OPINION: Victims suffer in blame game

Peter Stanford, a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards

The notion that people who have learned by their mistakes make good role models and powerful advocates for causes is, in general, a good one - and a popular one in our sector.

No one is more effective in inspiring young offenders who are heading for a life of crime to consider changing direction than someone who has been down the same road, but realised the errors of their ways and rebuilt their lives.

Margaret Hodge, her supporters claim, has learned from the mishandling of child abuse allegations in Islington Council children's homes when she was leader of the local authority in the 1980s. That background made her an ideal choice as our first Minister for Children we were told. And I was prepared to go along with that logic, despite the witch hunt against her by the Evening Standard in particular.

Then came her efforts to rubbish Demetrious Panton, a victim of that child abuse in Islington. He is "extremely disturbed", she wrote to the BBC chairman as she tried to have him silenced.

Besides displaying a political nous that would be inept for a parish council, let alone ministerial office, the remark reveals that she may have learned nothing at all. Just like the Catholic Church, which complains bitterly that the media won't let it move forward from its recent history of protecting abusive paedophile priests, the minister hasn't learned the most basic lesson - that you have to understand the victims and their pain and put that first. Rubbishing them, dismissing them, or paying them off is far from the end of the problem.

What has happened to them is something they will have to live with for the rest of their lives - something that is far more important than a minister's political career.

And, most importantly, it shows a failure to understand that one reason abusers got away with their crimes against children for so long was because people who should have known better dismissed the claims of those who had found the courage to speak out.

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