Child Sexual Abuse: A consequence of an imperial system?

The Rhodes Colossus: Caricature of Cecil John ...

The Rhodes Colossus: Caricature of Cecil John Rhodes, after he announced plans for a telegraph line and railroad from Cape Town to Cairo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The long awaited inquiry into historical child sexual abuse has started. The Goddard Inquiry (Hereafter the Inquiry) will examine the extent to which institutions and organizations in England and Wales failed to protect children from Child Sexual Abuse (hereafter CSA). After years of stories, investigations, and some convictions, the issue is finally being addressed. Although many events led up to the Inquiry, the attention from Tom Watson’s claim that a powerful paedophile ring had operated in Westminster was decisive.[1] In response, the government commissioned the Inquiry. It will investigate how public authorities failed to protect children from CSA. The approach appears thorough in what it covers. However, it is not complete. What the Inquiry lacks is work to place the public institutions and individuals, in particular the allegations of the powerful pedophile predators, into a wider social and political context. Without this context, it will fail.

Only a societal context lets us understand individual predators and institutional failures.

What the Inquiry has to do is place the abuse and the institutional failures into a historical context. The institutions acted within a wider political and societal context. The context will help us understand why they acted as they did. Without the wider context, the Inquiry will never be able to explain the institutional behavior. The institutional behavior is more than the desire to hide scandals. Instead, the institutional behavior relates to the individual behavior. The inquiry hinges on the relationship between the individual level (the victims and their abusers) and the institutional level (those which failed to protect the victims and confront the powerful). In some cases, the individual and the institutional level intersect. Abusers, enablers, and protectors often worked in institutions. How they operated and why organizations failed to deal with them is an important part of the inquiry. In some cases, individuals, through intent or incompetence, thwarted institutional attempts to investigate or punish CSA by powerful pedophile predators. Yet, these two levels only tell part of the story. Therefore, the wider story has to include the wider political context. In this case, it has to include the nature of the regime.

A regime founded on an abuse of power will perpetuate abuse.

The United Kingdom’s political regime, its imperial structure covered with a democratic veneer to maintain its authority, is the wider context. The Inquiry has to understand this context even if it will not explore it. Without this context, we cannot understand the institutional or individual behavior. The regime’s founding influences how it works.[2] In turn, the public authorities will have been shaped by the political culture that shaped their response to CSA. The public are right to be worried about the politically powerful who abused their power, position and privileges, to exploit children. To understand those powerful abusers as well as the public institutions, we have to look at the context. We have to understand that the regime gave them their power and status. We need to understand how it gave them power. At a basic level, it gave them honours and celebrated their public work.

What the abuser does to an individual, a regime does to a people. 

At its core, Child Sexual Abuse is an abuse of power.[3] The abuse comes from stark physical inequality between a man and a child.[4] The child does not and cannot consent to the violence he suffers. The man uses his power, either physical, emotional or economic to abuse the child. In many cases, the man uses his position, a power in itself, to gain access to vulnerable children. The vulnerable children, often wards of the state nominally under the Crown’s care, were in no position to resist and no one was likely to defend them. Even if someone wanted to defend them, or the child resisted, who would believe them against someone with power and position? The abuser’s status gave them power. From that power, they were able to exploit the children and bully those who might object. We see figures such as Jimmy Savile or Cyril Smith who appeared beyond the law[5] and received public honors or political office. The public honours and offices gave them status and power. In turn, t suggested that the system endorsed them. What child would say no to Jimmy and Cyril? What institution said no to them? The children and the organizations were conditioned by the regime to defer to their power, status and privileges.[6] However, we need to move beyond the individual level or the institutional level to the regime level.

The regime broadly understood is

“[T]he order, the form, which gives society its character. Regime is therefore a specific manner of life. Regime is the form of life as living together, the manner of living of society and in society, since this manner depends decisively on the predominance of human beings of a certain type, on the manifest domination of society by human beings of a certain type. Regime means, the whole, which we today are in the habit of viewing primarily in a fragmentized form: regime means simultaneously the form of life of a society, its style of life, its moral taste, form of society, form of state, form of government, spirit of laws.”

A regime founded in an abuse of power will nurture that character in its elites.

All imperial systems are founded in an abuse of power. From that founding, they perpetuate an inequality as they rule. They rule by power and not consent. They are above the law as they make the laws. In this behavior, they follow the ancient law that the strong rule the weak.[7] Over time, they may take on a democratic veneer to make the regime acceptable and provide a sense of popular legitimacy. However, despite these efforts, the ruled have no say in who rules them. At all times, the rulers benefit from the inherent inequality. As Thucydides said of Imperial Athens, the strong do as they will and the weak suffer what they must. When a political system is founded on coercion and not consent, it influences all political relationships. For example, we know that the United Kingdom relied on slavery and the wealth it created to sustain its empire. In effect, the British Empire in its early days was a slave empire.[8] Even if a democratic veneer may gradually soften that explicit rule, it remains implicit throughout the regime so long as the Monarchy remains. We can see this continuing influence in various institutions such as the military and the schools, which shape the character of citizens where a bully culture was common and encouraged to maintain discipline. Even with the common law as a potential constraint on power, the people had no organized ability to resist as the instruments of power, the police, military, and the Crown controlled courts. The institutions that wield political and military swear an oath to the Queen. They do not swear an oath to the State or to the Crown. They do not swear an oath to Parliament, the People, or a constitution. There is no popular sovereignty. At its root, the regime remains in place through force of arms not from popular consent expressed through a democratic process. For example, the Army takes an oath to obey the Queen and no one else. Their oath is the most explicit about obedience as they swear to defend her from all enemies and they will obey all of her orders.[9] The armed forces maintain her on the throne. She does not rule by consent nor is she elected.[10] However, the issue is not with the Queen as a person, it is with what she represents and creates—the regime.

