I remember the very moment I lose respect for a senior leader in a previous job. I had a live child protection incident, and I was following the procedure as required and was passing it on.
“Don’t worry about it. They say stuff like this all the time. It won’t be true…”
It was true. I knew it was true. The child knew it was true. And the person they had disclosed on knew it was true. I was told to just forget it and move on. I assume the CP form I completed got binned. Or is still under a huge pile of undealt with similar incidents because that’s just how the world works. I never recovered the lost respect for that person, I don’t think I ever will.
The thing is – we can throw statistics around about how the figure of untrue disclosures are so minimal that they barely exist but it doesn’t seem to make much difference. As soon as something is disclosed – the go to is not to believe it. Do you know what happens when we disbelieve someone? Have we ever really considered what it takes to disclose something like that?
There are a myriad of reasons why victims stay quiet. The majority don’t come forward for their own mental protection. We’re all hard wired to believe that people aren’t capable of bad things – they are. So in turn, we had wire people to stay quiet. Nothing good comes from a disclosure. More often than not the disclosure is against someone that is known to the victim, and therefore to their friends, family, wider community etc etc. Disclosures are met with cries of “they would never…” and “but they seem so nice…” and such like. Disclosures are met with disbelief and criticism of the victim – we blame their age, their clothes, their vulnerability, their sex, their own perception of what happen. We, as a collective society, gaslight them into believing they must have ‘mistaken the intention’ of the behaviour.
Do we even stop to consider what it might have taken for a disclosure to come in the first place?
Because, at some point, the blame is placed on the victim regardless. We have proved that as a society again and again.
Even when Sarah Everard was murdered by a serving police officer we said ‘SHE was just walking home’. That makes me really uncomfortable. It had nothing to do with what SHE was doing snd 100% to do with what her murderer was doing. But even in supportive response we put it on her.
Please, please believe someone if they tell you that something happened to them. The pain they’ve gone through to get to the point of disclosing is unimaginable. Please know that nothing good comes from disclosing. So if someone is telling you something then the chances are they mean it.
All that cynicism brings is silence. Victims don’t disclose, children don’t speak out, we sit behind a wall of silence and disbelief because we just can’t bring ourselves to accept that people do bad things.
When we disbelieve victims we undo all the good that is done everyday for survivors and victims. We dismantle the message of ‘just tell someone…’ when we don’t believe victims. We reaffirm to them that they’re words and experiences are meaningless. We invalidate their feelings. By refusing to acknowledge and tackle head on the very real fact that over 97% of all disclosures are 100% true we do a disservice to all those who have suffered, and who continue to suffer in silence.
Because as long as we still suggest that someone might be lying, we continue to be cynical. We could to keep to get it wrong.
Don’t be the one who gets it wrong.