This book by Peter Saunders is available on Amazon for £11.99 (Paperback) and is a must read. I have to disclose a self interest in that I know Peter, and share a lot of the experiences mentioned in the book. A lot of the content, however, was new to me, and I found extremely interesting.
As a Child Abuse Lawyer, I sometimes dread reading books about child abuse because they can be dark, depressing, and gloomy, usually when written by a survivor of abuse rather than a ghost writer. I was very glad to discover that this book was none of those things. Quite the reverse, it is uplifting, inspiring, humorous in part, and very well written. The style is simple, and easy to follow, even though the content is often quite dense, and complex. I always think that the best story tellers make the best authors. I have heard Peter communicate his message many times in person, and this is exactly what he does in this book. It simply brims over with energy, righteous indignation with which one sympathises, and passion….in bucket loads.
The book is about Peter’s life from cradle to the present day, but only the interesting bits, and it is not self-indulgent, which is a trap some like authors fall into. Peter tells the story of his abuse in childhood, and how his father’s death both set him free, and inspired him to set up the National Association for People Abused in Childhood. With his energy, enthusiasm, and passion, he worked tirelessly to set up the Country’s, if not the World’s most successful Survivor Group with its own dedicated helpline, and much needed grant funding from government, and various donors.
The theme, very much shining through the book, is the Catholic Church. It explains how Peter grew up a devout Catholic, part of a dedicated and hard working Catholic family, yet, at the same time, was the victim of abuse by various Jesuit Priests, and other members of his community. The book opens with Peter proudly meeting the Pope with great pride, and high hopes of some sort of empathetic response from the Church, but over time finding cover up, secrecy, and “prayer for forgiveness”, instead of investigation and apology.
As the book progresses, Peter’s faith in the Church becomes more and more damaged, as one religious leader after another fails dismally to do the right thing, expose the abuse for what it is, and expel/report the perpetrators. Peter’s experience extends to not only England but also South America, South Africa, Italy, Israel, and Romania. Sadly, the same attitude of secrecy mixed in with pious prayer permeates all religious leaders that Peter meets.
Peter must have spent countless hours in research because there are extracts from many of the various child abuse investigations that have beset not only England but other countries over the last 30 years with some shocking statistics, and mention of some of the celebrity figures accused.
Peter’s passion for change, talent for communication, and his ability to spread the word that abuse must be rooted out, investigated, and victims/survivors listened to shines brightly from the pages. Yet, also included is the way in which the “abuser lobby” eventually brought about his downfall. One cannot avoid feeling deeply sorry for how badly Peter has been treated. Eventually the hatchet men managed to silence him with false allegations, and his lofty position as one of the country’s leading commentators was toppled. I won’t spoil the suspense, but this part of the book evokes every feeling of unfairness and sympathy from the reader.
Peter is a former teacher, and communication is thus his best tool. I found the book very difficult to put down, and that is because the story is so compelling. I am, myself, an avid campaigner, but I cannot hold a candle to the sort of energy and enthusiasm that simply pours out of the book.
The book ends with Peter’s present views on religion, which are still balanced, intelligent, but tempered cynically by his experiences of abuse, and the Catholic Church, which, undoubtedly has failed him miserably. He says:-
If there is a God, then maybe I will have it out with him or her one day but in the meantime I will place my faith in the goodness of people and our ability to battle evil…and child abuse is most certainly evil.
I have only one thing to add, other than go out and buy the book because you will enjoy it, and that is, there is no doubt that Peter deserves a gong for his contribution to the attempted eradication of child abuse, and his constant speaking out on the subject, not to mention the foundation of NAPAC, and his endless passion. Only the highest accolade will do, so I salute you, Sir Peter Saunders.