Authors: Richard A. Johnson
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Sexually abused teenagers, #Runaway teenagers, #Teenage boys, #Pedophilia, #Revenge
This book made available by the Internet Archive.
I was at a party enjoying a quiet drink in a comer, when a person I’d never met before approached and with extended hand congratulated me on writing a book. ‘Fabulous!’ he said, ‘I’ve always wanted to meet an author.’
I shook his hand and thanked him. He then asked the question that everyone asks - what is it about? I answered that it was about child abuse, and watched for his reaction. His smile faded, to be replaced with a look of concern. He took a sharp intake of breath, hesitated a little, then asked why on earth I would write about such a distressing subject. It was obvious to me that he was feeling just a little uncomfortable. ‘Anger,’ I said.
‘Sorry,’ he responded. ‘Did you say anger?’
‘I did,’ I said. ‘I wrote it because I was very, very angry.’ Anger is a wonderful motivator. It makes a person do things that they otherwise would never even contemplate. In my case, that anger was mixed with a liberal amount of frustration, and I guess, a certain amount of fear. That combination of emotions enabled me to do what I’d always wanted to do but in a way that I would never have imagined before. It had given me a
way of making a point - well, a number of points actually, and by writing it down I could at last get those points over.
But first, I must explain where that anger originated. I come from a very large family. We lived and grew up in the Islington area of London and like most large families never had much to call our own, but not for want of trying by my mother. She would work all of the hours that God sent, just to keep food on our table and clothes on our backs. But we had another disadvantage. I had a father who was a constant sex abuser, not only of his own family, but also others. Added to this he rarely worked and was often drunk. I'm sure that anyone could see that it wasn't the best start in life for his surviving twelve children.
My life, after my father was eventually, and thankfully, taken away from us, was from then on, what one would expect, given the start that I'd had. School, nothing special there, though I do recall writing a story about a young boy who lived at the time the Romans invaded Britain, and being accused of plagiarism by my teacher. I eventually convinced him that the story really had come from my head and not from another writer, but he never apologised. In fact he got my story published in the school magazine and then terrified me by telling me that I would have to read it out at the school concert that Christmas. Not. a chance! I was very conveniently sick on that day.
After school it was work. Earn money. Not that easy. I had been entered into the slave labour of an apprenticeship by my mother. To her credit she wanted me to learn a trade, but the money was awful, less than two pounds
ten shillings a week. At school I could hang around with my friends, get into trouble, but make a few bob at the same time. That was all gone. I had to be responsible and make an honest living.
Work was not to be the nirvana that most school leavers envisage. It was tiring, dirty, and in my case, very boring. I wanted more, but I never knew what. I changed jobs again and again, and interspersed with some periods of 'ducking and diving', somehow managed to steer a path through life, without actually achieving anything, until I met Barbara.
We've been together over thirty years now and though I've not been perfect, we have brought up three daughters, and have a crop of wonderful grandchildren. Achievement at last. But it was around twenty or so years ago that my life really changed. I became involved again in the world of child sexual abuse.
A girl who was close to us asked for our help. She said that she was being sexually abused by her father. We didn't hesitate. We moved her in with us and started to try to sort out her life. I never realised just how difficult that would be. Nothing had changed. When I was a kid, the social worker that we had was ours by virtue of the fact that she couldn't run as fast as everyone else when our case landed on the desk. That attitude still prevailed. No one wanted to know. I firmly believe that it was because of the ambivalence and almost stubborn intransigence that we met when seeking help for this child that she lost her case against her father. During that time the anger I mentioned previously started to fester.
I became involved in and committed to working with the problem. With the help of a tiny group of people who
called themselves the Incest Crisis Line my life took a whole new direction.
Over the following years my home became the head office for the charity and my wife and I opened it up to all kinds of people. We worked at the sharp end of the problem, receiving calls from people involved directly in abusive situations, listening to them, advising them, assisting them to find solutions. It was very hectic and very revealing.
I was astounded to discover that nothing had really changed since I was a child. Many of the agencies involved in the protection of children were indeed just that, protective. Protective of their own part in the process. Those agencies either could not, or would not, work together, and as a result those that they were supposed to be helping often suffered further. Added to this, we were considered to be 'just' a charity, 'just' voluntary workers. We could be ignored, and often were.
The Cleveland case brought much of this seeming failure of cooperation between agencies to the public eye for the first time, with the resulting report highlighting and condemning this fact. It still took a long time before any changes were made.
Our callers were still telling us of bad police attitudes, and poor social services, where sexual abuse was not treated with the seriousness that it deserved. So we, with the help of some sensitive but effective media coverage, embarked on a programme of education.
Now I'm not what anyone at first glance would consider to be a victim. At six feet three and fifteen stones I'm usually left alone if trouble rears its head. But I was raped as a child, and it became obvious to those that I
spoke to that if it could happen to me then it could happen to anyone. That message was good, it made people sit up and take notice, it helped those who went through it to accept that they were not alone. The press of course loved it.
As a result of my 'honesty', I was inundated with requests to speak on the subject. Throughout my time with the charity, I appeared on over two hundred radio and television programmes, a worldwide television movie, made by the Norwegian government, chat-shows in the USA and Switzerland, and gave countless lectures and talks for schools, colleges, universities, other help groups, health visitors, probation officers, but far more importantly, various police and social services groups. At last, the message was being received.
