• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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Andy Woodward: Some Notes on Timing and a “Stalker” Allegation

(amended – H/T Bandini in the comments)

From the Guardian:

It began with the former footballer Andy Woodward bravely stepping out of the shadows to describe to the Guardian the sexual abuse he endured as a young player. Two weeks on it has spiralled into a scandal engulfing clubs and communities across the UK.

By Friday, 18 police forces were investigating leads from at least 350 alleged victims, the NSPCC children’s charity was processing almost 1,000 reports to a hotline and one of the world’s most famous clubs, Chelsea, was facing questions about whether it had tried to hush up abuse allegations.

Woodward’s abuser was convicted of child sex offences against him and others some years ago (many of the reports do not make clear that Woodward was one of the complainants at that time). However, there is now a new police investigation, and as such there are legal restrictions on discussing the matter further in the UK.

By waiving his right to anonymity, Woodward had to overcome a sense of humiliation and shame that often overwhelms and silences victims of sexual crime. It is also reasonable to suppose that being a male victim of a male predator within a masculine environment made disclosure particularly difficult – as demonstrated by boorish comments from the darts commentator Eric Bristow, who responded by mocking footballers as “wimps” for not subjecting abusers to vigilante punishments (in a subsequent interview with Piers Morgan, Bristow managed to explain – despite constant hectoring from Morgan whenever he attempted to speak – that he had wanted to encourage victims to come forward sooner, although he later made an apology and deleted some Tweets).

However, there are a couple of aspects to the new publicity around Woodward that require a bit of critical scrutiny beyond merely referring to Woodward’s “bravery”. First, reports have mentioned in passing that Woodward was very recently dismissed from his position as a police officer with the Lancashire Constabulary “for having a relationship with the adult sister of a crime victim”. Thus Woodward had a particular motive for speaking out at this time – instant redemption from professional disgrace. Yet no-one in the media, so far as I can see, has asked him about the connection between the two events, which occurred just a week apart.

Second, Woodward entered into a bizarre Twitter exchange with the libertarian barrister Barbara Hewson, after Barbara challenged the idea that being the victim of sexual crime means that one’s life is inevitably “ruined”. Obviously, this was a provocative and controversial interjection into the discussion. She did not address Woodward directly, but her comment was brought to his attention by self-styled “CSA campaigners”, some of whom are quite reckless in their embrace of conspiracy theories and vicious in their pursuit of those facing allegations or those deemed to be insufficiently credulous.

Woodward’s response was to announce “@BarbaraHewson complete troll and stalker. Police are dealing with it”. It seems to me troubling that a high-profile figure can make such a confident boast of police action with nothing to substantiate it. Perhaps Woodward was genuinely upset and Tweeted while angry – but he has not withdrawn his claim.

Genuine victims deserve sympathy and support – but that does not mean that they become saints who can do no wrong. In this instance, Woodward attempted to use his new public status to bully someone into silence over a view he disagrees with. By his own account, he is also interacting with police with that purpose in mind. Although from what I know of Barbara I wouldn’t fancy his chances very much, this is not something that should pass unchallenged.