Dear Eric Bristow
It is hard to know where to start in describing just how harmful your tweets – expressing your attitude toward former footballers like Andy Woodward and Steve Walters who have so bravely talked about the abuse they endured – are.
In your interview on television this morning, you chose (eventually) to apologise for ‘offending’ people. Let me be immediately clear – what you (and many of your followers in response) expressed was actively harmful to victims of abuse: whatever ‘intention’ you may claim to have in wanting victims to come forward, your attitudes will be doing exactly the opposite. Your view (shared by so many) is part of the reason systemic abuse continues. Let me explain.
Whilst your tweets are not newsworthy, and should not have been treated as such, what they express is a very real homophobia that permeates attitudes toward both victims of abuse, and their abusers. However, as a public figure, your comments are bound to garner attention, and should therefore be addressed.
Your reference to abusers as ‘poofs’ (which you clarified after originally referring to them as ‘paedo’s’) illustrates both an ignorance of abusive behaviour and abuser dynamics: homosexuality plays no role in this. It may surprise you to learn that abusers are not primarily seeking sexual gratification, which is a by-product of (not the driver for) abuse. What abusers seek is power, and control, and children are easy targets for such people.
Similarly, the sexuality (or the perceived sexuality) of the child is not why the child is targeted by the abuser – but a child who is gay and is being abused will be suffering not only the terror of abuse, but the scorn of people like yourself because here too, you reveal your homophobia toward the victims themselves. LGBT children are particularly vulnerable to bullying and isolation. More than half of LGBT children and teenagers report being bullied for the sexual orientation. 96% report hearing homophobic comments like ‘poof’ (a word you are happy to use publicly) or ‘lezza’. 99% will hear comments like ‘that’s so gay’ in reference to something which is broken or defective.
Think about that for a moment, wont you?
By invoking so strongly a reaction to abuse which is rooted in false notions about sexuality, what you are really saying is ‘I am not an abuser, I am not a victim because I am not gay‘. You are distancing yourself from a perception of homosexuality because you are homophobic.
You did not ‘mis-speak’ when you used the word ‘wimps’ Mr Bristow. Your meaning was entirely clearly in the full context of what you said, and you seem happy to let the word ‘poof’ remain unacknowledged.
How then, does this encourage a child who is terrified for their life (and almost certainly the lives of their loved ones, given the type of threats typically made by abusers), to come forward?
Victim Blaming & Shaming:
There are simply no circumstances whatsoever in which the victim of abuse is ever responsible for the abusers behaviour – and this absolutely includes any past and future abuse perpetrated, whether the victim reports the abuse or not.
Many victims take years to report what has happened to them, precisely because there is an insidious belief that victims are ultimately responsible both for the abuse the suffered – and any future assaults perpetrated by their abuser.
Many of the following beliefs were clearly stated by you, or re-tweeted by you, in the last 36 hours:
- “If they hadn’t been hanging around smoking/drinking/with the wrong crowd…”
- “They were too sexually knowing for their age…”
- “They should have spoken up sooner…”
- “If they don’t report it, why should they expect justice?”
- “If [male victims] were ‘real men’ they would have [insert ridiculous notion here]…”
In your particular case, being that the focus was on the male victims of a predatory serial abuser, the aggressiveness with which you expressed your view that they should ‘spoken sooner’, or sought out a chance to beat up the abuser, told those victims (and children currently suffering abuse) that it was, simply, their fault. The implicit and explicit assumption is that ‘real men’ don’t get abused.
What the hell is a ‘real man’ anyway?
Particularly for male victims, the context of what you both said and encouraged with re-tweets was so toxic in its expression of masculinity that I have to take really quite a deep breath at this point, because you clearly have absolutely no idea how abusive this is – or how it helps to enable both abuse of boys, and prevent help and healing being given.
Have you any idea what it is like to watch your sons agony and distress when they get told to ‘man up’ because they are expressing emotions or attitudes not considered ‘manly’ enough? Because they dare to be something other than a crude stereotype of ‘masculinity’? To watch the men that we love struggle in relationships, with mental health problems, because they feel shame that they might need help?
Do you know what the suicide rate is for men and boys?
Your attitude, (and it is not just yours) will do the exact opposite of encouraging victims to come forward.
It will silence them further.
And that benefits nobody but the abusers.