When I look back at that involvement, I remember with much pride and affection many of the people that I met during that time: survivors with the courage of lions, to have withstood the hell that they had been forced to live with; police officers, brave enough to defy their seniors and fight for fairer deals for victims; social workers, two of whom lost their jobs rather than accede to the wishes of their superiors; also the many, many voluntary workers out there, who with little or no thought for their own safety protected and comforted those who came forward to help.
But fine words are all very well, it takes a lot more than that to make real and lasting changes. ChildLine came along, and I was and still am very proud to have been a part of its early days. The NSPCC started up a child help line, and as a result powerful voices were added to the fight. Things were slowly changing.
For myself, another new direction beckoned. Worried about the amount of calls we were receiving of current abuse, I took it upon myself to confront the alleged offenders on the behalf of their victims. This could be done in a one-to-one meeting, or by telephone or even mail, and had remarkable results. Abuse would stop! Quite a statement, but on confirmation from those who had asked me for help the abuse did indeed cease. Referrals to therapists were made for those abusers, and often the authorities were involved, but always with the fullest compliance and permission of the one who had first asked for help.
My lectures took on a whole new light. People were fascinated by the new work. No one had realised that victims of abuse often had the best idea of what to do about their situation. No one had realised that confrontation in a non-threatening way often brought situations to an end. I had to explain that many victims, for whatever reason, still loved the person that was abusing them, and would never involve the authorities in their lives. Alternatives had to be devised to deal with this. In Holland at the time was KinderTelephon, a help line for children in abusive situations. It did much the same and was very successful. So it did work.
'But these abusers should be locked up!' I hear you cry. Of course they should, they've broken the law, they are a danger to others. But to whom are we more responsible? If we barge in with police and social services there is a good chance that the victim will not assist, will not give evidence, or even make a statement. Ask anyone who has tried to investigate these crimes. Surely protection of the child must be uppermost in our minds, and if that child
has asked for what is happening to be stopped, but not to have its abuser arrested, then why not allow that, at least for the time being. That must be far better than forcing that child to endure its abuse, and to keep the secret for often very many years.
This new work was received well, especially by police and social services. Lecture engagements skyrocketed. I told everyone who wanted to listen what we were about, and was confident that our work would expand and hopefully change the way that we had been dealing with child sexual abuse in the UK. But my confidence was misguided.
I had just finished co-chairing an International Conference on Child Sexual Abuse in central London - a time, I guess, that should have been the peak of anyone's career, when murmurs of dissatisfaction from our counsellors started to reach my ears. I'm still not overly aware of what the problems were, but to be fair other things were occurring that needed my fullest attention. Our treasurer had spirited away most of our funds, something for which she received an eighteen-month prison sentence, and I was arrested on a charge of blackmail. The end of 1989 was a really bad time for me.
I'd stopped a man from sexually abusing his daughter by telling him, at her request, that if he touched her again I would go to the police on her behalf. I then added that it wouldn't be a bad idea if he gave the family the divorce that it deserved, so that they could get on with their lives free from him. I recorded the call so that his family could hear his response.
That it seems is blackmail in the eyes of the law. Well, in that part of the country anyway. I was stunned. Just
before New Year's Eve I was arrested and taken all the way to Warminster to be questioned on and charged with blackmail. The funny (if that's the right word) thing is, that my arrest came long after my call to the man; in fact, long after the police had been involved in his home situation, and he'd been tried and convicted of the sexual abuse charges. He was languishing in prison, serving a long sentence when I was arrested. I just couldn't understand what was happening. I'd even, at the time, given the recording of my conversation with the man to his family's solicitor, hardly something that a potential blackmailer would do. It made no difference. The charge was to stand.
During the following eighteen months my life effectively stopped. Stories circulated, allegations and accusations were made, all without foundation, but again it made no difference, the charity fell apart. I couldn't talk to anyone because my case was sub judice, and that made it all worse. The attitude was, if I didn't defend myself publicly then I must be guilty. It was a total no-win situation.
The following year and a half was to be a real eye-opener. Suddenly many of those that I could once proudly call friends, disappeared. I felt betrayed, almost suicidal at times. I had in all innocence put my own security on the line to protect someone from a very profound sex offender, and here I was being treated as a criminal.
In came the frustration. I'd been talking about my methods to police, lawyers, politicians, in fact I'd even discussed those methods in detail on TV and radio on many occasions, and not one person had ever suggested that those methods could have been construed as being
illegal in any way. It's no wonder then that I was feeling very frustrated and angry.
Magistrate courts followed. Month after month preparing a defence for things that I hadn't done, things that I still could not understand. I could see no end to it. I took no more calls, my telephone line had been cut off, I received no more mail, my post office box had been diverted. My home was raided by police, and all of my work and files were removed. I was told that they were looking for a wall safe; I don't actually have one but it did give my solicitor and me an insight into the kind of information that these policemen would act on. Someone somewhere was giving them information that was just ridiculous. If it wasn't so destructive it would almost be farcical. I never did find out what they were supposed to be looking for.
It was a week or so from the case, I was to be tried in Bristol. My lawyers had told me not to worry; those that knew the case told me that it could never stand up. My wife and children were equally confident and supportive, but I was the guy in the dock, and when you are in that position, believe me, you worry.
I needed to do something, I was scared, I was frustrated, I was totally disillusioned with our police and prosecution services, but most of all I was angry, very, very, angry.
I started to write. First about me, about my feelings, but I found it far too difficult. I wiped it out, and sat for a long time staring at a blank screen, my years of charity work buzzing through my head. I had thousands of stories, any one of which would defy belief. But all of which I could relate to. I again started to write.