This morning was the first I’d heard of Rotherham. I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. Really, not since 9/11 has my psyche been so shaken.
It’s not just that this is a complete betrayal by a local police, or the consequences of slavish “racial sensitivity”, or profound negligence in the most basic responsibilities of social services. To settle on any of those is to take the path of intellectual convenience. I’m shaken because the scale, the duration, the powerlessness and particular vulnerability of the victims, imply some fundamental breakdown in the larger English, British and Western culture and ideology.
I readily criticize Western culture for its hubristic, “advanced” self-portrayal as a gleaming city on a hill to which those barbarians below us can aspire, whereas it really just mistakes instinctive worship of technology and egomaniacal self-interest for philosophical achievement. But never did I imagine we could be so deeply and pervasively flawed as to permit, over the course of 17 years, the methodical rape of 1,400 children (mostly neglected girls) in one town. Was there so little skepticism of power (the impetus of democracy) in Rotherham that for 17 years, meaningful police oversight and transparency were of no concern? Was there such blind faith in social services—and lack of moral duty—that city administrators sought no answers to basic questions of performance? Was the greater culture so disdainful toward both females and neglected children, that individual police officers could ignore clear evidence of organized sexual abuse not just with ease, but with resolve? Was the local press so aloof and disconnected from the city that it sensed absolutely nothing worthy of investigation? We’re a tent city, sheltered at the foot of a cliff.
As Americans specifically, we should be careful not to distance ourselves too much from our British relatives. Cases of systemic dereliction by social workers in both Los Angeles (Gabriel Fernandez, Jorge Tarin, and LA County’s “Report Regarding DCFS Recurring Systemic Issues”) and NYC (Myls Dobson) are commonplace. To put it mildly, our law enforcement agencies (and courts) do not have an even-handed record for applying the law. We’ve come to expect our elected representatives to be cowed from fighting for that cornerstone of democracy, transparent government operations, whether related to “national security” or not. And, especially having discussed with many of my peers, I remain wholly unconvinced we’ve reached anything remotely resembling a society that treats women with equal dignity and fairness.
Although I speak in macroscopic terms, these issues invariably resolve to matters of individual conduct. I ask those around me to reflect on the toll paid by the victims for a nightmare more brutal and betraying than anything Kafka imagined, and on what it tells us about our sociological nature.
I’m shaken. And I’m outraged by the soullessness of the perpetrators. And stupefied by the lack of civic engagement by the community, and disgusted by the systematic betrayal by the police. But mostly, my heart is torn by the antipathy endured by the victims, from too many parts of society.