The Politics of Sexual Abuse

WorldbyStorm has written over at the Cedar Lounge Revolution under the heading “As the Dust Settles” about the propriety of discussing or not discussing Gerry Adams’ actions (and inactions) in relation to abuse of his niece.

WbS’s first comment is that this may go to trial, and a future trial should not be prejudiced.  This is a good point and one that should always be born in mind.  There is a lot more though.  He goes on to ask if the matter should be discussed at all in a political blog, if it is not a political issue.  He suggests that it would only have become political if there had been a backlash against Sinn Fein in the polls.  WbS then says that Sinn Fein’s moves towards left alliances don’t necessarily give the left a right to ask questions on this.   Then, he asks – is the personal indistinguishable from the political ?  And finally, are Sinn Fein and Adams one and the same thing ?

Primarily it begs the question is this a political matter at this point in time? There have been no resignations or protests within SF over this matter. There has been, bar one or two peripheral interjections, no serious political attacks on Adams or SF by their opponents. There have been no attempts that one can tell from reading the media by the governments or by Nationalists, Republicans or non-aligned people generally to protest. There is no evidence that this has altered in the immediate past – or during the current talks – the policy positions of either SF or other parties North or South. And if it were to hang heavily upon those involved in the talks the bizarre events surrounding other politicians would – one presumes – cancel out their effect. In other words, what then particularly is the political issue as it stands at the moment that can be pointed at that relates to this? And if there is none so far evident then what are the political ramifications?

Plenty of reasons there to settle the dust – indeed a reflex to encourage this particular dust to settle seems to have occurred throughout the body politic and much of the general public.  The reasons for this are worth a separate examination on another occasion.

I certainly wouldn’t want to prejudice a trial, but WorldbyStorm’s other arguments don’t convince me.   This is far from the first time that there have been allegations of sexual abuse in parties of the left, internationally and not the first discussion of the subject.   The exposure of sexual abuse in the Church has raised conciousness  that institutionalised abuse is a social and political phenomenon, not just a personal flaw.

What has struck me forcibly about the public, press and politicians’ reactions to the Adams predicament is precisely the absence of discussion of the politics of sex abuse in Ireland.  Could sexual abuse in the Republican movement mean something different to sexual abuse the Church, where it was patently part of the means of social control and exploitation of the working class ?  Working class boys, girls and young women were made into unpaid slaves, objects for personal gratification and a source of income to sustain a layer of religious whose role was to support social hierarchies.  The Church became an extension to the State, with Gardai returning escaped young people back to these work camps.

Sexual abuse is exploitation that takes place in situations where there is inequality and uncontrolled power.  There have been instances of abuse of women party members or family members in the past in parties of the left and it appears, republican parties, going back at least to the 1970s.  Advantage was cynically taken of devotion and loyalty of the victimised families.  But this betrayal of loyalty not only hurts the individual but it also hurts the party.

A pattern of abuse or cover up of abuse by leading figures of any progressive party, should it occur, would be highly symptomatic that the politics or the organisation had become sick, or that there was infiltration and abuse was used as a weapon to demoralise, or both.  It is divisive within an organisation, destructive of morale and leaves the party wide open to blackmail or public exposure.

A party founded to obtain social justice and equality, if it had not been corrupted and politically derailed, would not tolerate abuse.    There has been no trial as yet, nor is there any sign of one.   The dust may or not be settling.  Both a trial and a lot more discussion of the politics of sexual abuse might help to sweep it away.

Cactusflower   5.2.2010


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