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Does the Establishment “feel entitled to abuse young people”?

Is there a connection between the entitlement that seems built in to the British Establishment and the prevalence and even normalisation of child abuse? This is a question that the New Zealand Judge Lowell Goddard who chairs the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abusepanel must not avoid.

The Inquiry’s brief is to ‘investigate whether public bodies and other non-state institutions have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse in England and Wales.’

One insider is quite certain that there is such a link. The brother of the Earl of Sandwich, Robert Montagu, suggested that “those from noteworthy families often feel entitled to abuse young people.”

Montagu made the comments at the Oxford Literary Festival while discussing his book, A Humour Of Love, described as “as gripping as a thriller, but unlike most thrillers, it is both believable and shocking,” in which he reveals years of sexual abuse at the hands of his own father,

Are we to understand this yet again as part of the ‘one rotten apple syndrome’ or do we imagine that this is a systemic problem of the British Establishment?

It has to be the latter, Judge Goddard, to give us any hope of tackling it. Montagu went on to say that, during his years at Eton, “rape was common, adding that people with ‘entitled backgrounds’ were given ‘more opportunities’ to be abusive towards children.”

As these pages have been suggesting for a while now, bullying and abuse is endemic in the British Establishment, even if the cruelties of institutional life as a child only produces verbal bullies like Cameron and Boris. But sometimes  it produces men like Lord Victor Montagu:

“My father was a loner,’ his son Robert continues, “I don’t think he was part of any Westminster paedophile ring, but he was right there at the time. He had a house in Great College Street, near the House of Commons, and overlooking the gardens of Westminster School, he was right in the middle of it all,” he told The Guardian in May this year. The paper filled in the detail on his father:

“Victor Montagu was a leading figure in the establishment. He was an MP for South Dorset from 1941 to 1962 and became a member of the Monday Club, a rightwing political pressure group in the 1960s, and one-time political secretary to Stanley Baldwin. He inherited his father’s seat and became the 10th Earl of Sandwich in 1964, a title he renounced to stand for parliament again as an independent.”

But what only later came out was that his sexual habits were known to the police. True to form for the time – 1972 – he was let off with a caution by the director of public prosecutions for the indecent assault of a boy over two years. His youngest son told the Guardian he had no idea a prosecution against his father had been dropped: “It doesn’t surprise me altogether but I didn’t realise that it went on so late into his life,”

Robert Montagu’s autobiography reveals repeated sexual abuse by his father when he was between the ages of seven and 11. He told the paper that he knows “10 people who were abused by his father as children but he believed there may be up to 20. I had no idea he was ever visited by the police at home or charged.”

How does the family deal with such things? Montage says his family are ” ‘cross and unhappy’ with his book, and that he is given dark looks at family events, and hug which are then turned into pushes. Asked why there was such a reluctance for her father’s story to be told, his daughter Fiamma said: ‘In our case it has been because of the Establishment. Everybody has a vested interest in getting him to shut up.’ ”

Readers will not be surprised to know that I believe we have to look to the British elite boarding schools for the origins of the attitudes behind all this. It is here that the breaking of loving attachments is normalised ‘for your own good’ and to ‘build character’.

It is here that children have to live a decade without touch or being able to show any feeling. It is here that their sexuality awakening in puberty became riddled with fear and shame.

It is here that they learn that they are both privileged and nothing: that being a child and being vulnerable is like a death sentence and that they’d better disown all vulnerability and become a survivor and a winner at all costs. And I mean at all costs.

It is here that entitlement becomes a compensation for loss, as I argue in Wounded Leaders, and it is here that the British Attitude to Children, as I argue in The Making of Them, means that – until they have been broken at an elite institution – children are “unmade”, worth nothing, to be used and cast off at will.

It is here that, deprived of love and attachments, they learn that secretly satisfying their needs at the expense of others is their only hope of  perversely regaining anything that resembles innocence in love, which is what they have lost.

But such is the taboo on tenderness (as Iain Suttie once said) that this kind of sex act can only be done with someone in a dependent position, because an act of loving sex with an equal makes you dependent, and that ex-boarders have unconsciously sworn never to be. And under this oath they have mastered the arts of dissociation, so very few break the silence.

Even those who have recognised and turned away from the Establishment attitudes, are not free – because after 10 years of boarding , we all retain some degree of these attitudes inside us along with a near impossibility of stopping the addiction to survive at any cost.

The boarding problem itself was once described as ‘Britain’s most overt form of child abuse’ by journalist George Monbiot, way back in 1998, when he asked: “Why is it still acceptable to send young children to boarding school?”

Things ‘aint changed much, I am afraid, since then; but now at least we have a chance. If Judge Lowell Goddard does not find the courage or the means to look into the the connection of the public schools and the widespread abusive attitude to children in high places, then this problem will go on forever. I wish her all success.

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