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?
Locker room talk – that’s all it is, of course! how foolish of us silly women to think that there was any reason to feel threatened, belittled, commodified, harassed, worried, frightened, angry, fed up, pissed off when you’ve been doing that thing that’s ‘just’ ‘locker room talk.’
Oh, wait – whats that? It was childish. Oh, I see – well that all makes perfect sense of course. Little boys do silly things and nobody picks them up on it, so really its our fault as mothers, because how can fathers and uncles and friends possibly help pick you up on it when its not their fault for being childish either, right?
Nooo, there’s ‘nothing creepy’ about inviting your little brother and his mate to gawp whilst you do some girl who must have been up for it, because they all are, right? And anyway, you couldn’t help it that you were being childish; and how can there be anything even remotely rapey about receiving a text from a friend that he’s ‘got a girl’ and heading down to meet them because that’s the same thing as invite from her?
Hey – if you are ‘childish’ you can’t possibly be expected to understand that’s not the same thing as consent, can you?
And you cannot possibly be expected to take any responsibility at all because that’s the most unreasonable thing of all, isn’t it?
Its just talk – you were just being childish. Nothing really…
But you know what really, really pisses me off, when you get right down to it?
Society buys that crap. I guess it’s easier to convince yourself that the wrong is excusable, when putting the injustice right is too much like realising how much you played a part in the injustice in the first place.
Lord, there is nothing more systemically and outrageously lazy as those simply cannot be bothered. And the cruelty of it should make you spit fire.
But I’m just some silly hysterical woman who should shut up an put up because anything else is so darned unreasonable of me.
“So many people forget that the first country the Nazi’s invaded was their own.”
Abraham Erskine, Captain America: The First Avenger
In a real sense of course, it is not strictly true: after all, to suggest that the Nazi’s invaded their own country requires you to ignore 300 years of history. From the Enlightenment that brought a new wave of racist anti-Semitism, to the increasingly anti-Semitic nature of mainstream media in Germany at the turn of the 20th century and how all this helped pave the way for the growing influence of Hitler in the 1920’s. His first failed attempt at a coup in 1923 with General Eric Ludendorff didn’t prevent the formation of the Brownshirts (SA), his eventual rise to total dominance, and the building of Dachau, the first of the concentration camps, in 1933: it was less an invasion than it was the collective failure of a societies moral compass and its loss of humanity for the lives of others.
Considering how much had to happen for Hitler to take control, it is far more accurate to say that at the very least it took a great many people to look the other way – and to keep looking the other way – for the Nazi’s to come to power.
But if you are naïve enough to assume that everyone is going to stand up to white supremacy and fascism, and challenge it every time they see it, then I think I understand the sentiment.
Last Sunday, 22nd May on the third anniversary of the brutal murder by extremists of Lee Rigby, the English Defence League had what they called a ‘memorial’ and wreath laying for the 3rd year running at the Colchester War Memorial outside the Castle Park, despite the Rigby family repeatedly calling on the EDL (and similarly Britain First and any extremist political group using the murder for their own agenda), to refrain from doing so.
The morning went as was expected: the police kept the 2 groups apart (13 EDL and 50 locals): the locals chanted and speeches were made. The EDL did their thing, and then were escorted away: some locals – myself included – walked over to the memorial and one of them picked up the wreath the EDL had lain, and talked about how it would be more respectful to remove it. The police asked the person who had picked it up to put it down (which they did). Unforunately that incident was reported in the local press rather inaccurately.
During the friendship picnic that afternoon, the EDL (who had been escorted out of town) returned to try and intimidate the many families there, knowing the police would not be present. A good summary of the day can be found here.
A number of local people since then have been subjected to online and offline abuse, intimidation and harassment: for reasons I cannot discuss at this time, I am all too well aware of it. And whilst the threats and intimidation (which have also been targeted at people who were not in attendance at either event that day) is appalling, without justification and (of course) rampantly misogynistic in much of its practice, what is important is what those of us here in Colchester who seek to stand up to the racism that comes from outside of (and within) its Roman walls, learn from it.
