WORDS: Punk Food Bandita
Convicted sex offender and ex footballer Adam Johnson has been released from jail recently after serving half of his sentence for sexual activity with a child.
On the first day of the trial in 2016, the former Sunderland player pleaded guilty to one count of grooming and admitted kissing the teenager, but had denied two other counts of sexual activity meaning his victim had to give evidence before he was found guilty of carrying out a sex act on her. He was subsequently sentenced to six years in prison and had his £60,000 a week contract with the club terminated as a result.
He had only been free for a few hours and already among the condemnation for his actions has been a resurgence in the support for him that was visible in the run up to his trial. Many repeated lies that were debunked at the time have resurfaced, such as the belief that Johnson thought she was 18. He didn’t. Johnson was always aware of her age and told a psychologist days before sentencing “I put her age out of my mind. I was sexually interested but she was just another girl, another opportunity”. The victim was also named on social media, despite this being a serious criminal offence. She was hounded by trolls and bullies and a picture of an adult woman appeared claiming to be her with statements like “would you believe this girl was 15” when it was falsely insinuated by social media users that Johnson had first met her in a club.
Whilst he was in prison, footage that was secretly taken by another inmate emerged of him talking about the crime. He is asked by a prisoner “it’s not like you fucking raped her or owt like that?” and he replies with “No, I wish I fucking did for six year”. While some have argued that this can be put down to him trying to get by in prison, he never showed any remorse for his actions during the trial and it is not realistic to believe he said this just to curry favour.
Others made remarks like “she is as much to blame as he is”, because his grooming was successful and had an underage girl almost half his age besotted with him. Look at it another way. Would you say the same if it was your 15 year old? Are you saying that you too would be sexually active with a 15 year old if you thought they were attracted to you? Johnson’s victim was slated across social media. Along with the disgusting remarks there were also threats of violence and a Facebook group created by Johnson’s sister that appeared in support of him. His victim broke down in tears repeatedly during cross examination, which if you have ever seen a cross examination for a case involving sexual abuse you will understand why. It is absolute retraumatisation of a survivor and children are not exempt from it. The vicious and relentless vilification of her continues by the same people asking Johnson’s detractors to give him a break, saying that he has served his time and deserves forgiveness.
He demonstrated “calculated, considered and carefully orchestrated abuse” over a period of time in a “single minded pursuit of his own sexual gratification” towards a teenager who initially believed she was in a relationship with him. Does that sound familiar? Of course it does, so remember your current attitude when the perpetrators of the Rotherham and Newcastle and Leeds grooming gangs are released so that you can offer your condolences and support to them as well. After all, they will have served their time and deserve to get on with their lives, won’t they?
The attitudes to both Adam Johnson’s victim and Shamima Begum show the staggering lack of compassion and understanding into how grooming works and their contempt for those who suffer from it is far greater than that for the actual perpetrators of child sex offences.
If you are one of the people defending Johnson, I don’t care why that might be. I don’t care if it’s because he’s white, because he’s a celebrity, because you followed the club or because you’re Facebook friends with his 2nd cousin’s nana’s dog. Making excuses for his sexually abusive behaviour towards an underage girl whether in conversation in the pub or on social media will stop others coming forward. They read comments sections like this, trying to gauge public opinion. The criminal justice system is difficult enough but if you feel you would not have the support of your community and be isolated further, you would not subject yourself to further trauma.
It doesn’t have to be Johnson. We could replace his name with that devastatingly talented musician you liked that you say is okay because it was the seventies. Or that troubled former child star that couldn’t have done those awful things as he seemed so vulnerable. When you say things like “I’ve seen no credible evidence” when someone has actually come forward and said they were abused, what the person pondering disclosure reading your words will interpret that as is: “no one will think I’m credible” even if you never intend that. We are not detectives. We can’t possibly know someone’s guilt or innocence by reading articles about high profile sexual abuse cases and it is not our job to do so. But we can change our narrative when we talk about them and not leap to the defence of the celebrities with excuses for terrible behaviour just because we are a fan of that particular person. When we do, we unwittingly and entirely unintentionally become part of a society where abuse stays hidden for too long and blocks chances for people to escape it.