MUNICH, June 2022 – The estimates vary. Some say there were 5,000. Some say as many as 15,000. Whatever the accurate figure, there were a vast number of police vans and motorbikes, drivers and riders armed and clad in anti-terrorist gear, preceding, following and overtaking our bus as we progressed along the autobahn from Munich to Garmischen on the opening morning of the G7 Summit. We were not Heads of State or accompanying diplomats to justify such protection, but as we slid through at least three security check-points, it really felt like we had our own police escort. This was striking to me: someone had agreed in advance that our message was worth hearing.
We arrived, setting up our stall backed by a large cartoon showing G7 Leaders bringing child abuse to the table, alongside other pressing issues such as Ukraine and climate change. “NOW WE CAN START”, declares the cartoon President Scholz, a nod to the clear message sanctioned in June by the German G7 Presidency – ending childhood sexual abuse would be firmly on the G7 agenda.
The #BeBrave G7 Scorecard stood next to us, laying bare the lack of progress made by G7 nations to end childhood sexual violence. With all nations failing to turn their traffic lights green, a sea of amber and red boxes blazed across the van which bore the Brave Movement’s damning assessment of the world’s richest nations.
And who were we? An extraordinarily varied group, with one shared vision: a world in which children grow up free from sexual violence. Committed and passionate – two adjectives that buzzed in my head, all five days.
Our two leaders were a committed American Founder of the Brave Movement, and German co-chair of the G7 taskforce, who seems to have confronted successfully the entire Jesuit education system of Germany.
Two French delegates, one of whom by virtue of her birth also represented Japan, were both rigorous speakers, joyously good-humored, forceful and passionate. A ferociously powerful young woman from Bolivia, her intellectual fire as bright as her dress style, was accompanied by her mother and her baby. A distinguished, deeply thoughtful healer of survivors from Colombia sat beside a similarly experienced and delightfully avuncular Mauritian. An enthusiastic Nepalese organization leader, a brilliant Italian photographer, and naturally, several Germans – a mature and warmly generous woman, whose tenderness was matched by her intellect, wit and passion; a brilliant and provocative older man; a challengingly eloquent artist; and a thoughtful, articulate man from Berlin.
And there in the middle was me – the British gay man, wobbling on the cusp between middle and old age. Once the nine-year old boy sexually abused over and over again by his primary school teacher, who as a man found his survival strategy in the theatre – fiction, pretend characters and stories so much easier to deal with than real life. And now here I was engaging with both the personal and the political.
Here we all were, drawing our passion and commitment from the well of our own painful experiences, and transforming that energy into vibrant public speech. Direct, uncompromising, and unapologetic, demanding that these world leaders take seriously the pandemic of child sexual violation, a phenomenon as widespread and potentially deadly as COVID or AIDS.
Sexual abuse is not a broken ankle. It causes damages to the core identity of the child or young person, damage that can last a lifetime, unless properly addressed. No longer can we accept a politician’s discomfort with the subject as justification for non-action. No longer can we accept finance as an excuse – the figures show that every dollar, pound and euro spent on prevention and healing would save perhaps ten times that much in budgets for psychiatric health, prisons, social security offices, and unemployment centers. And no longer can we accept the conspiracy, cover-up and silencing of this criminal activity against our children, against your children and grandchildren.
These were the messages we were delivering, in my own case acutely aware that I was no longer alone, that I was blessed to be in the company of others who genuinely understood and respected me.That sense of belonging was a profound and lasting gift from our meeting.
A few of us had already begun in Munich the previous Friday. After a Press Conference in the city center, we moved across the road to unveil a 2m x 1m purple plaque remembering the 100,000 children abused by Catholic priests in Germany. Stuck on the wall of the Peterskirche – the oldest and most famous parish church in the city – press and passers-by studied and photographed the commemoration. And within 20 minutes, the plaque with its incriminating statement was removed by a church official. The admission of Church guilt could hardly be more blatant.
But our other large scale exhibits were not removed. In the Marienplatz at the very center of Munich, neither the large cartoon nor the van bearing the scorecard were defaced. On the contrary, many people hailed and photographed these declarations of our mission. An American woman cheered and applauded our efforts on behalf of her shy, abused daughter. Others recognised the enormity of the fight ahead: “How will you achieve this? Stopping sexual abuse is impossible. You will have an uphill struggle. But good luck to you! This matters.”
The people I will remember the most were two young policemen. Nervously approaching, one told me in careful English, “This is very important.’’ The other was clearly too close to tears to speak, reading about something he doubtless recognised. I cannot say definitively that these two young men were survivors. I can say that they were greatly moved by our truth. This is why we are here, I realized, to speak truth not just to power, but to ordinary people.
The Truth will set us free. There will be many such moments for the Brave Movement. This particular G7 moment of Truth arrived, in a clear paragraph in the G7 Final Communique:
“We commit to step up our fight against trafficking in human beings and our efforts to prevent and combat child sexual abuse and exploitation globally, both online and offline.”
This is the first time that child sexual abuse has been mentioned in over 45 G7 Communiques. An extraordinary achievement for the Brave Movement, survivors and allies all over the world. And so we celebrated, with delicious German roast pork, potato dumplings, sauerkraut, and the coldest, most welcome beer I have ever tasted in my life.
Now the work begins to get the job done!