The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse juggernaut has finally arrived in town after a number of false starts. As someone who cares passionately about justice for survivors of abuse I feel like I should be part of a large parade, waving flags and cheering that this country is finally giving sexual abuse the platform, judicial powers, and budget that it deserves. Instead I read the list of initial 12 investigations with a growing amount of dread imagining how many headline combinations of ‘conspiracy’ ‘cover-up’ ‘scandal’ ‘Catholic Church’ and ‘Westminster’ I am going to read over the next few years.
Everyone deserves justice. Not least the brave people who have fought to get the Inquiry this far. When your abuse was within the context of a powerful organisation that was more invested in defending its reputation than protecting the children for whom it had a duty of care maybe you need a juggernaut to break down the barriers to justice.
I very much hope the victims of these crimes feel heard by the Inquiry. I hope they get justice. But when you care so much about an issue it’s hard not to focus on the potential pitfalls of this Inquiry and feel despondent.
In the same week that the Children’s Commissioner highlighted the staggering prevalence of child sexual abuse within families will this Inquiry draw our attention away from the uncomfortable issue of present-day abuse in our own homes and allow us to focus on the much more comfortable task of attributing blame to institutions of the past? Will we sit and watch suitably contrite leaders of large institutions deliver sincere apologies for crimes that were not committed on their watch, safe under the reassurance that justice is being delivered and ‘something is being done’ about sexual abuse?
Will we allow the Inquiry to give us the impression that preventing abuse is purely the job of our institutions and not also the job of our families? Will we buy into the appealing idea that reducing abuse is simply the case of finding the right policies? Or will we make space for conversations about the people who perpetrate these crimes and recognise that the only path to prevention is through understanding how and why people offend?
Will we let the Inquiry turn into a publically funded media frenzy? Stories filled with intrigue and conspiracy as we throw blame around and allow it to lie anywhere except on us? Or will we use the Inquiry as a catalyst for helping us open our eyes to our own blindness. Recognising that often it was wilful ignorance that allowed the abuse to continue and that our own ignorance should not go unchallenged.
Will we place change on hold until the Inquiry has run its predicted 5 year course and fail to think about the hundreds of thousands of children who may experience abuse during that time? Or will we recognise that these are our kids, our responsibility, and that the Inquiry should make us act more, now, and not be an excuse to defer change to another day?
Will those of us who care passionately about sexual abuse let the Inquiry fuel our despondency? Will we spend our energy focusing on inevitable stories about over-running, over-spending, and failing to deliver on its ambition? Or will we recognise that whilst conversations about the Inquiry may dominate the landscape we still get to choose our own path, creating change in our own way.
At the end of this very long and very expensive journey people will ask questions about what was achieved. Let’s not sit back in passive comfort. Let’s not be despondent. Let’s build our own answer to that question.