Abuse, disclosure and speaking ill of the dead


Last night the comments on my previous post had drifted far enough off topic that they were skipping between Donald Trump, Jimmy Savile and the disclosures made in Peter Hook’s autobiography about his abusive marriage to the late Caroline Aherne.

Marduk left a comment which I’ll repost here uncut, because it leads nicely onto something I had wanted to write about anyway.

 

It’s weird Savile and Aherne are coming up here because the two are fairly linked in my mind.

This is in part because the story broke the morning after the Theroux documentary was screened, and for me at least there was a certain connection. Theroux was trying to explain how Savile got away with his crimes, how people were so obstinately unwilling to think ill of him (and in some cases still can’t) and how being a popular national figure protected him. Part of the problem in understanding this, and why Theroux was having to actually argue for events that happened in the lifetimes of everyone watching the show, is that in retrospect it seems completely unthinkable.

And the next morning I woke up to read another popular figure had done some bad things she’d almost sort-of confessed to anyway (there were several interviews about ‘things she did that she regretted’ and so on) and people aggressively didn’t want to believe it and certain papers didn’t even want to report it, let alone discuss it.

She did very different things, I don’t believe she hid deliberately behind stardom and I think the reasons for her doing bad things were arguably a bit less about evil and a bit more about mental health (although DV campaigners would generally argue against that distinction) but still.

It was weird how people couldn’t put the two together but of course their failure to be able to do so ultimately proves Theroux correct. Because of course, at the time the well-loved figure is well-loved, they look nothing like those other people we know are despicable criminals and how dare you try to tar them with that brush. Caroline Aherne was lovely, all her Guardian guest columnist friends say so, she doesn’t sound like the person who’d do those things.

It’s very hard to learn the lesson except in retrospect unfortunately.

I thought that was a really astute observation and am happy to give it some more air. But by even weirder coincidence, on Monday this week I had been listening to Peter Hook interviewed on BBC Radio 5Live and he too mentioned Savile. He was on air for 45 minutes talking about music, his time in New Order, the breakup of the band and everything else you would expect, but inevitably, after about 20 minutes, the abuse revelations were raised. You can listen to the interview here, the topic first comes up at 1hr53m. Here are verbatim transcripts of the ‘questions’ asked on the topic by co-host Nihal Arthanayake from the moment the topic is raised.

NA: A lot of the book is about the music, but also about your personal life, and one particular part of course that has made a lot of news headlines over the past week is your marriage to Caroline Aherne and what you accuse her of doing to you in that marriage, and that you were an abused husband in that marriage, what you accused her of, and as we know she is not around to defend herself in that respect. You’ll also be aware of what Caroline Aherne’s brother has said about what you wrote in the book and he said ‘I am so disgusted by the claims made by Peter Hook in most of the tabloids today. Hook was married to my sister over 20 years ago, they were divorced because the marriage did not work well. What sort of a man would make these claims after the death of Caroline? Is this because she is not here to defend herself? Why did it take Hook 20 years to make these claims?’ What do you say to that?”

[PH replies, saying he never sold his story to the papers at the time despite lucrative offers and that he still won’t sell the story to this day]

NA: [interrupts] But you have! The book is for sale!

[PH replies again, saying it was 15 pages out  of 800 and a very important part of his life]

NA: But when you sat down to write this book, you knew that people would focus in on this…

[PH replies saying he started writing the book three years ago, long before Aherne died, and the chapter was always there]

NA: You write about her death in the book so presumably you could have taken that out if you’d wanted to?

[PH replies again, asking NA what he would do in the circumstances]

NA: She’s not around to defend herself!

[Hook tries to reply again, is interrupted again]

NA: If that person didn’t have the chance to defend herself…

PH: But that’s like saying Jimmy Savile didn’t have the chance to defend himself…

NA: [interrupts again] But that’s your version of events, there must be her version as well. With Jimmy Savile there are many corroborating people who will talk about…. And you do mention David Walliams who you do mention has talked about Caroline’s alcoholism before but you can understand why the Jimmy Savile [inaudible]

PH: Yeah but the thing is I’m writing the story of my life, this is a big thing that happened in my life, I’m not lying about it. That is what happened.

—————————————————

I’ll confess I winced slightly at the Jimmy Savile comparison but that was strongly outweighed by Peter Hook’s patience in sitting there and allowing Arthanayake to cross-examine him like that. It should be noted that at no point in the broadcast did the presenters spell out the details of the abuse Hook had described – that she put out cigarettes on his skin, attacked him with chairs, bottles, knives, reducing him to a point where he believed he would die before finally collapsing into clinical depression, chronic anxiety attacks and worse.

Although Hook did still manage to make many powerful, insightful, revealing comments in the following 20 minutes or so, the tone for the interview had been set and, tragically, it pretty much encapsulated the more widespread media (including social media) reaction to Hook’s disclosures, which focused heavily not on his revelation, not on the extremes of violence and terror that he describes, not on the devastating impacts of the abuse upon his mental health, not about his astute comments about the emasculation and gender-shaming of male survivors, but almost exclusively on the damage that he was doing to her reputation, to her memory, even to the feelings of her fans.  So let us spit out a few home truths.

