Picture: The former children's home Haut de la Garenne on Jersey island, site of the biggest abuse children's care home scandal in the history of the UK.
Anyone listening to the radio, reading the internet, watching TV or reading the newspapers recently would be forgiven for thinking that physical and sexual abuse is something that afflicts only the Catholic Church. The truth of the matter is that the scandals that have been poured over the pages of the press are bad, very bad, but by no means a scandal in the Church only. Today I met a young lady, 19, who we shall call 'Sarah', whose life testifies to the unpalatable fact that abuse is rife in families, society and, it appears, particularly in children's homes ran by Social Services.
My friend Paul and I dropped friends George and Diane back home today. Say a prayer for them because Social Services, having told their Brighton Housing Trust (BHT) solicitor that they would store their belongings from their old flat, instead, under the guidance of Moat Housing Association, who evicted the couple, 'disposed' of all of their possessions, quite what they have done with them nobody is sure.
George and Diane have a friend, 'Sarah', who lives in a nearby room at the squalid, disgraceful excuse for a hostel which they currently call home in Brighton. They introduced Paul and I to 'Sarah'. We talked together. It turned out that 'Sarah' was living at the 'temporary housing hostel' since 11 months ago her landlord evicted her because she refused his advances, maintaining that she is gay and had no interest in him. "Why are you here?" I ask. "Could you go home?" 'Sarah' looks at me and says. "I can't go home because my stepfather is a paedophile and my mother is still with him." She has learned, it seems, to look after herself because God knows, nobody else ever has. Nearly everyone she has known has wanted her for their own perverted ends. Her story may seem incredible, but it, I suspect, is all too common.
"My first memories are unhappy memories," she says. "Most people don't say that, but I was abused from the age of 3 until 7 by my stepfather." We sit and talk and I find her to be one of the most gentle, kind and genuine people I have ever met. The wisdom she expresses has come from years of suffering and trauma. I ask whether she was taken into care. She says she was. I ask her whether she was 'looked after' by social services. She laughs and says, "No. Things were no better under social services!" Her stepfather put her through every kind of physical, sexual abuse everyday she can remember, but then, she says, nearly everyday, so did workers at the care homes she was shunted to from year to year.
"My happiest childhood times," she maintains, "were with the two foster families I had." 'Sarah' stayed with one of these for a year and liked them so much that they are still in touch. I ask her why the foster placements didn't last. She replies, "They couldn't deal with my behaviour." It is hardly surprising. If someone has been dealt a catalogue of physical and sexual abuse since the age of 3, they are bound to display 'challenging' behaviour in childhood and adolescence. Her time with foster families ended at the age of just 9. From then on she was shunted around the country to secure units and children's care homes, ending her time in the woeful and scandalous 'care' of Social Services at the age of 18, just one year ago, in a therapeutic community ran by a private firm in Birmingham. After that she came back to Brighton, where she was born and bred, only to be evicted from her place by a predator landlord.
She had to leave the 'therapeutic community' in Birmingham because she was accused of raping another female resident, a crime of which she says she was wholly innocent. I ask her about her treatment by 'care workers' in Social Services. I ask her why she did not report the incidences of abuse, physical, sexual, mental and verbal to the authorities, or the police. Her answer was chilling, as chilling as the answer you would receive from someone who had been abused by, say, a Catholic priest in Ireland.
"What could I do?" she said, "I am just a child in care. The first time it happened I reported it. Do you know what they said? They said, 'Perhaps you are just re-living bad memories!' and ignored me! Life for me was no better in the care homes ran by Social Services than they had been under the care of my stepfather." I ask her 'Sarah', still just 19 years of age, if she thought that abuse was rife in Social Services care homes and whether there was any kind of a cover up. Her answer, again, is chilling to the bone.
"It is always a cover up! Not just me but all the kids who get abused can't say anything. They are either ignored, told they are 'lying' or told they are just 'doing it to get attention'. Social services can't admit what is really going on in their care homes. The problem is too big. Do you realise how much funding they are getting from the Government? Every year the Social Services will get £6.7 billion from the Government. £6.7 billion! Every single care home where I stayed had 3 members of staff who tried it on with me and either tried to sexually and physically abuse me, or did so. This went on, near daily, for as long as I was in their care!"
I assure you, dear readers, that if all of the adults, some of whom are still children, who have been abused physically, sexually and mentally in children's care homes ran by Social Services came forward tomorrow, in the UK alone, and went to the press, it would make a mockery of the current coverage of the Church's abuse cases worldwide. Basically, multiply the number of victims of abuse in cases committed by Catholic priests and multiply it by not ten, not a hundred, but a thousand and add a few thousand more. 'Sarah' made it clear to me that sexual, physical and all manner of abuse in children's care homes is institutionalised and, what is more it is all, all, covered up because Social Services departments rely on...You guessed it...Government funding.
Do you think the Head of Social Services in each city is aware of the abuse crisis in children's homes in the UK? Do you think if he or she does, they might want to hush this news story up? Do you think, that maybe, just maybe, the Cabinet Minister in whose portfolio is the administration of Social Services in the UK knows about it? Don't you think that the whole World deserves to know about it!?
She says she has never made the homeless hostel a 'home'. She despises it there. She despises the fact that whoever owns it makes at least £200 a room a week (there are 60 rooms), yet they do nothing, give absolutely nothing in terms of comfort to the residents. They treat everyone who lives there like shit. She maintains that there is a family of 3 living in one room in the place. On the top floor, in a 'slightly bigger room' is an asian family of 7 living in squalor. 'Sarah' is therefore happy to be leaving her hostel room as soon as she can get out. She has just got a job as a cleaning operative.
Her experieces have shaped her as a person. Yet, she is wise beyond her years. She has to be. She hopes that the new job, for which she will have to work between 60 and 70 hours a week will enable her to get a private tenancy again which will be more successful. For someone who has been through so much pain and suffering, for someone who to go to sleep at night means looming phantasms and horrific nightmares, for someone who has been used and abused all her childhood and nascent adult life, her eyes still radiate with optimism and hope. Say a prayer for her, George, Diane and all the residents of the homeless hostel in Brighton full with tales of misery, poverty and abuse. It was at some point toward the end of my discussion with 'Sarah' that I realised that the accusation that priestly abuse is caused by celibacy is worthy only of our scorn, contempt and ridicule, because if sexual abuse is as prevalent in State-ran children's care homes as 'Sarah' says it is, then this issue has absolutely nothing to do with celibacy at all.
Saturday, 27 March 2010
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