The Monarchy shapes the Crown and the Crown shapes the regime. Although the Crown no longer relies as much on the Royal Household, as it did in the past, the Household still remains a powerful actor. Consider that if the 2015 election, or any election, had led to a hung parliament, one of the Queen’s courtiers, would play an active role in the process to form a new government.[11] In that indirect role, and many others, it sets the public tone to which the great and the good aspire. Even though the Monarchy’s direct power is much reduced, it wields extensive indirect power. The various parties and events create a social network that people, especially the powerful and preeminent, aspire to attend. In the same way, the honours system, despite its reforms, remains something that shape the regime. The powerful, protected and even the humble pursue these honours with great effort. Many will deform themselves to obtain one. Although nominally in reward for public service or service to the Crown and in turn the public, they serve another purpose. The honours reflect a system that inculcates people to seek the Monarchy’s approval. The powerful minority, the elite, that schools such as Eton and Oxford educate, pursue and receive these honours. These institutions are still shaped by the regime’s founding in an abuse of power. The views on slavery influenced popular education and this would, in turn, influence the way children were raised. Especially among the elite, who were shaped by the regime, it would encourage and normalize a bully culture where power came with privileges. Even the democratic veneer does not disguise this power nor does it displace or discourage those ambitious and talented few outside the Establishment from the effort to obtain them.[12] Athens ancient law’s truth can be seen in the behavior of those who once served the public quickly become Lords and Ladies keen to exercise their power and status. Moreover, the Leveson Inquiry revealed, the tabloid media culture reinforces the general bullying culture through their own behavior of “monstering”.[13] Where we would expect the media to resist the inequality and defend the public from such predators, the tabloid media enjoyed, in particular the News of the World, being a bully and punishing those they did not like.[14]

The Crown’s power and the political inequality it perpetuates show us regime’s nature. This nature provides the context for the institutional CSA and most importantly the politically powerful paedophiles. The CSA show us just how far the strong rule the weak. Even with a democratic veneer, the inequality remains. It is a permanent feature in UK culture as no one is the Queen’s equal. The inequality is sustained by the implicit, and sometimes, explicit threat of violence that sustains the regime. Until we understand the regime and the Crown’s role, we will not understand the institutional context.

When we look at the regime, though, we face the Inquiry’s most challenging question. How will the Inquiry examine the Royal Household?[15] Despite Parliament’s claims to supremacy and sovereignty[16], as well as the Lord Chancellor’s claim that the Rule of Law exists; the Monarchy reminds us who rules.

Where power begins, the laws stop and justice disappears. The Inquiry’s success will depend on its ability to bring the Royal Household within its scope and bring the regime into focus.


[1] Tom Watson raised the issue in parliament in 2013.  (accessed 12 April 2015) These concerns reflected issues that had been raised in the early 1980s and continued on to the Jimmy Savile case emerged.

[2] A regime founded in the belief in the divine right of kings   will inculcate a view of the relationship between rules and ruled is between superiors and inferiors. Moreover, the superiors will have divinely sanctioned rights against the inferiors. To understand this we only need to modify and paraphrase Thomas Jefferson’s famous statement on the issue. “The mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor [with] a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of god.” On the issue of the divine right of kings in UK society consider its influence on the regime. “In the seventeenth century, the Stuart kings propagated the theory of the divine right of kings, claiming that the Sovereign was subject only to God and not to the law.”  In time this stark view was relinquished, however, the residual elements, the Royal Prerogative remains. The Prerogative exists simply because of the nature of the Royal Person.

[3] Child Sexual Abuse and Power Author(s): Stephen J. Rossetti Source: The Furrow, Vol. 46, No. 12 (Dec., 1995), pp. 684-688

[4] We have to remember that women can be abusers. In the cases brought to trial or made public the perpetrators have been mainly men and the women only played a smaller role, usually as enablers of or protectors of the male abusers.

[5] (accessed 6 April 2015) The Channel 4 programme claims that they have evidence to indicate that Special Branch had a file containing the evidence of Cyril Smith’s crimes even though he was never arrested or charged with them.


[6] See for example Cyril Smith’s bullying of the police over their investigation.

