Owen Jones: Focus of sex abuse saga must remain on young victims

George Entwistle (centre) quit over the Newsnight blunder which has resulted in a sex abuse victim being forced to apologise to a wronged MP. Photo / AP
George Entwistle (centre) quit over the Newsnight blunder which has resulted in a sex abuse victim being forced to apologise to a wronged MP. Photo / AP

They were little children, gang-raped and beaten till they bled by those charged with their care.

"Buggery, rape, bestiality, violent assaults and torture," is how Labour MP Ann Clwyd summed up the findings of a pulped report by Clwyd County Council into abuse at children's homes in north Wales.

Steven Messham was sent to Bryn Estyn - supposedly a care home, in reality a rape factory - at the age of 13. Those who, like him, had been hand-picked to satisfy the perverse needs of sexual monsters were sent to flats and hotel rooms in their pyjamas to be raped. By the time Messham escaped on the eve of his 18th birthday, more than 50 men had abused him.

The psychological effects of child abuse are profound. Shock, fear and disbelief come immediately, psychologists note; in the long-term come anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Abused children often start wetting the bed again; as they become adults, they can be plagued with self-hatred, an inability to form meaningful relationships, and a tendency to "escape" through drugs or risky sex.

Some of the abused simply cannot cope with the brutal theft of their childhood and take their own lives.

It may seem needlessly macabre to retell the horrors of abused children, but it has become necessary. The story is now all-out war against the BBC, much to the undisguised delight of its opponents. It is difficult not to picture the relish on the face of Rupert Murdoch when he tweets: "BBC getting into deeper mess". When criminality on an industrial scale took place at his News of the World, this monstrous mogul sacked those he deemed responsible and remained in place; when the Beeb make a serious mistake, the Director-General is out pronto. But in the mounting crusade against the BBC, the stories and the voices of the abused have been purged: this no longer has anything to do with them.

Let's be clear, Newsnight screwed up. Its report alleging that a senior Tory was implicated in the abuse of children - widely, and wrongly, named on the internet as Lord McAlpine - did not stand up to scrutiny. It is a mystery why a recent photograph of McAlpine was never shown to Steven Messham - although the police have largely escaped scrutiny for seemingly wrongly identifying him to Messham in the 1990s as one of his tormentors.

The consequences of all this could be far more disastrous than the possible termination of one of the few television programmes that can be described as a national institution. This is where we have ended up. Steven Messham - a victim of systematic rape - has been forced into a humiliating apology. The Mail on Sunday has produced a two-page hatchet job on him. On the BBC's Daily Politics show yesterday, ex-Tory MP David Mellor smeared him as a "weirdo". A survivor of abuse who bravely spoke out now faces a smear campaign against him. McAlpine was wronged, but he is receiving more pity than those abused when they were very young.

What message will this send to other victims?

We already know that the vast majority of child abuse goes unreported and - on many occasions when it does come to light - it is after the abusers have died.

And yet the narrative that now risks being fuelled is not under-reporting, but rather the false accusations of rape.

I hesitate to use the word "disgraceful"; it does not begin to cover the shameful depths being plunged. Steven Messham was let down by the police and by journalists; he is now re-living his abuse while being smeared. The focus must return to the victims, to bringing all those responsible to justice, and to encouraging others to speak out. If not, children will continue to be silently raped and abused.

Those twisting this saga have probably not given that any thought. Those with decency and empathy must - before more damage is done.


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