Wed 29 September 2021

An emotional letter to Byline Times from a child abuse survivor has reignited debate over Boris Johnson’s claim that Britain’s CSA inquiry is a £60m waste of money

Like most populist political figures, Boris Johnson is a renowned moving target: never standing still long enough for critics to land decisive blows. The newly-shorn former foreign secretary is full of bluster, gags and buffoonery – classic distraction tactics employed to stop those who try to hold him to account.

As with Donald Trump in America, the opportunistic Boris is also aware that by playing to these stereotypes he can get away with muttering falsehoods or creating fake narratives, like when he described women in Burkas as looking like “letterboxes”.

Why bother with the difficult process of evidence and truth, when he can just talk nonsense and move on? In these days of 24/7 news, few journalists have the time to challenge what these leaders say before they create the next opportunity for populist nonsense.

For a politician like Boris to dismiss an investigation into the potential causes of CSA suffering is to fail to comprehend…Britain’s dark CSA history.

Except that’s not all it creates. As we discovered through his support for the Brexit Bus, Boris’s actions are not without consequences – and he often leaves a trail of victims behind him.

Two weeks ago, Johnson gave an interview to LBC Radio, in which he lamented the cost of the Home Office-backed Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).

What he actually said was that good money was being “spaffed up the wall”.

It was classic Boris. The only thing missing was a reference in Latin to a twelfth century scholar who once said something similar.

The IICSA, chaired by Professor Alexis Jay, is investigating whether Britain’s institutions may – or may not – have failed in their public duty to challenge and confront CSA. After multiple false starts, the inquiry has progressed detailed inquiries into CSA at care homes, religious institutions and sports bodies.

But one of the 13 strands of the inquiry – the handling of allegations against politicians and public figures – has always been the most controversial and has, to some, largely defined the IICSA.

This “Westminster” strand is the cause of much of the discomfort and disillusionment among the inquiry’s supporters and critics. The right-wing press decry attempts to assess whether MPs engaged in CSA historically – often because they perceive, somewhat mistakenly, a political motivation: that most of the MPs alleged to have been involved were Conservatives. In doing this, they conveniently cast aside the fact that two IICSA strands have focused on a former Liberal Party MP, Cyril Smith, an on unproven allegations against ex-Labour peer Greville Janner.

To be fair to such critics, some are conscious of the fact that there have been false claims made against some MPs, celebrities or other public figures. But in trying to sweep away ALL historical CSA inquiries, these critics – including Boris – do a huge dis-service to genuine CSA victims.

This week, a Byline Times reader and CSA survivor of child rape took the time to write a considered response to Johnson’s ill-conceived “spaffing” comment. Our anonymous letter-writer’s un-edited reply detailed a childhood marred by the most horrendous rape, abuse and humiliation. The impact on her life was such that she contemplated suicide and is still haunted by her past – despite successfully surviving and thriving since her abuse.

I’ll put to one side the controversies linked to press reporting of alleged false claims. There will be a time and a place to discuss that serious issue – and I hope that the entire UK press will address it.

But I personally have interviewed scores of genuine CSA survivors, many of them victims of familial abuse in no way linked to “VIP” allegations.

As we discovered through his support for the Brexit Bus, Boris’s actions are not without consequences – and he often leaves a trail of victims behind him.

Survivors of CSA, who number in the tens of thousands, deserve far better from failing institutions such as the church or the care system. Like our letter-writer this week, they carry the trauma of their abuse each day – and many have been unable to access the long-term support they need.

Their suffering is real, and lasting. So for a politician like Boris to dismiss a wide-ranging investigation into the potential causes of that suffering is to fail to comprehend the scope and depth of Britain’s dark CSA history.

At Byline Times, we’d genuinely like to hear from Boris Johnson about his choice of words and his seeming failure to grasp the importance of the IICSA. Is he, for example, really more concerned by the fact that the IICSA was set up by the women he aspires to depose as Conservative leader – Theresa May?

Johnson may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but he should be given a fair hearing. If he considers himself a serious prime ministerial candidate, then he should explain why he has been so dismissive about the hurt felt by so many.

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