Media miss the big point

The media extends itself chasing hares about sex crime and political corruption while it systematically neglects fundamental injustices. By Vincent Browne.

The focus on Ivor Callely, and on others accused of abusing public funds for their own gain, misses a big point.

The focus on the threat Larry Murphy, the released rapist, poses to society, misses another big point.

We in the media are good at missing big points; our livelihoods depend on it. For missed big points are often uncomfortable.

The missed big point about Larry Murphy is that society is at major risk from sex abusers and rapists all the time and Larry Murphy, even if everything feared about him is valid, is of only marginal significance.

With apologies for “banging on” about this again (to use the phrase of a weary editor of this newspaper who is irritated by my repeated references to it), there is a major problem to do with sexual crime here and it is almost always misrepresented by the media.

The half-yearly crime figures tell us the trends in criminality under various headings, including sexual offences.

Invariably, when there is a rise in the reported incidence of sexual offences, there is media alarm, whereas the news might be welcome for it might mean that more people who are victims of sexual crime are reporting it, rather than an increase in the incidence of such crime. For the incidence of sexual crime is enormous.

I would like to be able to quote contemporary statistics on this but since the Government, which purports to be so concerned about sexual crime, especially that involving children, refuses to fund a further study on this (a study that would cost about the same as a single ministerial car and its drivers annually), I am unable to do that.

Therefore I have to rely on a study done nine years ago, funded mainly by the Department of Health and the Department of Justice, neither now interested in funding another such study. I refer to the Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland report published in 2002.

It showed that 5.6% of all women had been raped in childhood and 2.7% of all men had been raped in childhood.

That comes to somewhat more than 120,000 women and 60,000 men. Raped in childhood.

The report also showed that more than 130,000 women had been raped in adulthood and about 2,000 men. In all about 220,000 women were raped in their lifetime and about 66,000 men.

Close on 300,000 people raped in Ireland.

A quarter of the abusers of young girls were family members, half were non-family but known to the girls, and another quarter were strangers.

In the case of young boys, one in seven of the perpetrators were family members, two-thirds were non-family but known to the victim, and the remainder were strangers.

Almost a quarter of the perpetrators of sexual violence against women were intimate partners or ex-partners; 30 per cent were strangers.

Almost half of the abused people never told anybody of their abuse, prior to the study, and only a tiny proportion had reported their abuse to the Garda.

So we have almost an epidemic of sexual abuse and violence, the most serious incidence of all criminality in our society.

And yet there is no public awareness of the scale of the problem, no acknowledgement by the Government or its agencies of this and, of course, little interest on the part of the Government in finding out more about this and doing something about it, other than opportunist expressions of alarm when a particularly horrific case is exposed, such as that associated with Larry Murphy.

If Larry Murphy was the problem, we wouldn’t have a problem, for we could easily deal with a single abuser.

The problem is that there are probably hundreds of thousands of abusers.

As for Ivor Callely and the issue of political corruption, I acknowledge that I spent a large part of my journalistic career focused on political corruption. I now regard this as a mistake and a mask of real corruption.

The problem is not so much that some politicians, very few of them, have corrupted the system for their own financial gain; the problem is that most politicians have colluded in building an essentially corrupt society.

A society that consigns 50,000 people to die prematurely every year, that impoverishes the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, that denies two million people adequate decent, timely healthcare, that denies hundreds of thousands proper education and that now has put more hundreds of thousands on the dole and forces more to emigrate. A society that is essentially democratic only formally through a political system that permits the sovereign people the power only to decide which set of masters they can have for the succeeding five years.

All that huffing and puffing over Ivor Callely and no huffing or puffing about the scale of sexual abuse and violence, except now and again for show.

No huffing and puffing, not even for show, over the corrupt society we have created, where there is such deep inequality, such flagrant denial of respect and dignity for so many.

Odd that.