On March 24th, Adam Johnson – formally of Sunderland AFC – will be sentenced for sexual activity with a 15 year old girl.
Given the ‘success’ of the public Ched Evans campaign to force another appeal, even after several failed appeals, it was little wonder that Adam Johnson’s family have similarly launched their own public campaign for ‘justice’ for the football player, despite his own confession that he was guilty of the crime of grooming the young girl and ‘kissing’ her – in other words, that he, as an adult, abused her.
At this point, I am not going to concern myself with that campaign directly – whether the family can, or cannot, face up to the enormity of the crime Johnson committed is not what I want to discuss here. How spouses and families react to, and deal with, the discovery that a loved one is an abuser deserves is it’s own discussion, and one that we should have.
What I want to discuss is how others are expressing their ‘support’ – and more tellingly, their sympathy – with Johnson, and some of the persistent myths (or frightening ignorance) which inform those opinions.
“There are 2 sides to every story…”
No. This was not an ‘affair’ – Johnson wasn’t being ‘unfaithful’ to his now former partner. He was an adult, who took advantage of a young, vulnerable and impressionable girl: he knew how young she was and it put him in a position of power. This was a young girl, who was abused. There was nothing ‘romantic’ happening here: the child was used – and then, because people are horribly predictable – vilified by her abuser, which give permission to the abusers supporters to do the same. (Some of the appalling comments on the facebook page and twitter about the young girl will not be repeated here: suffice to say that they are vile).
Just as with the victim of Ched Evans, the young girl found herself targeted through social media: the person with the power is not the victim. The power that is accorded the abuser whilst they are targeting their victims continues to be accorded the abuser even after their criminal and abusive behaviour has been revealed.
There are not ‘2 sides’ to abuse: there is the abuser and the abusers victim.
“I know he’s been an idiot/I know he messed up, but…”
This line of justification probably makes me the angriest, because it erases the trauma of the victim, blames the victim for the situation, and treats abuse as something inevitable. (“Well, its not like he could really help it, is it…?”)
Let’s be clear: Johnson did not accidentally drop an expensive crystal vase – he groomed and abused a child. He made that choice, in full possession of the knowledge of her age, and pursued that choice over a period of time.
For far too long, people have been willing to conflate a young persons growing awareness of themselves and their bodies as sexual beings, with the idea that this gives young people some sort of special ‘power’. Worse still, this entirely mythical power is considered to be able to make adult men lose all ability to control themselves – that the child has the power over the man who is unable to ‘resist’ the ‘allure’/’charms’/’attractions’ of the child.
Sex does not equal power. A young person is not a sex object. (And that this needs to be said is sickening).
The real power lies entirely and exclusively with the adult abuser.
“She knew what she was doing…”
No. She was groomed – this young girl, starstruck by her football hero, had her trust and admiration for him abused completely.
And that was a conscious decision which he made, in full possession of the fact of her age.
Was she ‘flattered’ by his ‘attentions’? Yes.
Did she have an crush on this adult football player, who played for the club to which she had given her support for most of her young life? I don’t doubt it.
Does that equate to ‘knowing what she was doing?’
Does the suggestion that she did, help to justify the behaviour of the man who groomed and abused her, and does it act to diminish his guilt and his behaviour?
Does the suggestion that ‘she knew what she was doing’ erase her trauma, and make it more easier and more comfortable for people to look away and ignore it?
“He wouldn’t be getting such a harsh sentence if he wasn’t famous.”
The problem with this reasoning is it assumes that his ‘fame’ as a football player is not part of the context of either the crime that he committed, or his behaviour toward his victim after he had been charged with that crime.
For a start, it takes no account of how Johnson’s power and status as a famous football player, put him in a position to groom and abuse his victim. As Detective Inspector Aelfwynn Sampson said: “…Johnson exploited his position as a local hero to take advantage of a young and impressionable girl.”
UPDATE: In the sentencing remarks (which you can read here) the judge highlights this directly.
“…but it was because you were at that time a respected Sunderland football player that you were able to commit these offences.”
It ignores how Johnson’s fame led to supporters harassing his victim through social media – and we have seen this before, the baying mob attacking the victim because their ‘hero’ has been caught out for their abusive behaviour.
And the ‘hero’s’ silence on that is tacit approval of that behaviour.
It is very unlikely that – even in the event that Johnson is sentenced to 10 years – that he will serve that full period. He is more likely to be out of prison half that time, on good behaviour. And should he choose to appeal, as was indicated by his lawyer and his families decision to set up a public appeal group on facebook, then his fame (and the money that has provided him) will buy him a great deal of support.
Support to which his victim will have no such access.
This is all starting to sound horribly familiar.
And all of this – all of it – is just some of what we mean by ‘rape culture’: where the abuser, the rapist, the groomer, the criminal, is offered sympathy and support which helps to diminish and reduce his guilt and culpability: this happens because of the erasure of the victims’ trauma by means of the explicit and implicit beliefs in the victims’ culpability for the crime they have endured.
So if you have ever thought or uttered any of the above – then you have supported rape culture.
And if you think that is harsh, condemnatory or judgemental – you would be right.
Update: In the sentencing remarks, the judge highlights the concerns raised by both the prosecution and counsellor appointed to the victim with regard to the public abuse the victim has endured, both from peers and via social media (and this would include the Facebook page run ostensibly by Adam Johnson’s sister, and which gives a platform to some of the worst of that abuse).
I have a report from Joanne Rubbi, a Sexual Abuse Child and Adolescent Psychotherapeutic Counsellor who has been providing support and counselling for her anxiety, depression and harmful thoughts as a consequence of what has happened, by which is meant not only the sexual abuse she suffered but the responses she has received from her peers and members of the public. M has experienced sadness, anger, fear and confusion which have impacted on her sleeping and eating patterns, suffering bad dreams and night terrors and, as a consequence low mood, tiredness and physical symptoms such as nausea and weight loss. M has suffered a loss of self-esteem and, I note, a loss of trust in others.
I note that, whilst many of these difficult consequences of this offending are no uncommon in cases involving sexual abuse there appears to be clear evidence that those consequences have been somewhat exacerbated in the present case because of your status, the widespread knowledge of the case in the area in which M lives and the apparent knowledge of M’s identity which has led to her receiving abuse and insults, from her peers and from members of the public. Whilst it is of course not suggested that you have orchestrated any of this abuse, your standing and your offending are the only reason that this child has suffered abuse far beyond that which might be expected in other cases of a similar nature. That is an unusual and particular feature of the harm suffered by M and her life has been adversely affected in the past year and such effect is ongoing. note that, whilst many of these difficult consequences of this offending are not
Following the horrific public abuse (which has not ceased) endured by Ched Evans victim, we must address how abuse is perpetuated by those who claim to ‘support’ their so-called hero’s, and what might be done to prevent it in the future. And with an official statement on an appeal by Adam Johnson imminent, it must be addressed.