No one gets to tell an abuse survivor whether to disclose, how to disclose, when to disclose or whom to disclose. The abuse someone suffers is their life, their history and their dominion. Some will choose to report to the police at the time or later, some won’t. Some will choose to tell friends and family, some won’t. Some may have to wait many years for the trauma to have healed and enough time to have passed to process and describe what happened, others may not. There are no rules to this, and a survivor owes no obligation to anyone or anything but their own wellbeing, above all, no survivor ever, ever, ever carries any duty or obligation to their abuser.

As it happens, Peter Hook had compelling, convincing, unarguable defences to every attack made upon him, but that is not the point. He should never have been put in the position of having to defend himself in the first place. He had done nothing wrong.

This case is not unique in involving allegations against someone who has died – bringing us back to Savile of course – but in reality it is often true that survivors of domestic or sexual abuse do not feel able to speak out until after their abuser has died. This has been true with abusive celebrities, politicians and of the general population. It doesn’t seem to have been the case here anyway, but for sake of argument, if Peter Hook had said “Yes, it is true, I wasn’t prepared to get into a war of words, allegations and counter-allegations with my abusive ex while she was still alive” than that too would have been his choice and perfectly reasonable.

At the same time, of course the family and friends of someone who faces accusations after death are entitled to put up denials or dispute the facts. It is striking that neither Aherne’s brother nor her widely-quoted friend Ricky Tomlinson have attempted to deny that Aherne beat and terrorised her husband or even offered additional context or mitigating circumstances. Instead they have gone for “it is wrong to speak ill of the dead”; “but she was a national treasure” and similar.

The irony is that Peter Hook has written and spoken eloquently about how incredibly difficult it is for a survivor, and specifically a male survivor, to speak out about domestic abuse. Aherne’s brother even used the exact phrase “what kind of a man would make these claims?” The answer, sir, is a brave man, doing the right thing.

When all is stripped away, it is a simple fact that we only know anything at all about domestic abuse because of the courageous women and men who have, over the decades, spoken out and disclosed their experiences in spite of all the pressures upon them to keep it secret, to be discreet. Those people who would demand that Peter Hook keeps his life story to himself are part and parcel with those who have forever insisted that survivors of domestic abuse should not bring shame upon themselves, upon their families, upon their current or ex-partners, alive or dead.

I’ll leave you with a few words from Peter Hook, transcribed from the same interview.

“It’s a terrible thing but I find it hard to believe that anyone would think I had something to gain by doing it. I’ve been a successful musician for a long, long time and you get funny advice from people always wanting to tell you how to do everything. It was the most obvious thing for me to talk about in terms of my life and you hope that you inspire someone to either stop it or to find a way to realise that you can move on.”

Comments

  1. sonofrojblake says

    neither Aherne’s brother nor her widely-quoted friend Ricky Tomlinson have attempted to deny that Aherne beat and terrorised her husband

    I’d bet folding money they would… if he was dead.

    Hook’s problem, other than being a man, is that he’s simply not as popular as his ex-wife with the public. He’s not a “national treasure”, or “brave” or “fragile” or any of the other adjectives Aherne was garlanded with. He’s a flawed, white, straight, cis, rich, male. Is it any wonder nobody has any sympathy for him?

  2. Marduk says

    1.
    Fame at last!
    Anyhow, the thing about Hook is that he has a bit of a record of asserting himself in other situations (most prominently with regard to New Order itself) and in some cases getting into the odd punch up.

    This plays to a myth about DV that applies to men and women but seems to be most harmful to male victims, that it might have anything to do with how big and strong you are or how you behave in any other situation with anyone else. It doesn’t.

    You’d think this had been settled for all time when Roger Moore talked about suffering violence in two marriages. If Simon Templar and James Bond aren’t immune from this, who is.

  3. HuckleAndLowly says

    Great points, Ally. I agree that Peter Hook has done a brave and worthwhile thing in writing and talking about his abuse. I was abused in ways similar to Hook, and when I first heard news reports of his story, I had a weird feeling of relief. Partly this was from the fact that someone was brave enough to talk about it publicly (which I’m not, except anonymously). Part was from the fact that, if this could happen to someone as cool and successful as Hook, the fact that it happened to me didn’t mean that I was a useless loser. That other people tried to criticize and shut him down for talking about this doesn’t make a huge difference here. Indeed, that he was able to keep asserting what happened to him, even in the face of criticism, is also a positive: he could speak out and he wasn’t shut up, which is a good example for other victims to see.

  4. kestrel says

    This part about not speaking ill of the dead is interesting to me. In my opinion, that idea traces back to religion: the person is not actually dead but still “alive” somehow and so therefore can hear what you’re saying and besides, glob forgives them or something. It’s a pretty strongly held idea socially, even if the premise is kind of vague. The other reason I think is because someone who is abusive is not *always* abusive. They don’t normally abuse *everyone*; just those they feel they have power over somehow, and who they think they can get away with abusing. So you are always going to have those who simply can’t believe that person was abusive, because that person did not abuse *them*.