Firstly, the abuse that has been metered out to local people – almost exclusively from people who do not live here – is, whilst frightening and unpleasant, not as violent or as relentless as that which our Muslim neighbours, and the families who have come as refugees in need of shelter, are exposed to every day. The dominant narrative, that Muslims are dangerous and that refugees are invaders who will steal our homes, lives and identities, is a lie that is meant to dehumanise and demonise; it is meant to frighten our neighbours who are Muslim, our neighbours who have escaped bombings, depravation and fear: it meant to set them apart from us. We might think that the intimidation of the last week gives us a flavour of that: it doesn’t. Being treated as traitors is not the same as being treated as not human.
Second, the abuse and intimidation, online and offline, (and which has been orchestrated by people almost exclusively from outside of Colchester), is a silencing tactic: the message is clearly – shut up, be quite; if you stand up to our racism and bigotry in your own home town, we will try and shut you down. Whilst the EDL (and similarly other extremist right wing groups) are very practiced at presenting a ‘respectable’ face to the police ahead of any organised event, this cloak of respectability in reality drags fear and violence in its wake. During the demonstration in September, plastic pigs heads were waved, and lots of chanting called openly for the burning of mosques – at the very same time that a mosque in London was under attack from arsonists.
Thirdly – Colchester has been increasingly targeted by right wing extremists for a few years now, and we as a town and community must confront this and recognise without flinching that there are reasons for this. Whilst much of that attention is coming from outside our town, there are many within it who believe that refugees should be feared, who think that we as a town lose by providing sanctuary to others, who cannot even believe that refugees have any real reason or need for that sanctuary in the first place. If we can stand up and say no to the most violent and extreme of racists, then we must not be afraid to say to our friends and neighbours: we are never so impoverished that we cannot share what we have with people who have less.
Because whilst it is tempting to see the right wing extremists who come to march through our streets as invaders (and when they mostly come from outside the town, I certainly understand the inclination), they exist not because they lack freedom of thought but because people are willing to look away and say: ignore them – they will just go away if you ignore them.
But that is not true. History teaches otherwise, and whilst the conditions that allow for unchecked Islamophobia are specific to the era, the use of scapegoats by those violent extremists who wish to dominate society unchallenged, is not.
If the local authorities allow the threatened march in July (and I believe absolutely that they would be very wrong to do so), it will feel less like an invasion if we – as a town – stand up together and say: your violence, your hatred and your bigotry are not welcome here.
I also recommend that you read this by Scott Burnett, since Fry’s attack on trigger warnings and ‘infantilism’ was in the first instance focussed on the #RhodesMustFall campaign, which has been repeatedly misrepresented in the media and elsewhere by white British intellectuals and media commentators.
I am angry – it’s the kind of anger that initially flows like burning lava from the volcano and radiates heat for days and weeks afterward. I am angry because people with large media platforms, influence, power and the privilege that affords are repeatedly berating victims and survivors of abuse and rape for using – and requesting the use of – trigger warnings and content notes for written, oral and visual materials that reference abuse and rape. This has been largely directed at university students, but is increasingly common in public discourse and on social media. We are told that to use and request these is to want to be treated like children. We are berated for how they, supposedly, make debate and the free flow of ideas more difficult. We are accused of threatening their free speech.
What I hear is: “You victims are a problem. The way you say you need to manage your lives as a result of this abuse is an issue for us. It’s inconvenient, its troublesome. You are inconvenient – you are troublesome.”
And some of the strongest, most intelligent and generous people I know are having to justify something that they should never have to.
Like many others, I need trigger warnings and content notes. Their existence means I am less likely to experience panic attacks, nausea, migraines, nightmares or night terrors or – conversely – insomnia. All or some of those things happen when I experience flash backs to the abuse that was done to me as a child, or the rape and intimate partner violence I endured at the hands of an ex partner, or the emotional and psychological abuse I experienced during my marriage.
These things are real. They happened – and they had a profound effect on my mental health. Trigger warnings and content notes don’t change the reality of the abuse and violence I have encountered: very simply, they advise me that something I am about to read or see or hear might trigger those effects on my mental health that were the result of the assaults, violence and psychological abuse. Using them means I am more able to, for example, think clearly, unencumbered by panic attacks or nightmares.
They do not tell me I am going to be bloody offended.
Stephen Fry is a national icon. People love him – they love him for his bon viveur, his wit and his intelligence. He’s the host of choice for the BAFTA’s, for all those reasons. He makes intellectualism accessible. He has also been, for three years, the president of MIND, the best known mental health charity in the UK: following his own very public mental health battles, people now look to him as the public face – and voice – of awareness of mental health issues. When Stephen Fry talks about mental health, people trust that what he’s saying is right.
