I just finished listening to the pianist James Rhodes being interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s FrontRow programme and as I have learnt from the many stories shared by many people on these kinds of programmes you find something that resonates.
James Rhodes had many things to say about creativity and mental illness, but more poignantly I was arrested by the saga behind the publication of his life story which depicted in quite graphic detail the sexual rape he endured from the age of six along with the atrocious abuse that it included.
Instrumental: A Memoir of Madness, Medication and Music (Guardian Review) [Amazon] became a subject of litigation when his ex-wife took out an injunction to prevent the publication of the book because she believed that the graphic detail in the book might be injurious to their 12-year old son.
The right to tell the truth
Whilst there probably is a case for this from a mother’s perspective as concerns the welfare of a child, the case that came before the Supreme Court in the UK concluded in the following quote by overturning the injunction that:
“A person who has suffered in the way that the appellant has suffered, and has struggled to cope with the consequences of his suffering in the way that he has struggled, has the right to tell the world about it. And there is a corresponding public interest in others being able to listen to his life story in all its searing detail.” [The Law Society Gazatte]
In the Supreme Court judgement, some of the words are as graphic as to be shocking in their content, yet therein lies a story that must be told as it is.
“You want to know how to rip the child out of a child? Fuck him.” [Judgement on Bailli]
My lost innocence
Now, I have written several blogs on the matter of child sexual abuse, the first of which I wrote on the 17th of January, 2007, titled, My Sex Post and in it the only piece of information I gave away was that I had my first sexual experience at 7.
I have not mentioned who it was with, where it happened or what exactly happened, but that afternoon is as vivid in my memory as it could literally be played back in a film.
Child sexual abuse which happens quite frequently in Nigeria that we have found a fanciful word to spare our blushes in court to call the sexual abuse, rape and violation of a child defilement is a taboo subject in most cases.
The helplessness in abuse
I know of too many cases where an abused child has been silenced by people supposedly responsible for the child because of the embarrassment that the truth of what happened might bring upon that family, it becomes a hush-hush issue of shame that only a few get into the criminal justice system to feed the lascivious hunger of an outrageously voyeuristic media that has little concern for child involved as they print the salacious without conscience or compassion.
It might well be that this along with the tendency to either disbelieve or blame the victim that results in the child bottling up the abuse or where the abuse is revealed the belief is that besides medical intervention time will eventually make that ordeal fade from memory.
As a man, I know this is not the truth, I was violated by people my parents felt they had the obligation to care for and by those they brought into our home on trust that they will care for use as the adults in their absence.
The faults are many
Yet, whilst I cannot entirely fault my parents, the absence of curiosity on their part was damaging enough because I was not the only one abused and when they learnt of the abuse of another within our family setting they could have made enquiries and realised that at the age of 10 I was already sexually active for 3 years already.
In that is a number of stories I have mostly written in third person being slightly culturally restrained by the magnitude of what the truth of such narratives might have on people living who might be shocked to realise that not only is the memory as keen as it ever was, but also the fear for their realisation of that more could have been done that wasn’t.
Launching a catalogue of abuses
My first experience of sex which I had no idea of before came through this person and then three years later, my first experience of terrifying fear when I believed I saw an apparition of the devil came from things I heard this person say. The reality of my terror was dismissed by my father whilst I found myself pressganged into numerous unprintable religious and animist rituals to ward off evil spirits.
On reflection, what I needed was professional psychological or psychiatric help, but I was reading Psalms in a language I could not speak, visiting prophets, witch doctors and shamans who all had bizarre idea upon bizarre idea of potions, cuttings, baths, concoctions and much else that cost money but also was a secondary form of abuse in the guise of being helped and being cured.
Secrecy really has no place in this
Each of these events is a story I compelled to tell and yet afraid to write, but I can find one great consolation in the judgement that lifted the injunction on James Rhodes’s book.
Whilst the freedom of expression neither guarantees the freedom from responsibility for what is said or written nor the freedom from consequence for what is heard or read, in the words of Tamsin Allen, James Rhodes’ lawyer, “In overturning the injunction, the Supreme Court has reaffirmed the fundamental importance of the freedom to speak the truth, even if the truth is brutal or shocking.”
The fundamental freedom to speak the truth affirmed, even if the truth is brutal or shocking, and more so, ‘Secrecy has no place in this story’ and many other stories that need to be told of abuse, of rape, of violation, of neglect, of indifference and of the consequence of all this in the life of the child and as they child harbours all this cachet of a life of experience into adulthood.