Thoughts on Disclosing Childhood Abuse to the Authorities
Harm None? How do we judge
Things have moved on a bit since I last thought about this.
I was asked to talk to social services, who informed me that they would want to consider what action they would take based on my story and that the natures of things was that they might have to also refer this to the police.
So the question became do I talk to them, to tell them my story or not? It is not in this case a simple equation of who will be harmed by my actions and what offset benefit might there be. It is a question of where responsibility lies.
The core of the problem is that if I was to open up to them then the control of what happened with information, and what the consequences were, would no longer be in my hands, and it would be me of my own free will giving that control over to them. How does that sit with the ideas of personal responsibility imbedded in the injunction to ‘harm none’?
Giving away control
For me the decision has to still be based on harm verses benefit assessment. What benefits can, could come from passing over control of the knowledge and what are the potential harms.
Here of course we need to think not in terms of absolute harms and benefits but in terms of relative ones. How does the balance of harm and benefit change between the current state, where social services are not involved, and a potential state where I have given control, of at least some aspects of the issue, over to them?
Now of course these will be very different in different situations and such judgments are not easy for anybody, even when you are able to make a logical disinterested assessment of the situation, which naturally in the cerci stances I am not! So I will in this case limit my thoughts to the problem facing me.
Given that what I would be giving control over away is the knowledge of childhood sexual abuse / non recent abuse where do I sit in the question of giving control of my story away?
The key for me is in the process of relinquishing that control. It is, for me at least, a two stage thing.
Firstly it’s about thinking about how will giving away control impact people me included.
Do I think, that given a level of trust that the authorities will act appropriately, professionally and in the interests of all concerned, that the probable result of me disclosing formally to them would result in more harm than good and that the risk of future harm to me and others is reduced or not.
Secondly there is that question of trust. In giving a way control I have to trust that the authority I am giving it to will act in a way that I will approve of.
The question is then do I have reason to trust, or distrust, the authority / organisation in question.
In assessing this it is necessary to look at the objectives of the organisation. For example Social Services will, in the most part, be concerned with preventing harm to others rather than in my well-being. This is quite understandable given their remit but needs to be considered. Additionally there is the more general question of whether or not the organisation has a record of doing a ‘good’ job in an appropriate way. This will obviously include both personal knowledge and experience as well as more public information.
Responsibility: Mine V Others
So back to the original question, where does the responsibility lie?
For me the responsibility I have, in this situation, is to decide whether or not to pass control of the situation over to this third person but there is another part to this question now. Can I ‘fully’ pass over responsibility to this third person or does there remain a residual responsibility on me and if so what is it nature?
For the first part I think that I do have the right to make the decision to pass over control, and with that control the responsibility also passes. If I have made the ‘best’ decision I can then the responsibility then lies with the person, organisation, to who I have passed the control to.
For the second part, is there a residual responsibility? Again I feel the answer is yes.
I have a responsibility to ‘monitor’ how the organisation, as best I can, is discharging its responsibility and to cooperate with the organisation in its work. As long of course as that cooperation does not breach the original decision that the organisation could be trusted to user the responsibility properly.
I also have a personal responsibility to try and let go, to accept that the responsibility has passed to another and to try and not worry or let anxiety get the better of me over it. Easier said than done of course.