“Conspiracy of Faith” by Graham Wilmer
Lutterworth Press £12.50 www.lutterworth.com
ISBN: 0 7188 3058 X
Accounts of sexual abuse by teachers on young boys, at one time, would have been considered unusual, shocking, and outrageous. The content still is, but the regularity of reporting has become, sadly, all too common. To a legal practitioner, who spends each day reading such stories, the events relayed by this book ring a very familiar note. No matter how many times you read them, their impact remains the same. It is impossible to become hardened to such events.
The book tells the story of how the author was sexually abused as a child by a teacher at the Salesian College in Chertsey, Surrey over a 2 year period. Whilst he has the courage to complain to a Catholic priest during and outside confession, no action is taken, and the abuser moved elsewhere. Graham’s performance at school and his behaviour deteriorates rapidly, but is not detected or investigated. He is even refused permission to resit his “O” Levels. In adult life he struggles with relationships, and employment, until triggered psychologically. He was asked to help with the media storm following allegations of sexual abuse made against a high security psychiatric hospital where he was working. He descends into drink, and has a breakdown, which eventually leads to him deciding to both prosecute his former abuser and claim compensation.
The remainder of the book recounts in gripping detail how the system lets him down, and the way in which he deals with the frustrating effects of the process. There are criticisms and lessons to be learned by the Catholic Church, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Police, as well as central and local government. The pain Graham feels, sitting at home waiting for the process to finish, is telling. One almost feels all the emotions, as the process grinds its way, slowly, to a conclusion. I will not tell you what happened, as it will spoil the conclusion. As a legal practitioner we often forget, or do not appreciate, that whilst the process is a necessary part of the process of healing for the survivor, each event carries with it pain and frustration, that we ought to account for, and understand.
I am often asked to review this type of book. To some extent such reading is necessary for the job. Often survivors want to tell their story. Seldom, however, is a book as well written as this one. I found myself gripped by the story, and could not wait to find out what happened. Part way through the book I discovered why – Mr. Wilner is an author of other publications – as he says himself “ although I had been labelled an academic disaster….I did have talents…I could write creatively.” Having read the book I agree wholeheartedly with the comment. The chapters are short, and easy to read. The whole book only runs to 127 pages, and could easily be read in one sitting.
A trap, which many survivors fall into, is to blame any misfortune from which they suffer upon the abuse they suffered in childhood. Whilst it obviously has a profound influence, life is a multi-factorial experience with many different triggers, all of which combine to make us who we are. Graham in this book manages to avoid angry criticism in a delightful way, which only reinforces our immense sympathy for his situation. As the promotional material states “although it may make you angry, it is not without hope.”
Graham describes how he channelled his energies positively into setting up the Lantern project (www.survivorslantern.org), whose purpose is to help the victims of child abuse cope with their problems. Why did he write the book – “it might just help others find the way out of their darkness and find the support that they need to climb the long ladder that takes you from the pit of despair back into the sunshine”… a selfless attitude that is typical of all survivors of abuse. The final paragraph leaves a lump in your throat –
“I have this message for my fellow survivors: Be proud of who you are. You are unique and wonderful individuals, something you can and should celebrate. You are not alone, and you will survive if you want to, but you really have to want to. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, but don’t expect the world to stop and listen to you, when you do. Ours is a tiny voice in a very violent storm, but if we all shout together, someone will eventually hear us.”
I wholeheartedly recommend this book to all. Professionals, particularly, should read it as an example of how not to provide a victim of abuse with the justice they so richly deserve. Survivors will be imbued with hope that, despite the outcome, the process is a worthwhile one, which can, and did in this case, lead one back “into the sunshine”.
© Peter Garsden, Abney Garsden McDonald solicitors, Vice-President, Association of Child Abuse Lawyers www.childabuselawyers.com Email: firstname.lastname@example.org