The Murphy Report was released the day before yesterday. Since then, the government, clergy, gardaí and other concerned bodies and individuals have been howling in indignation.
People are being condemned left, right and centre for allowing Irish children to be sexually abused; for abusing the children, for hushing it up and for doing nothing when they were informed.
But here’s a newsflash – this report is not an indictment of the Irish Catholic Clergy – it is an indictment of the Irish as a people. We stand by as our children are abused. We turn away from them and then, when faced with an incontrovertible truth, rend our garments and cry ‘Why didn’t they say something?’
The questions, instead, should be ‘Why didn’t we listen when they told us’ (even non-verbal communication is disclosure) and ‘Why didn’t we do something?’
As someone whose earliest memory – before I was even three years old – is of being sexually abused, I feel I know a thing or two about this subject. I’m not afraid to speak out. The only thing that stops me naming those who abused me is that there has been no prosecution. The DPP – despite confessions – decided against prosecution because ‘there wasn’t enough evidence’.
But it’s not just now that I refuse to hold my tongue. As a young teenager – when I finally found out that what was happening to me on a nearly daily basis was not ‘normal’ – I spoke out. I looked for help. I was desperate to be rescued from hell.
I told ‘responsible adults’ who told me that ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘men are like that’. I told a respected psychiatrist in Crumlin Childrens’ Hospital. Her response? She called – no, not the Gardaí, or social services don’t be silly! – but one of the people who was abusing me and told him, in very coded language that she knew what he was doing. Did he stop? Not on your nelly! He ‘taught me a lesson’ so I’d learn to keep my mouth shut and ‘stop spreading my filth’. (As you can see, I’m a slow learner!)
My friends, out of concern, told their parents, who said ‘Shhh! That’s private family business. We can’t interfere.’
In the past year, I have learnt that, at one stage, a delegation of my teenaged friends went to the headmistress of our school (a nun) and told her of their very real concerns that I was going to kill myself. Her response? ‘You’re all good girls – don’t worry about Hazel and her problems. Don’t let that distract you from your studies.’ I heard that and felt almost defiant for still being alive, 20 years later.
So my point is that ‘the church’ did not abuse these children – ‘the country’ did, because it permitted the abuse in so many ways and on so many levels. And what you permit, you promote.