As Harriet Harman continues to try to evade a simple admission of past misjudgement, Brother Ivo would like to be be fair and charitable, and so thought it might be worth offering a reminder to anyone commenting on the controversy that sometimes, we can all be a little harsh on our younger selves.
Brother Ivo has made more than his fair share of bad decisions both politically, professionally, and personally and is often comforted by two wise observations.
Søren Kierkegaard said that ‘Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.’, and an old friend of Brother Ivo, novelist Adam Zameenzad once counselled him that “Being human isn’t easy”.
Ms Harman might do well to reflect upon these remarks as she looks back across the years to when she acted as a legal officer to the National Council for Civil Liberties during the time of its injudicious association with the PIE organisation.
One suspects that somewhere within the process of “reputation management” ( a modern contrivance of questionable moral value) she has had the odd moment of panic tinged with regret as she asked herself ” What on earth was I thinking?”
Admitting it is another problem altogether but confession truly is good for the soul.
We all judge our past errors from a position of hindsight and experience; we know that we were not bad people then, and so we want to deny the very existence of that which plainly troubles us today.
In few fields will this be more challenging than that of child protection which has its full measure of regretted past opinion. We arrived where we are via that past however, and many of todays good outcomes will have been built upon hard lessons learnt from past stupidity.
Just as doctors once believed that regularly bleeding their patient was always a good thing, police officers once justified “fitting up” a known villain, and teachers caned children who were slow to learn to read, so Child Protection has its own sorry past which we need to acknowledge.
There were many attitudes, excuses and practices that had their place in the Judicial system of the past which make us decidedly uncomfortable today.
“All children lie”.
” She wanted me to do it”
” It was a one-off after my girlfriend left/ I had too much to drink”.
Her mother made her say this because she hates me”.
“She’s jealous of me being her mother’s boyfriend”
These were standard attitudes and excuses routinely offered and accepted 30 years ago when these matters came ( rarely ) to Court.
Children were allowed to be bullied by be-wigged Counsel in open Court.
“Breaking the complainant” was perceived as a fair defence tactic; accusations of mendacious lying for a trivial reward were proffered and because the idea of sexual gratification via an infant was so far removed from the ordinary contemplation of the average jury member, getting the jury to convict to the requisite standard “beyond reasonable doubt” was very hard indeed.
It still is, especially where well known public figures are concerned. We hate to think the unthinkable – which is how the abuser learns to deceive and builds his repertoire of threat and manipulation. Victims are told ” no one will believe you” and many found/find this to be true.
The sentences for such behaviour were surprisingly low, and the help available virtually non existent. Managing and modifying pedophile behaviour is time and resource consuming. Even today it is not our highest priority, not least because such people are not where we want to spend our money.
Not all the injustices were one way.
We once had the standard format interview which presented undressed “anatomically correct” dolls to a bored or bemused child, confined in a room with a total stranger. It does not take long before the child fits them together in an “inappropriate” way ( think Lego) . It took some years before the dangers of such interviewing techniques became appreciated.
Then we had the imported fashion for “Ritual Satanic Abuse” where every Council Estate in the Kingdom was assumed to be an extended set for the Exorcist.
Next there was was Munchausen By Proxy “syndrome” – until we realised that a syndrome is just a description of facts and behaviours and no illness at all.
In short, the last thirty years has been a steep learning curve in the child protection field and within that field, a small but highly motivated core of paedophiles has run rings round those trying to catch up with how they truly operate.
For most of us, collecting 10,000 photographs of a favourite actor would be considered mildly eccentric. Collecting half a million images of children being abused, and often brutally tortured, is literally inconceivable. We are talking depravity of the highest order in some of these cases, and for too long we were just too nice to think anyone could want to do such things.
So when Ms Harman’s NCCL was approached by pleasant articulate men who presented themselves as victims for loving a 15 year old boy, it is very easy to see how things went wrong. It was not that long ago that you could be imprisoned for consensual adult gay sex. The under age version was easily presentable as just another arbitrary restriction of a prejudiced State tied to a backwards looking Church view. In radical circles, the traditional was always the enemy even when it was right.
Of course the reality of PIE and its members was much much more depraved; there is a reason we call it the slippery slope, but that is not always appreciated by the advocate of the underdog, who often took such special pleading at face value. Paedophiles routinely play the victim.
Yet anyone who has observed the evolution of child protection at close quarters will know that myriad mistakes and ill judgements occurred over the years until we gradually found our way back to a position that is greatly discordant with the trendy ” if it feels good do it” attitudes of the late 60’s and 70’s.
Child protection experience is a very good way to get a modern head around the concept of original sin. The capacity of humans , male and female, to abuse the innocent and the vulnerable for their own gratification knows no bounds. It was however, deeply unfashionable to say that in the days of flower power or radical idealism when Ms Harman was on the side of those shaking off Victorian values.
Brother Ivo hopes that she will look back and be able to acknowledge that she along with many of us of that era, allowed our idealism, our niceness and even our naivety to cloud our critical faculties. She was not alone in getting it wrong, indeed nobody made all the right calls all of the time in this most difficult of disciplines.
Denis Healey once advised that when you are in a hole – stop digging. This is good advice for Ms Harman.
She should stop digging and face up to the fact that she and everyone else in the field seriously under estimated the nature of the paedophile threat to our children. Unravelling what was going on was really hard and took time. Let’s not waste any time suggesting that anyone understood then what we understand today. We should all look back on how we got these things wrong and be ashamed – not “regretful”- ashamed.
Brother Ivo is trying to set a good example by identifying some of the common errors into which he knows he and many have fallen.
It is no bad thing to prove that one has learnt by experience. There is shame however in treating others as fools when the historical record of mistake is so clear.
NCCL and its officers got this wrong; Ms Harman should acknowledge the fact and drop the pretence of being wise ahead of her time.
When Counselling those who have done serious wrong, Brother Ivo has occasionally employed his theological background to good effect.
Often those in error seek Justice; he usually advises that they would be better off asking for Mercy.
It is old fashioned, but it’s none the worse for that.
If Ms Harman is honest about the failings of all of us in the past, Brother Ivo will defend her in that integrity, but whilst she maintains the stance of evasion hiding behind the carefully calculated PR language of “regret” he is unable to do so even as he watches her suffer.