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.
It is impossible to comprehend the level of disrespect to the young girl – the child – Johnson is charged with abusing that this entails, but the message that Sunderland AFC are sending is clear: the word of a child holds no value and even less worth. Johnson is good at kicking a ball, and the trauma a girl might experience matters less than whether Johnson can put a ball in the back of the net, or help it to get there. Winning matters more than a girls life.
You would think that it could not be possible that in the 21st Century, a professional football club would consider that a young girl’s life would matter less than a game of football, and you might think such an accusation were harsh – after all they suspended him after his initial arrest in March, but when the did so they were facing two difficult matches and potentially a relegation battle.
Of course keeping Johnson playing matters more than a young girl. There seems little doubt that how the coming trial and Johnson’s continued public presence might impact on the alleged victim hasn’t even crossed the minds of Ellis Short and the management of Sunderland AFC. But there is the wider issue.
The grooming of children and young girls for abuse is a terrifying reality for far too many, day in and day out: whether it be the young girls who – with their families – were disbelieved for years in Rochdale, or the gang of men recently found guilty of the most sickening grooming of young families and abuse of babies and small children,(CN), we hold the lives of children and young girls in little or no esteem. Victims of abuse up and down the country tomorrow will, as Johnson walks out on the pitch tomorrow, be told in no uncertain terms that nobody really, truly cares and that the privilege of a young white sportsman to ply his trade matters more than they do.
It is arguable whether this is less a problem within organised sport specifically than it is in society generally. But as the whistle blows at 15:00 tomorrow afternoon, it is certain that neither Johnson, Sunderland AFC or the fans will even be thinking about anything beyond whether or not a goal is scored.