It should therefore be startlingly simple to understand (with a bit of clear thinking), that when Stephen Fry says that the feelings of abuse victims are ‘self pity’ and that ‘self pity’ is an ugly emotion, that a great many people will take on board the idea that victims and survivors are full of self pity and therefore ugly: and that is an outright lie.
One more lie to add the lies and myths about and abuse that we are constantly having to fight: because make no mistake, victims and survivors don’t just have to manage the results of what the abusers did – we have to do so in the face of a society that finds countless and innumerable ways to blame us, shame us, and at the same time, disbelieve us.
Yet understanding what trigger warnings are is not rocket science. Victims and survivors of abuse are not the only ones who need trigger warnings, and trigger warnings come in many forms – a warning about flashing lights before a television programme for example is helpful to those who suffer particular types of seizure.
Fry’s ‘apology’ for his words, therefore, ring hollow because we were not ‘offended’ by what he said. But horrified? Yes – horrified that someone whom the public trust to deliver factual information about mental health should say something which damages public perceptions and understandings of a community of people who already face from society such a lack of understanding and support. Fry’s words were not offensive. They were destructive and damaging.
What amazes me – when I see and hear all these supposedly clever people complain that ‘free speech’ is being attacked or that trigger warnings (and safe spaces) prevent people from being able to think (when the reverse is in fact the truth of the situation) – is that they are apparently not clever enough to find new and different ways to talk and think and grow ideas that do not, in the process, repeatedly re-traumatise victims and survivors.
By a twist of fate, this week will see both the sentencing of Adam Johnson and the appeal hearing for Ched Evans. So it’s going to be a tough week. It’s always a tough week if you are a victim or survivor of course – some item in the news, some deliberately cruel attack or comment on social media, some careless stupid remark from someone you know: the salt that inflames the wounds that are never quite healed.
But this week will be particularly tough. For the young women who were raped, abused and then maligned publically by Evans, Johnson and their ‘supporters’, this will not be a week that ‘draws a line under it all’. At best it will be another step they must take after too many other steps before it. At worst it will be another occasion which will afford their abusers and rapists, and their well paid legal teams, opportunity to malign and smear them. The woman raped by Ched Evans has already had to relieve her nightmare in preparation for this further appeal – after 5 years of being tried by public mob, of being moved repeatedly to try and protect her. The girl abused by Adam Johnson is no doubt aware of the disgusting things being said by his fans and supporters: I fear what may yet come for her. Whatever sentence Johnson is handed, the mob will be no more inclined to compassion for her than they were for Evans victim.
So my first thoughts and prayers are with them tonight, and what they will endure this week. To them I repeat: I believe you. I send you all my love. We all do – everyone of us who did or did not report send all our best hopes and whatever strength we have to spare.
And it will be a hard week for all victims and survivors, on or off social media. The victim blaming, the shaming, the brutal cruelty that people spew because they think that rape or abuse is about sex, and don’t understand or don’t care that its about power, and the exercise of that power through humiliation and brutality.
I send my love to you too: I believe you. And that means that whatever you have to do to get through this week, to cope when the wounds are inflamed or made raw by the salt society rubs in with abandon – do not apologise for it. Don’t justify it, don’t explain it. You owe nobody that. You don’t have to engage, you don’t have to speak. And should you choose silence I will stand with you in your silence.
And if you want or need to shout from the rooftops at the vicious cruelty and injustice of it all, or scream in rage at maelstrom of sharp and stinging voices whose words carry salt – I will raise my voice and shout and scream with you.
Whatever the outcome of those legal proceedings this week, we who walk through the battle scarred land that is rape culture know only too well what we must each to do survive it. And however you need to negotiate that terrain, we will carry each other. In love, and hope and faith.
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…?”)
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.
Oh what fresh hell was this? After all, we are talking about the man of the Easterhouse Epiphany, who successfully fooled many with his new found desire to pursue ‘compassionate Conservatism’. This was a man who – perhaps because under his leadership the Conservative party were suffering mightily in the opinion polls – was already exploiting his religion in order to appeal to the conservative (small c) heartland, crying in public about ‘the poor’ and proclaiming his concern about how the secularisation of Great Britain might be one of Britain’s ‘biggest problems‘.
