When abuse is just another news story

16 Apr


I was driving home from my appointment with my shrink, with whom I’m attempting to unravel the mystery of how events of the past inescapably determine the present (“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” George Santayana. Remember it) when I heard on ABC Radio National’s The World Today this report of evidence given at the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse.

The report was preceded by a warning of “disturbing” content.

The content is disturbing. It might make you weep. It might make you remember. It might make you rage. It might make your heart break.

But what is even more disturbing is the manner in which this disturbing content, like all other disturbing content, is transmogrified from a heartbreaking, terrifying, rage-provoking account of one man’s childhood into nothing more than another news story in a busy news cycle, the majority of which is comprised of disturbing content of one kind or another. In other words, as soon as this disturbing event is reported we move immediately onto something else, as is routine, as is expected in a media-drenched world where news is barely considered interesting unless it’s disturbing. The need of comfortable people for the thrill of vicarious disturbance should never be underestimated.

What we should have had after Mr David Owen’s story is a minute’s silence. What we should have had is a minute to absorb the magnitude of his suffering. What we should have had is a minute to reflect that Mr Owen’s story of childhood sexual abuse is repeated and repeated and repeated, perhaps a billion or more times around the globe.

What we also should have had is the opportunity to reflect that while it is on the one hand a “good” thing that these matters are now public, it is also possibly a “bad” thing that they are treated as one more story in the news cycle, and that as a society we are becoming so inured to disturbing content that we can be momentarily appalled then move on, within seconds, to the next piece of news without as much as a moment to catch our breaths and reflect upon what we have just heard.

Everything is a damn hashtag. Everything.

It is unrealistic of me to want a minute’s silence after reports such as that on Mr Owen’s childhood suffering. Yet I was outraged by the manner in which his account of the details of his abuse was slotted between other items of interest to the ABC’s midday audience, and I was infuriated by how we are expected to lurch from stories of such atrocities to something Tony Abbott said with nary a second to catch our breaths. How can atrocity become anything more than wall paper when it’s doled out on the hour in sound bites? And what is this doing to us?

I don’t know what purpose was served by the ABC reporting Mr Owen’s evidence, in all its aching detail, in little more than a sound bite. Fair enough if some time is dedicated to the topic. Fair enough if some respect is accorded to the man, and to his experiences. But to sandwich it between Abbott and the jobless figures is a step too far.

While everyone ought to know what happens to far too many children, and the aftermath, it isn’t a sound bite. Mr Owen is a man of tremendous courage and resilience. His story isn’t fodder for the news cycle.

67 Responses to “When abuse is just another news story”

  1. Marilyn April 16, 2015 at 6:24 pm #

    As we have a government trying to legalise the murder of innocent refugees in illegal prisons and a media too fucking lazy to have noticed for weeks, why do you think the rape and torture of kids matters a frigging damn to our lazy media.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jim Fitzgerald April 16, 2015 at 6:34 pm #

    The Royal Commission into Custodial Deaths of Indigenous Australian taught us nothing. As will this RC. Media is controlled by consumers. Until us consumers demand the uncomfortable truth, the media will continue the soft sell.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson April 16, 2015 at 6:36 pm #

      Yes. And atrocity is a commodity.


      • paul walter April 16, 2015 at 7:20 pm #

        Jennifer, in the Economy of Excess, Atrocity certainly is the crown jewel.

        Like flies round an ailing sheep’s blown bot the consumers swarm, conditioned and addicted by and to their now effectively lobotomied unconscious morbidity, melancholy,prurience and abjection stimulated by this disguised porn, like Orwell’s movie theatre audience watching and even cheering battle massacres.

        Jim Fitzgerald, it is getting late in the day, they have even dumbed the Guardian in the cruelest way possible and watching public broadcasting has become a drastic punishment, for those who remember its recent glory days…individuals keepi nformed on the net, but the problem of audience dispersal and adaption remains an unfolding story.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. paul walter April 16, 2015 at 7:05 pm #

    Fascinating commentary, a thousand thanks, Jennifer Wilson.

