It’s a grim sort of satisfaction but the revelations regarding the sexual abuse record of people like Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris and Gary Glitter give the lie to one popular myth: that child sexual abuse was a crime peculiar to members of the celibate clergy in the Catholic Church. There are now suggestions that child sexual abuse may have been endemic in Westminster and deliberately covered up by the Metropolitan police because it involved senior political figures. And we already know that a child is more likely to be abused by a member of his/her own family than anyone else. And then there’s Kincora.
All of this, with the possible exception of the family area, has been given extensive coverage in the media. What hasn’t been given nearly so much coverage are those cases where the accusations is shown to be false.
In today’s Guardian, Kevin Rawlinson looks at this area within British schools. He found that one in five school staff has had a false allegation made against them by a pupil. A further 7% have faced untrue claims from a student’s family member or parent. The situation is so stressful for some teachers that they cite it as a primary reason for considering leaving the profession. An experienced teacher told the Association of Teachers and Lecturers that she felt vulnerable as pupils “twist things that are said”. Another teacher said her husband left the profession “a broken man” after false allegations had been made against him. The ATL says false allegations are blighting teachers’ careers and putting added stress on those working in the education field. Asked what happened as a result of the most recent allegation they faces, around half of those who responded said the claim had been dismissed. A branch secretary of the ATL in Cornwall is quoted as saying: “Even if the allegation is shown to be false it leaves a lasting scar.”
Compare this with the reporting of high profile child sexual abuse cases here. The media – and in some cases politicians – act as though an allegation is the same thing as a verdict of guilty. Politicians use the allegations to express their admiration for those who come forward with these allegations, commending their courage and expressing sympathy with the horrors which they have allegedly endured.
None of this should lead us to forget for a moment that there are hundreds, maybe thousands of helpless children who were subjected to the most vile sexual abuse by adult predators. But in our anxiety to show solidarity with those who have been abused, we must not fall into the trap of acting as though any and all allegations are proven. As the ATL survey shows, a considerable number are false. The mainstream media should have the courage to report these cases as well as genuine cases of abuse. They should also make clear the difference between an allegation and a proven case. If they don’t, the lives of teachers and others may be destroyed beyond repair.
Here’s the link to the Guardian article: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/mar/30/one-in-five-school-staff-victims-of-false-claims-survey-shows