The sex abuse scandal enveloping the BBC highlights the need to better protect whistleblowers.
By Kirsty Matthewson
At the time of writing, U.K. police are reeling from more than 300 allegations of abuse in the deluge of revulsion that is the Jimmy Savile scandal. The NSPCC has noted a 60 percent increase in calls reporting concerns about possible victims in the present day. Every hour brings a new and disturbing revelation and more parties are drawn into the mire.
The press are keen to revisit the culture that allowed such events to take place, though the case should also cast a spotlight on how we support those who blow the whistle after the actual act of reporting. Column inches are inordinately biased towards analyses of the BBC’s responsibilities in investigating the allegations, and less about the terrible impact that unearthing these experiences will have on the victim.
This is not to negate the importance of establishing accountability, or to eschew the need to examine the culture of whistleblowing in our institutions and society at large; far from it.
Without a thirst for accountability there would be no investigation or intervention, and then where would we be? But, as with any complex sociological system it is important to remind ourselves that important elements can easily be cast into the background.
Creating Trust & Finding Solutions
There is a common and faulty logic present that the act of whistleblowing itself is the balm that soothes; that once whistleblowers have “off-loaded” their experience they can carry on as normal. Whistleblowers are often faced with feelings of guilt, fear and doubt, which are compounded if subsequent investigations aren’t carried out in a thorough and transparent manner, or little or no remedial action is taken. They must be able to place trust in the system and the people they report to; they need to have confidence in their transparency and integrity.
Peter Watt, NSPCC director of child protection advice and awareness, has spoken about the “one good thing” resulting from the escalating Savile revelations: increased public awareness has highlighted the barriers people face when reporting abuse, whether they are the victim or voicing concerns about another.
Supporting the people whose need for catharsis and recrimination has been roused by the Savile case is a priority for charities like the NSPCC and should be for all of us. Support services can come in the more traditional forms of counseling and support groups or through online forums. At present these are not widely available without cost to the individual. With budgets stretched for state-funded counseling services, such as those available through the police, different avenues need to be explored.
Ian Foxley and Peter Gardiner who blew the whistle on EADS* and BAE* respectively, formed Whistleblowers UK earlier this year with the aim of providing psychological and practical support for whistleblowers. More such support mechanisms, combined with better protection measures, no threat of retaliation and better knowledge and accessibility of reporting processes would greatly improve the landscape for future whistleblowers. With more commitment to legislative developments and the whistleblowing process as a whole, these aspirations are entirely obtainable.
Protecting Whistleblowers Protects Us All
Whistleblowing is increasingly recognized as integral to a well-functioning society and as a vital tool in exposing corruption and wrongdoing.
Hopefully, with more positive outcomes arising from the Hillsborough Inquiry, Winterbourne and other high-profile cases we can take time to look beyond the results of the whistleblowing act on our own experience of the world and the failure of our institutions and consider the impact on those who put their heads above the parapet.
Media dissections of the “credibility” of whistleblowers and other scapegoating will continue -- and to ensure just investigations, to an extent they must. But the more we highlight and show compassion to those who are brave enough to blow the whistle, the better we support them, encourage others to report wrongdoing and ensure we maintain a democratic society.