So well did he play the part of the caring and compassionate Conservative Christian leader that he was invited to speak at the Labour Party conference in 2005 by Bob Holman, founder of the Easterhouse based charity FARE, and it was where IDS proclaimed: “Everyone should have enough money to live properly in their community.” And whilst his appeal to the conservative heartland did not save his leadership of the Tory party, it paved the way to a successful re-invention which allowed him to pursue his calling as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.
So let us return to this ‘moral’ message, this ‘gospel of work’ – the Christian inference is clear, and I would suggest, deliberate. The word ‘gospel’ is of course a rendering of the Greek word meaning ‘good news’evangelion and is most often associated with Christianity. The premise then of this post is simple: that the bishops (and by extension any one who agrees with them about benefit cuts and caps which have been metered out under Duncan Smith) are failing to accept the ‘morality’ which drives this, and haven’t accepted the ‘gospel’ that this is The Way in which the poor should be dealt with.
Or to put it another way, this is the gospel according to Ian Duncan Smith, and there is something wrong with us if we don’t see it his way.
When you build a society in which people are only valued for their economic output, is is those least able to produce economically who suffer. And when your ‘morality’ is built on the premise that those who cannot produce economically should be forced to do so, inevitably you will find the belief that their poverty is their own fault, that it is a weakness of which they must be cured. And that is what is at the heart of this ‘gospel’ – the poor are poor because they have chosen to be so, and these cuts whom so many others can see as wrong, are in fact for their own good.
Under the last Labour Government, the concept of welfare went wrong. We saw an extreme culture of dependency on welfare developing where families became trapped – sometimes by deliberate choice and sometimes by accident – in a cycle of dependency in which they were rewarded for not working. This cycle also affected generations of households, which led to the erosion of the basic value of hard work, aspiration and the general desire to want to get on in life. (Emphasis mine)
Duncan Smith’s gospel is nothing at all like the gospel as proclaimed by Christ. It is, however, quite a lot like the ‘prosperity gospel‘, as proclaimed by a number of (very wealthy) preachers. But it isn’t good news for the poor, it wont set any captives free and it certainly isn’t life.
It’s a fake and phoney gospel, and if you don’t conform to it, it will kill you.
Forgiveness – from almost the first moments of his ministry – was at the heart of what Jesus did and said: the forgiveness that he spoke of and practised was profound: indeed it was so revolutionary, so alarming that disciples, followers and nay-sayers alike wrestled with it, poking and prodding at it with a mixture of horror, suspicion and wonder. For it was not just the rampant forgiveness of others which so awed those around him: Jesus actively sought – and seeks – the same generosity of forgiveness from those who follow him.
The religious rules made by men to protect themselves, and which made the mad, the bad, the crippled and women ‘unsuitable’ for consideration of humanity and compassion, were held up to the light and found wanting. These were rules impossible to live by if you were poor, or sick, or not a man. The rich and joyful forgiveness of God, through Jesus, did not just wipe clean the hearts of those forgiven: it challenged societies attitudes. The gates of the kingdom, once denied to those most in need by the rule of men, were thrown open by God.
These were rules which cared nothing for justice, mercy and faith and the same righteous anger which had swept the money lenders from the temple rose to greet the makers of men’s rule:
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.
But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves…” Matthew 23: 1-4 & 13-15
Fast forward a couple of thousand years: Christians have apparently embraced forgiveness, seemingly willing to forgive with the same generosity of spirit that Christ called us to. But man’s penchant for the laws and rules that make him comfortable has not been eradicated, and nowhere is this more obvious than in how Christian Churches respond to abuse and rape. Here we see that the abusers are ‘forgiven’ – or rather excused – and those who are the powerless and the victims are treated as though they have done something for which they should be forgiven, but they are not, and for them there is no love, and not even meagre crumbs of pity from the table.