[7] According to the Ancient Athenians this was the law of nature. The strong rule the weak. (Melian Dialogue Thucydides 5.89 )

[8][8] On the history of the UK slave trade and the wealth it created see: and and

[9]“ I swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors and that I will as in duty bound honestly and faithfully defend Her Majesty, her heirs and successors in person, crown and dignity against all enemies and will observe and obey all orders of Her Majesty, her heirs and successors and of the generals and officers set over me.”

[10] See Xenophon’s Memorabilia. Book I 2.41-46. If a regime rules without consent it is tyrannical. The UK citizens have not consented to have the Queen as their ruler and they must accept the next ruler as they have no choice, they have no consent in the matter.

[11] See also Even if the Queen wants to stay out of the politics, she has a constitutional role, a powerful role to shape the outcome. and Moreover, the more she must be kept out politics the more it suggests her power and her indirect role. To put it directly, the 1688 revolution is far from complete and Parliament is less supreme than it would like to believe.

[12] If you have talent the regime will co-opt you with honours and bestow other advantages. In these efforts, they defuse any potential resentment and harness talent and ambition. Aristotle noted this 2500 years ago when he explain how aristocracies stay in power.

1308a Further one should see that no only some aristocracies but even some oligarchies last, not because the regimes are stable, but because those occupying the offices treat well those outside the regime as well as those in the governing body —those who do not have a share, by not acting unjustly toward them and by bring into the regime those among them who have the mark of leaders, not acting unjustly toward the ambitious by depriving them of prerogatives or toward the many with regard to profit; and themselves and those who do have a share, by treating one another in a popular spirit.”


[14] One has to wonder whether the same external bullying was occurring within the company. Consider that its then editor, Andy Coulson, was named in a tribunal case in which the News of the World had to pay out nearly £800000.  “[A] tribunal ordered the News of the World to pay Driscoll, 41, £792,736 in compensation for being the victim of “a consistent pattern of bullying behaviour”   see also  If readers are interested, Mr. Coulson denies he is a bully. He claimed the Tribunal was unfair in its judgement. His witness statement can be read here:  The Tribunal judgement can be read here:   The salient paragraphs are paragraphs 106 and 116 and 130 and 141. What is particularly intriguing is that Mr. Coulson focuses on his emails and avoid discussing the culture of the management team he directed. In particular, on that issue, readers will want to read paragraphs 190.3-190.9.  As to the more subtle aspects of bullying which this incident suggests, consider this analysis For an insight into the News of the World culture, the Tribunal provides an insight with reference to the way the company responded to the claimant’s mental illness.  On this issue see paragraphs 198.1-198.4. Suffice to say the Tribunal did not find they were either sympathetic or understanding. In particular, even after the claimant’s claims were proven true which was the basis for the second disciplinary warning, they refused to accept it. (198.2)

[15] The initial oversight of the Royal Household appears to have been addressed.

[16] See Lord Neuberger speech. He explains that Parliament, which is part of the Crown, makes the laws so it is only accountable to itself not the people to whom it does not owe its allegiance. As Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury explains Parliament is only bound by its will nothing else because of its prerogative powers. (accessed 22 March 2015) See paragraphs 19-31.

About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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5 Responses to Child Sexual Abuse: A consequence of an imperial system?

  1. Phone-hacking trial failed to clear up mystery of Milly Dowler’s voicemail
    Perhaps because it was a police red herring? And of course we don’t know the content of the deleted voicemails. So was this suppression of evidence and fabrication of “evidence” targetting The News of the World. The News of the World spearheaded the campaign for “Sarahs Law” after the tragic murder of Sarah Payne and that populist newspaper had a reputation of not kow-towing to the establishment but standing up for the victims by generating huge public support. I wondered if that was the real reason the paper was destroyed. The police went to town on the “corruption” of the newspaper, deflecting attention from themselves, using emotional exploitation of both Dowler and Payne families, a very ugly technique to manipulate an appearance of “truth” with emotional manipulation. But they successfully deflected blame and muddied the waters.

    • Thanks for the comment. It seems to overlook many salient issues. First, the police were deeply involved with News International so they would not have investigated it at any detail. The Yates of the yard incident where he made a cursory review of evidence does not suggest an over zealous police force.
      Second, it overlooks the ICO reports on hacking g from 2006 What Price Privacy is one report based on the private investigators hacking phones for all news papers save, I think the FT, also your comment seems to forget is that far from supporting Sarah Payne the same newspaper was hacking her phone!
      News of the World was out of control hacking a Home Secretary’s phone and the Royal Family.
      The evidence presented by Paul McMullan’s presents a chilling view of what their operating ethos was as well as a bullying culture captured by the Driscoll Employment Tribunal report which paragraphs 190-198 spell out the ill treatment of a person with a debilitating mental illness. These were not and are not nice people.
      Some folks would call them bullies.
      As for the police they are in the midst of a slow motion car crash as seen by Leveson and then Plebgate. Perhaps things will improve. One thing is clear, though, they have neither diverted attention nor shifted blame.
      Thanks again for your comment.

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