    We had an extremely abusive family member and when this person died, we certainly did not feel they way you are “supposed” to feel when someone dies. Because of this, we were not able to talk about it – there was too much social shame attached to our expressing our actual feelings, people would correct us and tell that was not “really” the way we felt and so on. This made it hard to deal with that death, because one of the ways that one handles stress and so on is to talk about it with others. We sort of help and reinforce each other this way. But when someone who heaped abuse on one dies, no one wants to accept that this person was as one describes, and for some reason one is supposed to feel sorry for the abuser or sad the abuser is dead.

  5. Phil says

    it seems strange to me that people are arguing that because she’s dead he has a higher responsibility not to slander her in the press. If anything the fact that a person’s dead makes it less wrong (assuming for the sake of argument the accuser is lying) since they’re beyond any harm the allegations could have caused

  6. Phil says

    since I believe in anonymity for both the accused and accuser in cases involving sex and abuse, I can’t agree that its always wrong to criticize disclosures. if your abuser is alive and has yet to be convicted of anything, going to the press with their name is not only something I will criticize, it’s something I believe should be a prosecutable offence. As should publishing the story be on the part of the press itself

  7. mostlymarvelous says

    HuckleAndLowly

    when I first heard news reports of his story, I had a weird feeling of relief.

    It’s odd, isn’t it. I read the same thing, but about less violent abuse, last night. She was one of D Trump’s groping/ grabbing targets years ago. Then she heard _that_ tape of him talking about the way he treats women.

    I felt a strong mix of emotions, but shock wasn’t one of them. I was relieved. I finally understood for sure that I was not to blame for his inappropriate behavior.

    http://people.com/politics/donald-trump-attacked-people-writer/

    Amazing. I know there have been lots of stories about people coming forward after hearing about someone else’s experiences, but I don’t recall anyone describing hearing the story as “relief” before. Not even with all the disclosures in Australia from the RC into institutional responses to child abuse, where most of the victims now coming forward seem to have been boys. People talk about distress and flashbacks and their ruined adult lives, so maybe any mention of “relief” when hearing others gets swamped in the terrible flow.

    It should make it progressively easier for men, everyone really, to begin disclosing more often, and more promptly, though it seems there’s a hell of a lot of accumulated backlog to get through. Getting it through the thick skulls of reporters and media managers that there are good, neutral and bad ways for people to approach such stories and deal with interviews looks to be an uphill job. As it stands, the choices available for reporters handling such material and such wounded interviewees seem to be bad, worse and worst.

  8. Marduk says

    7.
    I think I get it. When something has happened to you that you can’t talk about, and especially if its (wrongly but inevitably) wrapped up in shame and embarrassment, its a great relief to hear you aren’t alone. Also, it gives you an opportunity to look at yourself from the position you look at someone else. You might feel shame around what happened to you but you don’t feel anything but sympathy for the other person it happened to; once you noticed that you can reappraise your own situation and how you see it.

    Of course there are two things going on here, you are the person that these things happened to and you are someone who goes around everyday living with them having happened to you. Nothing changes what happened, but the latter ‘identity’ can get some benefit from these things.

  9. HuckleAndLowly says

    Marduk:

    You might feel shame around what happened to you but you don’t feel anything but sympathy for the other person it happened to; once you noticed that you can reappraise your own situation and how you see it.

    That’s very insightful and useful. Thanks! It isn’t mainly shame that stops me talking about abuse openly, though (though there is a bit of that). Instead its a notion of the damage revealing it would do to my wife. Since she’s stopped (off the drink, anger management therapy, everything much better) it doesn’t seem fair to reveal it, and I guess the patriarchal stereotype that my role is to protect her – protect my family – comes into play: the same thing that’s behind Aherne’s brother’s comments on Peter Hook (it was his role, as a man, to protect her by keeping the abuse secret).

  10. Pan Narrans says

    Generally people seem to be leaping to the assumption that the brother knows the accusation is true. Is there a reason to believe that? If not, then he’s more likely to be thinking along the lines of “She’d never do this, how dare he slander her when she’s not here to defend herself?” People really want to believe that their loved ones are good people.

    I didn’t hear the show, but it’s appalling to react to someone alleging abuse by saying they’ve done so in a tasteless manner.

  11. sonofrojblake says

    people seem to be leaping to the assumption that the brother knows the accusation is true

    It’s a reasonable assumption, since he knew her. Her alcohol abuse and her behaviour when drunk were not exactly secret, unless by “secret” you mean “photos only appeared in national newspapers I don’t read”.

    Nobody has disputed the accusations. The whole thing was tone trolling.

  12. Pan Narrans says

    @ Phil and sonofrojblake

    Assuming it’s true that he knew or had very good reason to suspect, then yes, I agree it’s fully out of line.

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