THE puerile stunt by Sydney radio jocks Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O on Wednesday, in which a 14-year-old girl was strapped to a lie detector and interrogated by her mother about sexual matters, reveals more than just the nation’s shock that the distressed girl disclosed she was raped as a 12-year-old.
The stupidity and crassness of Sandilands and Ms O aside, the incident amplified another more disturbing and sinister aspect of disclosure by children. It is the agony and terror faced by many child victims of sexual violence who find the courage to tell an adult, only to have that adult fail to respond with any shred of justice or decency.
For as this grotesque and cheap radio stunt revealed, the child had previously told her mother of the rape and from all reports, her repeated disclosure appeared to be a source of amusement rather than concern. The adults in this stunt should all be charged with a form of child abuse. In addition to questioning the moral compass that guided the actions of a mother (and radio station for that matter) to subject her child to humiliating and degrading interrogation on live radio, there is the further moral, and even legal, question about a parent ignoring an earlier disclosure by their child.
The case is a sad but salutary example of the common experience faced by many child victims of sexual violence: telling an adult, often a parent, and having their truth, their terror, their suffering either disbelieved, ignored or used as the basis for punishment.
Delayed disclosure by children, vis-a-vis the rejection of children’s disclosures by adults, are a common feature of child sexual abuse. This fact continues to be a shameful indictment on society. Recent studies here and abroad attest to the currency given to myths and stereotypes that lead adults to disbelieve child and adult victims when they disclose rape and sexual assault. So you can imagine the courage it takes for a child or adult to disclose to an adult they believe they can trust.
Sandilands and Ms O debased themselves and it is likely their posturing and theatrical hand-wringing about their moral culpability will best be tested in the court of public opinion. One can only hope that listeners vote with the radio dial.
However, the foremost action required has to do with the welfare of the child in this case. She is thrice victimised: first by the rape; then by the lack of proper action and care for her initial disclosure to a parent; and then finally on live radio.
Now imagine the cumulative impacts of trauma and distress this girl would have suffered from the rape, the failure to have her disclosure responded to, and the distress and humiliation of interrogation and further disclosure on radio.
While the community retains for a time the appropriate sense of moral repugnancy for the treatment of this child on air and in the privacy of her family home where she no doubt disclosed the rape previously, close your eyes a moment and imagine what it must be like for a child to suffer rape, disclose and have that disclosure ignored or rejected.
Imagine the sense of shame, distress, terror, fear and additional layers of trauma accumulating in the heart, mind and soul of such a child. Now imagine the thousands of children out there experiencing this as we speak, because research tells us the delayed disclosure by children and inappropriate responses to their disclosures by adults are all too frequent realities for many child victims.
Despite her distress, the truth, courage and dignity of this girl is a powerful and exemplary lesson that children continue to be unheard about sexual violence.
Don’t let our collective outrage and moral compass view this repulsive radio stunt as just another example of shock-jock rating grabs. To do so would be to lose a deeper lesson that has the capacity to ennoble our collective character.
If you listen really carefully with your heart you will find that the silence of abused children is in fact our inability to hear. Listen carefully, they are actually crying out to be heard by us.
Professor S. Caroline Taylor is foundation chair in social justice, Edith Cowan University, WA, and founder and chairwoman of Children of Phoenix Org (www.childrenofphoenix.org)