    I’d love to add some thing helpful, but am fresh from another aborted Drum episode and am too reminded that dumbing down is in its tertiary phase, with Dr Wilson’s example one more in a new era of post-substance media.

    It is post-substance, because actual content has been culled or disguised to avoid belling of topical cats, as with the examples Jennifer and Marilyn cite, or post-substance even employed in Orwellian style to humiliate audiences, after the example of the Drum’s coverage of Victoria having to buy its way out of East West Transit, with the story presented as a mischievous upsteting of sensitive souls like the developers rather than in the context of what sort of public transport a growing city actually needs and the employ of infrastructure to benefit vested interests rather than a community.

    Liked by 1 person

    • paul walter April 16, 2015 at 7:27 pm #

      We implore the ghosts of Battaille, Barthes and Baudrillard,

      “Resurrect yourselves”, we cry and sally forth to lead us to a Promised Land beyond, above our own half stung conception.

      Ho!! … “Onward and Upward…Onward, ever Upward”.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jennifer Wilson April 16, 2015 at 8:57 pm #

        PW you omitted Foucault, and I suspect it was only because of your desire for the alliterative experience . Ha! 🙂


        • paul walter April 16, 2015 at 9:38 pm #


          Liked by 1 person

          • Jennifer Wilson April 17, 2015 at 6:59 am #

            One of my favourite things, jouissance 🙂


            • Michaela Tschudi April 18, 2015 at 11:16 am #

              You just reminded me of Helene Cixous. Haven’t read her for ages. Love that word.


    • Jennifer Wilson April 16, 2015 at 8:55 pm #

      PW, your persistence with the Drum in the face of constant disappointment is remarkable.


    • doug quixote April 16, 2015 at 11:31 pm #

      The Drum! Then there really is someone who watches it?

      IPA goons abound, and the occasional bleeding heart is dragooned in for “Balance” – that’s what it was a year ago, last time I watched. Is it any different now?


      • paul walter April 17, 2015 at 12:18 am #

        Yes, did you read Jennifer paying tribute to my perserverence in the face of underwhelming adversity?

        Or is this evidence of a masochistic symptomology?

        A year ago it rock bottomed, or so we thought, yet I remain transfixed at the ways it can plumb hirthoe inconceivable depths.

        Macabre, I know. Morbid.. probably. Haven’t we all at least one furtive vice we prefer to remain obscured from our fellows?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Marilyn April 17, 2015 at 5:50 am #

        The ABC has become the IPA home.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. paul walter April 16, 2015 at 8:04 pm #

    Look, all is not lost though- do not despair.

    Two examples from the Lifestyle section of the SMH:

    “Gwyneth Paltrow scolded Tracy Anderson’s diet” and

    “Are toxins in your diet making you fat?”

    If even that can’t satisfy a reader there is,

    “Outfit repeat.. Wearing the same thing ( every day, like a fella I knew at a doss house years ago?) everyday for three years”.

    Now I ask you…like, whooaahh?

    On reconsideration, are we not being just a little churlish when put in consideration of presentations such as these.. I mean (really) what is it we that we actually WANT?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jennifer Wilson April 16, 2015 at 8:48 pm #

      We are going to hell in a handcart, PW.
      What the fuck is “lifestyle” anyway?
      Personally, I’d rather have a life, the style can go fuck itself.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. samjandwich April 16, 2015 at 8:47 pm #

    There is a strange sort of tension in this royal commission between the compassionate space it provides to survivors (in the sense that they have “survived” abuse… I wonder is this term falling out of favour?) to describe their experiences of abuse (not to say “their abuse”. Once you are abused does it really have to become “yours”?) to people who will listen finally, and the exigencies of a legal process. Ultimately the accounts of abuse given by individuals are considered equivalent to those of perpetrators, or of institutions that bungled investigations, since they are all “witnesses”, and the Commission can only consider “evidence” that is brought before it.

