Friday 23 August 2019

Dr Ciara Kelly: Tom Humphries case raises a great many disturbing questions

Ciara Kelly
Ciara Kelly
Dr Ciara Kelly

Dr Ciara Kelly

I've been reading with perturbed interest, convicted paedophile and former sports journalist with The Irish Times Tom Humphries's articles about the under 14 camogie team he was involved in the training of back in 2005. Humphries wrote in glowing terms about these GAA kids. It was from among the ranks of girls like these in another club that Humphries singled out his victim for grooming and ultimately for defilement, and how he viewed them and wrote about them is revealing.

In one article he describes the under 14 girls as "the 24 greatest living Irish women" and says of them "they can be both erratic and brilliant. They can die for each other or they can just not be in the mood for anything except the bartering of gossip with each other. They play and function as an aggregate of their two dozen separate personalities. They are beautiful and wild and basically nuts. Some days they are just collectively hormonal and we are afraid to ask them something in case they rage at us".

When viewed through the prism of trust that people had in Tom Humphries as a respected sports journalist at the time these articles were published, this writing is kind, generous, avuncular, benevolent. He has graciously elevated schoolgirls into women and indeed elevated them further into the greatest of all women. They are fearless, multifaceted sporting warriors to be admired, respected and almost revered.

When viewed through the prism of hindsight, however, this reads a little differently. It doesn't read benignly. It reads as a man who has psychologically moulded girls into women and who's eroded the hierarchy and the boundaries between adults and children. He describes the post-match aftermath when the girls are exhausted and are "huddled like a scattering of dropped commas" as a sight "that will stay with me forever". And it seems to me reading this now more than 10 years after it was written and only a couple of weeks after he's been sentenced that Humphries was clearly attracted to these young girls and was misinterpreting them and their youthful enthusiasm in a way that suited him and his predilection.

One comment I heard in the aftermath of the Humphries case from a middle-aged man was "There's no fool like an old fool", and I think that's very revealing too. It shows that even men who aren't paedophiles appear to be able to see things from the man's perspective.

Ascribing to him the role of a deluded old codger who fell for a teenage temptress and sure who could blame him kinda thing.

But that's not borne out by the facts. Young girls are not temptresses except for in the minds of old men perving after them. Young girls are mostly unaware that older men - whom they view as invisible and largely irrelevant, in the way they view their dads - would ever consider them sexually because they would never consider those men sexually.

Young girls fancy boys in their class and Justin Bieber; they don't fancy bearded, beer-bellied middle-aged men. No matter how much those men wish that they did.

The Humphries case illustrated this very well. It was never an issue of a teen seducing an old fool. It never is. Teenagers are totally out of their depth with mature adults - they're too young to be able to read such situations properly. Humphries showed clearly that the older man isn't a fool at all - he's a predator bombarding a child he pretended to care about with sexual texts until he wore her down. He collected her at her school gate and brought her to a flat where he performed sex acts on her. He destroyed the childhood of a particularly vulnerable girl for his own sexual gratification. He resisted pleading guilty until he absolutely had to. And he wrote her an overly personal apology letter in court that it's hard to view in any light other than another attempt to crawl inside her head.

Humphries is no fool. He is calculating, manipulative and selfish. Just like every other paedophile.

The fact that they were ever viewed benignly as fools is because the perspective of the young victim isn't as easily identified with by those who run our society.

@ciarakellydoc Ciara presents Lunchtime Live on Newstalk 106-108FM, weekdays from 12-2

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