Bedknobs and broomsticks

No one knows how many cases of abuse and manipulation never see the light of day. A lot of domestic strife is never exposed. If only bedknobs and broomsticks could relate what they see and hear!

Still from William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973) showing Max Von Sydow as the exorcist
Still from William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973) showing Max Von Sydow as the exorcist

The other week saw the conclusion of one of the strangest of court trials with a young man being condemned to 20 years’ imprisonment after he was found guilty of the aggravated rape of a mother, forcing her two daughters to carry out perverse sex acts against their will and the rape of his girlfriend who was the under-age daughter of the same family.

The evidence given in Court exposed a weird story of the manipulation of a naive mother and two daughters who ended up the victims of the accused.

It is a story of a clever – but evil – guy manipulating three naive women in an extraordinary way. It is not my intention to recount the story that has been reported to the slightest detail over and over in the press. However, it is worth commenting on certain general aspects that came to light in the case.

First of all, the case came to light because social workers persuaded the elder daughter to go to the police and file a report, after she was referred to them by a psychologist. So, without a formal complaint to the police, this case would not have surfaced. Few people appreciate the difficulties faced by social workers and other professionals who vouch they will not report anything to the police so as to gain the trust of those being helped by them. This is the only way that victims of abuse can be persuaded to reveal all to social workers. Without this ‘confidential’ information, social workers cannot do their job properly.

In other words, if a victim refuses to take the advice of social workers to refer the abuse to the police, the abuser goes away scot-free. The abuser will, in fact, avoid the long arm of the law as happens with many abuses that are never reported to the police.

This means the cases of abuse that end up in court are only a fraction of the number of abuses that take place. No one knows how many cases of abuse and manipulation never see the light of day. A lot of domestic strife is never exposed. If only bedknobs and broomsticks could relate what they see and hear!

The family that was the victim of the manipulator was certainly a dysfunctional family. The mother – who admitted that she had borderline personality disorder and had spent some time in the mental hospital – should have been given more attention by the state’s agencies that were looking after her and her daughters. They were satisfied that the two daughters were not living with her, but apparently did not realise that they went back to live with their mother, a situation that made things worse. Imagine this mother letting a teenage vagrant living with her family, doing nothing except for having sex with her under-age daughter!

When revealed, this sort of harsh reality hits many people in the face – except for social workers who are overwhelmed with such cases.

I know that we have a dearth of social workers whose job is not an easy one. In fact they deserve our appreciation and admiration but they are overworked. In the present employment climate, I wonder how many persons are attracted to such jobs. Even so, there is a lack of social workers not only in Malta but in many other European countries as well. Dysfunctional families are more common than many people might think.

Another issue that cropped up in my mind is the validity of judgements and actions made by extremely naive persons who fully retain their civil rights at law. Unfortunately abusing of their naivete is also common, although not in the way and to the extent evident in this case. But stories of people being manipulated and also conned out of their money or property are not uncommon. Humans are predatory creatures.

We live in a democracy where everybody is equal and goes to vote to elect our government. One can easily argue that extremely naive persons cannot be able to judge who is to run the country. Disqualifying such people from voting, however, is not on. Democracy has many faults, but to repeat a trite observation, the alternative is worse.

Putin’s propaganda war

Vladimir Kara-Murza, a leading Russian dissident and a contributor to The Washington Post, has been in a cell in a Moscow jail for nine months. He was arrested on April 11, 2022, for criticising Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

He was soon charged with spreading false news by referring to the war in Ukraine as ‘war’ rather than a ‘special military operation’. He has since been charged with ‘high treason’ as well.

In a recent contribution to The Washington Post, he describes how in prison he has been experiencing the same relentless outpouring of Kremlin propaganda to which most Russian citizens are being subjected.

He argues, however, that the notion that the regime’s propagandists have succeeded in transforming ordinary Russians into uncritical recipients of government lies, is itself a half-truth at best. According to him, “Kremlin propaganda is showing signs of losing its effectiveness.” If Kara-Murza is right, the consequences for Putin’s hold on power could be huge.

According to Kara-Murza, on the television set in his prison cell, most of the airtime across all major networks is taken up by relentless pro-regime and pro-war messaging. Propaganda is not limited to news bulletins and talk shows. It is also present in documentaries, cultural programmes and even sports coverage. New Year’s Eve, when millions of Russians tune in to listen to popular songs and watch favourite movies, was also filled with propaganda messages.

The leitmotifs are always the same: Russia is surrounded by enemies. The West seeks to humiliate and dismember it. The Soviet Union was a noble and benevolent state. It was “the empire of good that was destroyed by a mischievous scheme of the Reagan administration with help from domestic traitors” – according to the chief TV propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov commenting in a film broadcast on New Year’s Eve. The only reason Russia still exists is because Putin is there to protect it. Ukraine is a Western puppet state run by neo-Nazis through which the United States and NATO are trying to attack Russia. And Russian soldiers on the front lines are heroes defending the motherland.