    You see they commissioners make an effort to acknowledge and show admiration and gratitude to survivors, and maybe you can say it’s condescending or it’s never enough but it appears that platitudes make up the majority of our armoury for addressing such matters. Hopefully they accumulate.

    I do also think the commission is pretty strategic about the fact that it needs to continually justify its existence and maintain its place in the spotlight in order to make the difference it wants to make, and does therefore not shy away from the temptation of making a spectacle of the intimate details – “The need of comfortable people for the thrill of vicarious disturbance should never be underestimated.”? Exactly. I wonder whether the commission could be more sensitive about this, but then it also employs a vast army of counsellors who presumably do what they can to alert witnesses to what to expect of the media’s likely treatment of their testimony… as if it is in fact possible to prepare someone for how they will feel about a future event.

    The media’s treatment of this material is pretty inappropriate, but I wonder whether what you’re seeing is the processing behaviour of a society that (still?) isn’t ready to deal with/understand the gravity of what’s being said and of the lifelong effects of abuse. It does take quite a bit of emotional intelligence and prior knowledge in order to do so, it seems to me, and there are microcosms of this, but overall the world is still a pretty perilous place for wandering innermost personal thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson April 16, 2015 at 8:51 pm #

      You are absolutely spot on, Sam, I don’t think we are in general ready or willing to deal with the gravity of the atrocities.
      I have no problem with what people want to disclose to the RC, and nothing but admiration for their courage. I hope with all my heart there is help made available to them.
      It’s the media management of the details that sickens me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • samjandwich April 17, 2015 at 7:33 am #

        Yes and perhaps I’m being too accommodating, since another element to this that I think’s worth pointing out is the inescapable observation that a large proportion of journalists really are just complete fucking subhuman cunts who will trample over anything and anyone in order to bring others down to their level!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer Wilson April 17, 2015 at 9:21 am #

          Tho I still prefer rat fuckers to cunt as a term of contempt, for reasons I have explained elsewhere on this blog. LOL


          • samjandwich April 17, 2015 at 10:43 am #

            Language is so problematic… I feel sorry for the rats!

            Liked by 1 person

            • paul walter April 17, 2015 at 11:18 am #

              Paradoxically, you both got it right and in sequence.

              Liked by 1 person

              • paul walter April 17, 2015 at 11:22 am #

                samjandwich, very, very, very fine stuff- beautifully unpacked.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Jennifer Wilson April 17, 2015 at 11:28 am #

                  Yes, I agree. Sam has a fine mind coupled with emotional intelligence. A rare combination, except for commenters on this blog.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • paul walter April 17, 2015 at 5:25 pm #

                    We seek to emulate the owner.

                    Liked by 3 people

                    • samjandwich April 18, 2015 at 6:14 pm #


                      Liked by 1 person

          • doug quixote April 17, 2015 at 10:11 pm #

            I have tried to establish the neologism ‘tabbott’ as the worst and most depraved word in the language, with all the downsides of ‘cunt’ but with none of the useful attributes, but although it is used widely people seem to think it has something to do with the Prime Minister – can’t think why.

            ‘Rat fuckers’ seems against animal welfare guidelines. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

          • paul walter April 19, 2015 at 6:22 pm #

            Or, for the more genteel, a mouse’s ear.


    • Michaela Tschudi April 18, 2015 at 11:18 am #

      Beautifully said Sam


  6. Di Pearton April 16, 2015 at 9:10 pm #

    OMG, that is exactly how I felt! I was not even listening, the radio was on at work, and I almost heard it while I was doing my notes. I was shocked and appalled, and yes it may have been okay had it been followed by twenty minute’s contemplation.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. doug quixote April 16, 2015 at 11:36 pm #

    Atrocity follows atrocity, as our news organisations trawl the world for massacres, murders, cyclones, floods, fires, aircraft crashes etc etc etc

    It’s all grist to the mill. Cry over what you will; the only way to avoid it is to go live in a cave.

