Flowers laid for the victims of child abuse (Photo by Susan G Crocombe)
Yesterday, for the first time ever, survivors of child abuse were invited into Parliament. Around 300 people from all over the country crammed into the House of Common’s biggest meeting room, standing and sitting on the floor, thanks to an invitation by John Mann MP.
The last three years have seen ever grimmer child abuse scandals surface, with few areas of British public life immune. It seems like after decades, the country is finallytaking these accusations seriously and the victims themselves are finally being listened to in the corridors of power.
Called the “White Flower” campaign, it draws inspiration from a popular campaign that saw thousands take to the street with white flowers to protest high level paedophile rings in Belgium. The day started with campaigners laying white wreaths and flowers next to the Houses of Parliament to commemorate children that had been murdered, disappeared or abused.
In the meeting, emotions were running understandably high. Its purpose was to call for a statutory inquiry into organised child abuse that is “fit for purpose”. Campaigners want the government’s inquiry into child abuse to tackle organised and institutional child abuse from 1945 until today and to be a Statutory inquiry – with power to stop any more evidence disappearing or being shredded.
Seven months after the inquiry was announced, progress has been slow, as both chairs – Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss and Fiona Woolf – were forced to resign after accusations that they were too cosy with establishment figures.
VICE chatted to two of the campaign’s key organisers about why they’re speaking out and what they hope to achieve.
Phil Frampton, pictured above as a child, is the co-ordinator of the White Flower Campaign.
VICE: What is the White Flower Campaign?
Phil Frampton: In Belgium thousands took to the streets, the whole country protested the organised child abuse scandal there. We want to take the issue to the streets here. We will make sure survivors’ voices are heard in the public inquiry. We have held a white flower vigil here today outside Parliament, and we will be holding them around the country, wherever children were abused. We want people to come forward and for their voices to be heard.
What do you want from the public inquiry?
We want it to tackle all abuse and go further back than 1970. It’s not transparent. The choice of chair and panel member must be absolutely transparent. And we want people who come and testify to get proper support and protection. And dedicated, trained police who will be on hand to investigate the claims that are made. People need to believe in this inquiry so as many survivors as possible can come forward. Many of us here have been campaigning on this issue for decades.
How did you get involved in campaigning?
I was in born into care and was in care until I was 18. I’m what they call a publicity seeker. We’ve been called treasure hunters, only in it for the money, and now David Cameron is calling us conspiracy theorists.
That’s why we’re here, united against abusers. We are survivors, whistle-blowers, MP’s, child protection professionals. We’re publicity seekers. It’s time we were heard. 11 million survivors united will not be defeated. 11 million survivors can end the misery of child abuse.
Are you optimistic you will succeed?
The public inquiry has stalled before it’s even begun. But we believe that Theresa May has the power to resume it. My childhood and working with child abuse survivors has taught me to be realistic. But right now, I don’t believe this can all be swept under the carpet any more. I am definitely optimistic.
Nigel O’Mara, pictured above, is a child abuse campaigner who has faced threats and violence during his search for justice.
VICE: Can you talk a bit about why you’re here?
Nigel O’Mara: I am a survivor of abuse in care homes and I set up UK’s first ever helpline for male survivors – The Survivors’ Helpline. I set it up in 1986, and started bringing things into the public domain. And I paid dearly for it.
I was beaten half to death three times. During the North Wales child abuse scandal I supported survivors. I was warned that my life would not be worth living if I continued. I was attacked in my own home. My partner escaped and managed to tell the police. They never came. I told them what had happened and they said, “well what do you expect”.
And they did nothing about it?
I knew not to expect much from the police. I reported being sexually abused to the police aged 12, and they told me that it doesn’t happen to boys. Me and my other friends reported it to the police but nothing was done. Back then it was impossible to convict paedophiles. Things are a lot better now. But there is still a long way to go.
And what do you want to see coming out of this campaign?
I’d like to see an open and transparent inquiry that enables all survivors to take part, whether they are aged 10 or 100. That’s why we’re called survivors. Because we are still alive. Many of my friends were not here today. Some like Jason Swift were murdered.
Others we lost to suicide or drugs. The effects of being abused in childhood are catastrophic. For me, it meant I rebelled against people in charge of me and went through the care system, and was spat out and became homeless. I survived destitution by prostitution. And I survived that through drugs. The cycle of self-harm did untold damage. And 40 years on, the abuse still affects me. I speak and write six European languages but I never got any qualifications.
We want a review of services, so everybody who needs support can afford it. We want justice for people who were kids then and for kids now to know that there are people who will stand up for them.