrong.
    You find collective power everywhere, in most workplaces and social environments. It takes a VERY brave person to stand up and be counted, or try and swim against the tide, and it's often less scary and "safer" for society to down out those voices than face the extremely uncomfortable fact that they might have been wrong.

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    1. I think the element of his case that was most upsetting was how he has proclaimed his innocence all along and finally when it was revealed he'd lied how must the children he abused have felt ?

      It's true that abuse of power still goes on all over the place, but I'd hope that speaking out against it will be possible especially for the truly powerless.

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  12. I can completely identify with what you say about the Indian mindset. It is drilled into our heads from a very early age that elders are to be respected and obeyed. Also, the absolute lack of awareness about child abuse in the past. People refusing to believe it exists. I do believe things are changing on that front now, with more Indian parents acknowledging that it can happen. In their homes, to their kids. From people they know and trust.

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    1. I wish I thought that was true, but I'm not sure much has changed. Maybe our generation of parents is more willing to listen to and believe our children, but my parents certainly wouldn't be.

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  13. no matter whether past or present abuse ruins lives and absolutely women can be just as cruel as men it breaks my heart

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    1. I have been shocked at how prevalent this was in the seventies amongst famous men on the TV as though it was just overlooked that they had done it.

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  14. It's just shocking as more and more news comes out isnt it x

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    1. The more I hear the sadder I feel that this happened to my generation and that there are so many people out there who have been unable to speak up until now.

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  15. I feel as though people who haven't got experience with this still think it is rare, but it's so commonly happening. This happened to me, this happened to my friends, not by any famous figures just family members. its a massive problem in every society and culture and the way its dealt with does not help - I don't know how much progress we are really making. People still think that children and women make this up for attention, because some times its easier than accepting the reality. I never reported my abuser but still ended up coming to the attention of police through school & social services - but when it came down to it I never told them enough to press charges, so never went to court and it was just left. as a teenager with no support & noone believing you, what else can you do. it is crap, and something needs to be changed, but i don't know what or don't know how. there is still too much blame on the victim, and that attitude of respect your elders and dont question is still there. i try to teach my kids not to, but its hard to balance - as people feel they are being disrespected. i hate it that family friends or elders think that children owe them to kiss them or hug them, while that attitude is there i don't think we will get any further. as a child you are told its okay, because you can trust this person... whole thing is bullshit. and as you say, historic doesn't make it go away. every year i count the years but i have never got to any magic number whereby it gets any better

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    1. Thank you so much for you honesty. I know it's a tangled mess of cruelty and dishonesty that makes it possible for abusers to get away with it. I hope you have the support and help to enable you to live with what happened to you xx

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  16. I'm sorry I only skim read this. It is something I feel strongly about - but am not feeling strong enough today to read thoroughly and comment. I hope you understand x

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    1. Thank you for trying to read it - I fully understand. I struggled with writing it and may well come back another day to say the things that I left out.
      Of course I understand xx

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