The Hidden Effects of being a Whistleblower
I’m just having an interesting correspondence with a highly-respected clinical psychologist I worked with more than 30 years ago and haven’t had contact with since. We were both involved in whistleblowing an exposé of sustained physical abuse as part of the treatment system in a showcase children’s assessment centre. I’m speaking about aggressive power-games by staff on children, beatings-up, threatenings, subtle and outright cruelty of many kinds — even forcing children as young as five years old to eat their own vomit. I had worked closely undercover with an investigative journalist on The Guardian newspaper; and after a couple of months of evidence-gathering the story broke on the front page of the paper. As you can imagine, all hell broke loose as the local authority council and department of social work set about covering their asses. Shortly after, a Public Inquiry, presided over by a judge, was held during which potential witnesses were plainly bribed or threatened and mass betrayals took place by people who had promised to testify against the centre. My legal representative at the Inquiry (who was actually a lawyer for the National Council for Civil Liberties — what a joke!) behaved like an imbecile. (I later discovered he was in the same Freemason’s lodge as the Director of Social Services 😉 ). The police had also aggressively tried to threaten me to drop my witness-stance (they had been involved in the abuse too, beating kids up, covering up, etc.). Needless to say, the directors of the childen’s centre were eventually declared to be the innocent victims of a smear campaign. It was a total debacle.
Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I received an email out of the blue from this woman who, as a child psychologist in the local authority, had been one of the very few at the Public Inquiry to courageously testify against the children’s centre directors. She has been assessing the toll that the experience took on her and reckons that being a whistleblower leads to many effects which are tantamount to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. She revealed to me that after the events of that time she had developed a crippling ilness which affected her for years but which she had not originally linked to the whistleblowing event. She is now engaged in writing a paper about the hidden effects of being a whistleblower and is trying to recontact those who were significantly involved in the events of thirty years ago. She wrote to me: “I do think we were pioneers and should feel good about what we did”. This is true. It was unheard of then to expose child abuse of any kind as being endemic in an establishment. So, yes, we set the scene for similar exposés over the ensuing years. But, although one accepts that the abuse of the children has many effects on them (including those of a PTSS nature), the effects on the whistleblowers who expose the abuse are rarely discussed.
I became friends with the Guardian journalist after the event and I know that he too was shattered when the directors were exonerated, even though we had cast-iron evidence, tape-recordings, etc. As for myself, that whole episode has lived with me in a major way ever since. It was a watershed event for me — a turning point in my life as a young man, if you will. At the time, it did take a major toll on me. I made out to myself that I had absorbed it, taken it on the chin. But the truth is that it disillusioned me in major ways and made me deeply cynical and untrusting of establishment power-structures (justifiably, I believe). In many ways, I was a totally bewildered and changed man after that. Prior to that, I had been a rather naïve idealist who foolishly believed that people are fundamentally good and that if evil is exposed, the good will prevail. It was a huge wake-up call for me and plunged me into a lengthy life-crisis. From that time, I learned much about betrayal — about the true meaning of friendship — about the meaning of the word “turncoat” — about the nature of manipulation — about the denigration of truth — about the use of ‘control’ and the abuse of power. Afterwards, I was actually given a promotion to shut me up as, apparently, the local authority chiefs knew all about the abuse but didn’t know how to stop it without getting involved in an expensive law-suit! They actually called me into their office afterwards and said they’d been with me the whole time but couldn’t be seen to support me. That was an epiphany!
Hardly a week goes by when I don’t think about the events of that time. It radicalised me. It disillusioned me. It deepened me. It taught me. I have since seen EXACTLY the same patterns as I observed in that event in other spheres of life and work in which I have been involved. The way the whole thing panned out is archetypal. The betrayals, the fear, the ass-covering, the threatenings, the closing of ranks, the denials, the suppression of truth, the underhandedness and scheming, the exoneration of the guilty accused, the defamation of the innocent accusers. And, yes, we really WERE anti-abuse pioneers in the children’s work scene and should be proud of that. Nevertheless, the whole children’s sector is still riddled with it in various ways (with all the paedophilia thrown in as well, as paedophiles have taken over a number of positions of authority in those organisations which work with children).
That psychologist with whom I shared an office more then thirty years ago told me that she has discovered cases of adult criminals today who had been small children in that children’s centre. Its job had been to assess the best future for children taken into the care of the local authority. To take children into care because they had been orphaned or abused (as was the case with a significant percentage of the intake) and then abuse them further is merely compounding the maladjustment of the child both within him/herself and in relation to society. Surely, this is the ultimate in irresponsibility.
So I look forward to reading her paper on the hidden effects of being a whistleblower. Will it make any difference though? I seriously doubt it. Whistleblowers are seen as a scourge on society. Even though many people in the street would say how much they admire whistleblowers, the sad reality is that hardly any of them would stand up publicly against the establishment in the cause of truth and justice if their jobs were on the line and their reputations or lives were under threat. Mostpeople have a mouth which is much bigger than their boldness. Compromise and mediocrity are far more pervasive in the world than courage and self-sacrifice. We live in interesting times…