Recently the theme of the ‘Wall of Silence’ has come into my life in several ways. First, I was invited to attend a conference with the Metropolitan Police called ‘Wall of Silence’ to discuss what stops a young person reporting crime. Second, the prominent media coverage of the Savile sex-offence allegations and the ever rising number of victims coming forward who, until now, felt unable to do so. Third, a program on Radio 4 discussed the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace and suggested a surprising frequency of such instances even today.
I have been thinking a lot about the Wall of Silence. What does is look like? Why is it there? And how can it be knocked down? Clearly even in today’s society of free speech, protected civil rights and free media there remains a largely under-recognized problem in people being unable to seek out justice for themselves. It takes a strong and determined person to speak out when they have been wronged by someone or something that feels more powerful than them, and understandably not everyone feels that they can, or want, to do so. It is therefore, I feel, our collective responsibility to empower those who are the victims of crime or wrong-doing so that they do not feel as though they are faced with barriers to being heard, but are in fact met with listening ears, an open mind and a compassionate heart.
If speaking out about one’s own experience of suffering is so difficult for the average person in today’s society, it makes me wonder at what an impossibility this must seem like for those who have additional barriers to having their voices heard. People, who face public discrimination due to reasons which are far beyond their control and who, even in today’s society, are often sidelined, ignored or outright abused as a result of their disabilities. Of course, I am referring to people who have and continue to suffer from mental health problems. Are we listening to and protecting this cross-section of society? Or do we sit complacently on the other side of the wall, to protect ourselves from the presumed chaos that would unfold if we allowed ourselves to listen and actually hear their voices?
In our fast-paced, dog-eat-dog, capitalist culture the strong, ruthless and power-hungry are favoured to be the most successful, the most listened to and the most powerful. Those left behind are often forgotten by those who are ahead and so their problems, worries and hardships are just not adequately heard or dealt with. This lack of compassion for other human beings appears, to me, to be beneficial and even encouraged to those ahead in ‘the race’ by the nature of today’s social and economic climate.
The Wall of Silence is being allowed to stand strong in our society, blocking out the sound of those voices that have been treated unfairly, ignored, violated and abused. It is kept strong by the power held by those whom it serves well- the perpetrators, the abusers and the apathetic. It is also reinforced by the masses of people on the other side of the wall – those personally unaffected by its presence and unable to hear the suffering of those trapped behind, who are unconcerned with doing anything to tear it down.
As long as the power remains in the hands of the perpetrators and the people of our society refuse to take coordinated and decisive action to begin tearing it down, brick by brick, policy by policy, attitude by attitude, then we will not have an equal and fair society but one where we allow the vulnerable and the suffering to remain between a rock and a hard place, unable to speak out and seek justice but also unable to be freed from the demoralizing and destructive feelings left behind from being treated in such a way.
More support in the form of Advocacy services, counsellors, specially-trained police officers and legal advice centres is clearly needed, and so is the removal of this culture of complacency in which we live. As long as current attitudes remain many, many more people will become the victims of abuse and wrong-doing which may have been preventable had people been able to speak out sooner.