Sunday, 10 February 2013

For Frances Andrade

This beautiful spirit is Frances Andrade. Before you read I want you to listen to her play

I want you to remeber this woman as a talented violinist, and someone who put all her sadness into her music. Because Frances Andrade doesn't play anymore, she died. A week after giving evidence against the man and his wife who sexually abused her as a teenager.

When I heard her story on the news last night and read today  I wept. My heart was torn in two for this beautiful woman that I never met. I sought solace in my violin playing when I was a child, beginning lessons at the age of seven. I never reached her dizzying heights or had her talent. But it comforted me.

When I wrote Jimmy Savile is dead I said that when you talk about the abuse, you are no longer an adult, you are right back there again, as a vulnerable child. It's terrifying, you feel exposed, stripped bare, dirty, alone, guilty, disgusting. You feel unlovable, and like your life is just not worth living. I know. I am there.

Frances bravely took her abuser to court. The process took two years, alledgedly in this time, she was advised not to seek counselling. In court she was called a liar and a fantastist, and this dear, dear woman had been sexually assaulted as a girl by an uncle, and later by her teacher and his wife was not believed. She had suffered so deeply. She had a history of self harm. Frances built a life and a loving family against the odds. She brought beauty with her music against such pain that she had suffered.

The man who sexually assaulted her is awaiting sentencing. But Frances died before she ever heard the words "guilty". The inquest is yet to be held, but the statements being issued tell a story. A story of a woman assaulted by the criminal justice system and let down by the police. I am not going to go into the merits or otherwise of the adversarial system of trial, but something has, indeed, gone horribly wrong when a victim is dead and the perpertrator gets a sentence in prison.

We have to learn from Frances, that her death may not be in vain. I talked briefly about my own story here. I was the victim of a sustained period of abuse as a little girl. I revisted this with the police not long ago, and was believed. But they advised me to think very carefully about going to trial. Historical cases are notoriously hard to prosecute. Both my witnesses are dead, also at their own hand. My memory is very patchy, I was very young, I didn't have the vocabulary for the things that happened to me.

I have no dates, there is no dna, there are no witnesses. I know in my heart that it happened, but I will never hear "guilty as charged your honour".

There has to be a better way. There has to be. In the 21st century we can do better than this, I have no answers but I am not going to be silent anymore. If we want to see these evil people punished, we need to get much better at the process.

Rest in peace Frances Andrade and I hope, wherever you are, there is music, sparkle and happiness.

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