Sunday, 10 February 2013

For Frances Andrade

Frances Andrade (Shorney) killed herself 6 days after giving evidence against a man who abused his position of trust as a music teacher and molested her. News of her death was kept confidential while the trial proceeded, presumably so the jury would not be influenced. They found the teacher and his wife guilty anyway. "She was a combative, confident and emotional witness", reports the Guardian. ."When Kate Blackwell QC, Brewer's barrister, alleged her account of being raped by the Brewers at their house was "utter fantasy", Andrade loudly replied: "Bollocks".

"This feels like rape all over again", she told the court

It's horrific that victims of abuse should be treated in this way, but even she admitted that it was the  defence counsel's job to defend her clients. Indeed, that proves the case was strong enough to stand, even if the Brewers weren't found guilty on all counts. "You have told this jury a complete pack of lies about the visit to this house," said Blackwell. Andrade replied: "This is why cases don't come to court. This happened."  

 Our legal system is fair in that it assumes people are innocent until proven guilty. It's a basic human right. Unfortunately in abuse cases like this, the system is skewed against those who don't have the resources to stand up for themselves. The Jersey orphanages, the North Wales care homes and Jimmy Savile scandals show how hard it is to substantiate claims.  So it's all the more important that cases like this do come to trial, and remind us of the human tragedy behind the headlines. Frances Andrade's courage is remarkable, becauses she knew the risks she was taking, but didn't flinch. She was doing what was right. But because she was human, it was, eventually, more than she could cope with.  Read about her life here in  the Telegraph and also the article "A force of creativity" by Helen Pidd.

Frances Andrade did the right thing by testifying, and should be honoured for having done so. She didn't have to, but she did so in the hope that she might prevent the same thing happening to others. No-one else should be blamed for her death other than those who abused her in the first place.  But we must be outraged, because what happened to her was wrong, and anger is a healthy part of mourning. It can stop bad things happening to other people.

There is no point in blaming music schools, or blaming music students, because these situations arise in many different circumstances.  It's yet another form of abuse to assume that everyone is tainted by association. Indeed, abuse is probably more prevalent in care homes, "reform schools" and similar institutions where kids come from much more difficult backgrounds.

The sort of one to one contact students in music schools have with their teachers is, in principle, a good thing because students need that to develop.  Young athletes need the same kind of individual, personal attention. But it does not, under any circumstances, connect to abuse. In the scramble to place blame, there's the danger that we might lose sight of the real problem, which is sick individuals who hurt others for their own pleasure. 

Michael Brewer and his ex wife knew what they were doing when they assaulted Frances Andrade. They smiled while she confronted them during the trial, which is a cruel thing to do even if you're not guilty. There are cases when people are falsely accused, or when the teacher is himself/herself is vulnerable. But when some people are in positions of power, they use their authority to get away with their deeds, and no-one dares stand up to them.

Brewer left Chetham's after he was exposed for having abused another student, some years after Frances Andrade had left. The other student didn't go to court, for understandable reasons. Thus Brewer was able to get other jobs, and even an OBE. He became artistic director of the National Youth Choirs of Britain, and director of the World Youth Choir, appeared on the BBC andf performed before the Queen. His later employers claimed that they didn't know about his past.  But if cases don't come to court how do they find out? Read the correspondence HERE which gives background. On page 26, there is a letter from Frances Andrade, written in 2002. Even then, she was speaking out.

Although the age of consent is 16 for heterosexual acts, abuse doesn't become legitimate because people are technically adult. It can happen in further education, in the workplace, anywhere there is an imbalance of power and where institutions are complacent about bullying.  The Brewer case has wide implications, far beyond music schools and the events of 30 years ago. Post-Jimmy Savile, the police have been focussing on old men and on old evidence, which is fair enough. But the danger is that abuse continues.  It's not "historic". Shouldn't emphasis be on fresh cases and the prevention of further abuse?  Perhaps that might mean institutions have to be more vigilant and take things more seriously. It's not easy to balance evidence of proof against the possibility of harm. Whistleblowers aren't necessarily troublemakers. Many decent people don't act on their consciences, and bad things go unchecked. They are less culpable than those who chose not to check. The real guilt lies with those who harm in the first place. Frances Andrade had the integrity to appear in court, even if it destroyed her.  Angry we must be, for her sake, and for the thousands of others elsewhere who are still intimidated.

And this might just be the beginning....

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