    (DQ sighs)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jennifer Wilson April 17, 2015 at 7:01 am #

      As a lifestyle choice, a cave is not the worst way to go

      Liked by 1 person

      • paul walter April 17, 2015 at 11:19 am #

        Plato thought much of them.

        Liked by 1 person

        • doug quixote April 18, 2015 at 7:29 am #

          As did Muhammad. When he came out of his he founded a new religion. Caves have a lot to answer for.

          But I still love Jenolan Caves.


          • Jennifer Wilson April 18, 2015 at 7:44 am #

            I hated those caves,DQ. They gave me claustrophobia and at one point the only way forward made me think I was back in the birth canal.


      • Michaela Tschudi April 17, 2015 at 9:17 pm #

        My cave must have wifi.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Michaela Tschudi April 17, 2015 at 9:11 pm #

      I’ve been in a cave of sorts this past week, no phones, no music, and no access to the remote control for the TV. Sadly the only media I’ve been able to access is the daily Telegraph, and what a shocker it is. Profits from others’ misery. I agree with Jennifer. We’re all going to hell in a handcart. The world is, indeed, fucked. A wise woman once told me the sooner I realised that, the better.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. sexhysteria April 17, 2015 at 6:05 pm #

    Reports of child sex abuse that are neutral or positive would have just as much sensationalist value, in theory, but the media won’t report such cases because they contradict the politically correct dogma that early sex is always or usually tragic.

    The U.S. Congress actually censored the American Psychological Association for publishing the Rind et al. (1998) meta-analysis of 59 unbiased studies that found child sex abuse is NOT usually seriously harmful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • doug quixote April 17, 2015 at 10:20 pm #

      Hmmm. The problem is that the child cannot give consent.

      By definition sex with a child is exploitation.

      There are grey areas such as just how today’s 15 year old is incapable of consenting. That is in need of revision. But the best rule for sex with underage persons is, don’t.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson April 18, 2015 at 7:50 am #

      Sexhysteria: There is no such thing as one form of “child sex abuse.” There are many variables, so the blanket statement that “child sex abuse is NOT usually seriously harmful” is in my view seriously erroneous.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Diane Pearton April 18, 2015 at 8:22 am #

        And is there an ‘unbiased study’? And how do we measure/assess harm?
        As a society we decide on a definition of child, and we acknowledge that a child cannot consent.
        Of course there may be grey areas but I think to lower this age would be to let our young people down. Just because the world of commerce and consumerism is keen for our young people to grow up, it does not mean that their brains mature earlier.
        As DQ says, just don’t.

        Liked by 1 person

        • sexhysteria April 22, 2015 at 3:30 pm #

          You may “acknowledge” that a child (which child?) cannot consent, but some people (e.g. me) recognize that competence to consent is more complex than merely counting birthdays. I’m not suggesting that the age of consent be lowered; I’m in favor of doing away with the concept of age of consent entirely, since it’s merely a sloppy administrative convenience, not an expression of eternal wisdom.

          A responsible judgment of an individual’s competence to consent requires extensive evauation of the individual and the unique circumstances in each case, not some simple rule like counting birthdays. https://sexhysteria.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/age-of-consent/


          • doug quixote April 22, 2015 at 9:17 pm #

            Good luck with that proposal, putative paedophile.

            In the meantime, keep your hands off legally defined underage people.


            • sexhysteria April 23, 2015 at 5:40 pm #

              doug quixote, If the best you can do in repsonse to my detailed and documented argument is resort to petty name-calling (and quite unjustified since I’ve never advocated or defended intergeneratonal sex), then that doesn’t say much for your position, does it?


              • doug quixote April 23, 2015 at 7:08 pm #

                Intergeneratonal (sic) sex!!

                Supposing that intergenerational sex is what you call it, it is very clear that you have a problem.

                A legal problem.

                Please supply your name and address to the police, they want to add you to their lists, if you aren’t already on them.