To be abused is to endure physical, emotional, psychic and spiritual invasion. To recover and find some healing following such trauma can take a lifetime. Those coping with that process should be able to find a lifetime of love and patience from those who claim to be followers of Christ, for Jesus had that to give. Instead, even if they are believed, victims find instead that their trauma is dismissed, or they are blamed and shamed, despised and ridiculed. The world is already awash with lack of understanding and victim blaming, but there is no safe haven in the body of Christ, for victims are not only met with the same attitude in the church but are then faced with still greater load, for they are told that they must forgive their invaders, their rapists and abusers, in the name of being a ‘proper’ Christian. And if they don’t forgive, then they are guilty – of bitterness, of resentfulness, of lack of faith, of wanting vengeance. Forgiveness has become a rule, a law to be followed, in order to access the gates of the kingdom of Heaven: victims must bow to the rule of man (including their abusers) before they can reach God.
They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.
It is time to end the warped teaching of forgiveness in its current form, twisted as it has become under the patriarchal church. We can no longer allow to be used to keep the powerful comfortable and the abusers excused. It is time to reclaim it, be willing to be challenged again by God and dig more deeply than we have ever done before, and find this beautiful and precious wonder that is true forgiveness.
We must acknowledge that abusers are making a choice when they abuse, and that only they are responsible for the choices they make – and we must learn to stop making excuses for them. They can help it, and there is no stress, or worry, or addiction or depression that can excuse their dreadful choices. We must acknowledge that their victims deserve belief, and love and care for the rest of their lives, and that their safety must be our priority. We must be willing to be uncomfortable, disturbed, and as righteously angry as God about terrible harm and damage that abuse does. We must desire to hear the screams of anguish and agony and learn that it is not a lack of faith, or a desire to hold on to that which hurts, which causes those tears to fall weeks, or months, or years later. We must learn all this – and yet more.
And then maybe, maybe, we will start to learn what forgiveness truly is.
“Labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire, called conscience.” George Washington
Conscience: The inner sense of what is right or wrong in one’s conduct and motives, impelling one toward right actions – the complex of ethical and moral principles that controls and inhibits the actions or thoughts of an individual.
I wasn’t surprised because what Ched Evans has access to is money – a very great deal of it, care of his future Father-in-Law Karl Massey. He is also a pampered young man with an inexhaustible ability to play the victim. Like many spoiled and pampered young men with too little discipline, and access to too much money (and the power that provides), he is someone who, thanks to Massey, can afford to buy expensive legal muscle and flex it to the fullest possible extent.
But his actions that night – and since – suggests a man who is happy to indulge in behaviour which at best can only be described as sleazy. Consider: at no time has Evans ever, in any way – either explicitly or implicitly – addressed the presence of his two friends that night who filmed either McDonald and/or Evans and the victim. There is no suggestion that she was ever made aware of that at the time, far less given the opportunity to agree to it.
Further: Evans has not at any time stated that his belief that he had consent was based on any form of communication – verbally or otherwise – from the victim. Therefore is the only communication, on which Evans bases his claim, the text sent to him by McDonald? A text from your mate that says ‘he’s got a bird’ is not consent from the victim. Is it unreasonable to infer then that Evans believed that his friend had procured a woman for him, and that’s this was what he understand the text to mean?
And moreover: Despite claiming to be ‘sorry’ for the appalling impact of the events, and the brutal hunting of his victim, he has apparently done nothing to change the horrific way in which his ‘campaign’ website has determinedly sought to criminalise and undermine a young woman who has been robbed of her identity, her life and her family – and her dignity and peace of mind.
So far, the privilege Evans had as a footballer and the access to wealth and influence that obtained has bought Evans many things. It has so far failed to by him a conscience.
“…Evans has not at any time stated that his belief that he had consent was based on any form of communication – verbally or otherwise – from the victim.”
I had spent more time on the ‘front sheet’ copy of the appeal transcript than on the full copy: Evans does, in fact, claim verbal consent from his victim, at the time of him entering the hotel room. And the timing of this is important because this raises further questions, which are deeply troubling.
There is still no indication that the victim gave consent to McDonald to send the text that brought Evans to that hotel room. So at the point at which Evans entered that hotel room, the victim was in the most vulnerable possible position: she is very likely incapacitated (and one jury and 2 appeal courts have decided that she was incapable of giving consent due to intoxication) – and she is in a room, naked, with 2 physically strong men. Even if she hadn’t been incapacitated through drink, she was in an immensely vulnerable position and I would consider it highly questionable that she would have had “..the freedom and capacity..” to make the choice to say no with any certainty of her safety.
So, just to recap: At the time of writing this, Ched Evans remains a convicted rapist.