Honouring Amber

We must remember victims of evil

Artillery Row

Some news stories make us angry. Some news stories make us sad. But at least most stories leave us with a sense — rational or otherwise — of something that should be done in response. Fund this, ban this, reform this and so on.

Some news stories don’t do that. Some leave us feeling angry, and sad, and powerless. That was my response — and I suspect it was many people’s response — to reading about the death of Amber Gibson.

Amber Gibson lived a life of unremitting horror. The 16-year-old Scot was born with an abusive father who would go on to be jailed for rape and sexual assault. Gibson, who was placed in care along with her brother, was raped by a man who was out on bail (for rape). She was then sexually assaulted and killed by her brother. A man found her body in the woods yet proceeded not to call the police but to “intimately touch” and conceal the corpse. Even in death, Amber could not escape evil.

The anger sets in before the powerlessness. Hang them! Well, I think there is a case that capital punishment is a just response to murder and child abuse. Would it stop them, though? Well — no. The response seeks catharsis more than a solution.

Social services failed! Well, perhaps. That should be investigated, for sure — and thoroughly. But one cannot simply assume that it was the case. It seems obvious now that Amber should not have been allowed to leave her care home with her brother, for example. But when, and how, should you stop a 16-year-old from seeing her brother? I don’t have an easy answer to that.

It’s tempting to scrabble round for some sort of random policy that could be implemented in a doomed attempt to wrest some good from the situation. Let’s call it Amber’s Law! Well, if a rational and effective policy can be implemented in response that will be a good thing. But the rush to find one in a self-indulgent quest for societal ablution is how we end up with village halls closing because they cannot meet anti-terror regulations.

Still, Amber was failed. She was failed by her father, and by her brother, and by strangers who saw her as nothing but a chance to fulfill their grim desires — and she was failed by a state, and a society, which did not have the capacity, whatever the causes, to extract her from the muck. That calls for serious reflection, because if progress means anything it means protecting innocent members of our community from evil. 

In saying that, I do not wish to obscure the fact that evil — violence, exploitation — can be everyday. It lurks in every human realm and it is not only deserving of our time when it accumulates to such extraordinary levels. But such an extraordinary accumulation of evil, within the fairly narrow bounds of provincial Lanarkshire, should still be chastening. 

The worm in human nature burrows deep yet never dies

The worm in human nature burrows deep yet never dies. We need firm criminal justice that separates the worst people from the restnot just to punish them but to protect everyone else. We need to fund the legal system to prevent delays. We need systems through which moral rot — abuse, exploitation, neglect et cetera — can be identified. We need to investigate the cracks in social services that young people fall, or squeeze, through.

But we also need to honour victims of evil just for the sake of honouring them. Just because they mattered. Just because they should not be reduced to grim statistics. 

By all accounts, Amber was a caring, loving person, despite the lack of care and love that she had received in life. In that, she was stronger than all the evil she was faced with. She transcended her surroundings while it festered on the ground.

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