                • paul walter April 24, 2015 at 1:02 pm #

                  Personally, I found as a young man, much in older women to commend them, as to mutually advantageous collaborations.


                • sexhysteria April 24, 2015 at 4:32 pm #

                  Are you trying to change the subject? Would you rather make personal attacks instead of addressing the evidence? I wonder why.


    • eroticmoustache April 22, 2015 at 1:16 pm #

      I’m not sure promoting that site in this context is especially appropriate. The subject of this article was undeniably a victim of abuse of various sorts, including sexual. In fact, I’m inclined to suggest that your post and promotion of that site – in this context – constitutes a not so insignificant disregard for that person’s suffering.

      Liked by 1 person

      • eroticmoustache April 22, 2015 at 1:17 pm #

        Damn, I hope it’s understood my post was directed at “sexhysteria”.


        • sexhysteria April 22, 2015 at 3:38 pm #

          I’m all in favor of sensitivity to genuine victims of severe abuse, but I’m also in favor of sensitivity toward the millions of overprotected “good” girls who are mentally castrated every year – a cultural practice that continues thanks in part to the mass hysteria over relatively rare cases of severe abuse (see the Rind study quoted above and below), promoted by the opportunists and profiteers in the sex abuse rescue business. https://sexhysteria.wordpress.com/2014/11/02/the-rind-study-censored/


          • eroticmoustache April 23, 2015 at 9:26 am #

            Well, I’m in favour of sensitivity to any victim of abuse, “severe” or otherwise. You understand, I’m sure, that there’s no one size fits all determination for “abuse” in any quantitative sense. Telling another person what they ought perceive as their “level” of abuse is itself, abuse.

            I’m certainly in agreement with you that there’s a measure of sexual hysteria in contemporary Western culture and one consequence of that is the profound damage that’s been done to father/daughter relationships, but this article is not the place for that kind of debate. Your theories, however calmly and lucidly offered, don’t apply. Perhaps your own blog is the appropriate place for a continuation of the discussion.


            • sexhysteria April 23, 2015 at 5:46 pm #

              Thanks for agreeing that there is sexual hysteria. I welcome you to continue this discussion wherever you like, since most people – and especially most women – are reluctant to even confront topics like widespread clitoral erectile dysfunction.


            • doug quixote April 23, 2015 at 7:30 pm #

              That translates to ‘sexhysteria’ fuck off. LOL

              Liked by 1 person

  9. Elisabeth April 17, 2015 at 8:33 pm #

    I had exactly the same sensation when I heard this radio report, Jennifer, the sudden shift from My Owen’s testimony to the cheery upbeat newsreader’s voice and I thought once again back to a quote from Margaret Simons where she writes about how ‘we are bled of awe’ through the media.

    Owen’s blood-soaked pants stay with me now and the farmer’s response to this poor abused boy, the wish to get rid of him, in much the same way the media seeks to get rid of these stories seconds after they’re over.

    At least in my mind and imagination I can offer this man a minute’s silence. His story stays with me and with you, Jennifer and I’m sure there are others who paid attention.

    Liked by 1 person

    • paul walter April 18, 2015 at 1:11 am #

      “And the people bowed and prayed
      to the neon god they made.”

      They don’t want people to rediscover that there can be more to life than money and the rat race.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson April 18, 2015 at 7:52 am #

      That is a perfect description, Elisabeth: “bled of awe” by the media.


      • helvityni April 18, 2015 at 9:45 am #

        I don’t have much (any) mercy for those Sisters of Satan either.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Diane Pearton April 18, 2015 at 1:27 pm #

          Sometimes you can find yourself wishing that there were a hell, eh?

          Liked by 1 person

  10. sexhysteria April 25, 2015 at 3:46 pm #

    Doug quixote, you dare too much. I quote specific and extensive evidence complete with links, and you merely make the empty claim that “the evidence is in,” who are you trying to fool? If you can’t address the evidence I quoted, then do the right thing and admit it.


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