This blog has some themes in it that readers may find distressing, triggering or uncomfortable with references to child abuse.
Ben Ryan – Metalhead Mental Health Practitioner
I said I would write about ‘Daddy’ the final song on Korn’s self-titled first album, and quickly regretted it. Not because Heavy Metal Therapy isn’t a wonderful site to write for and not that I don’t have a lot to say. No kids, it’s because even twenty years after I first bought that album, ‘Daddy’ never fails to make me feel upset or my skin crawl. For this reason it is one of the most important songs I have ever heard.
‘Daddy’ musically is very similar to much of the album but is a slower song. Heavy for sure but with a tempo and beat like heavy footfalls and the inevitability of something bad happening. It’s a filthy guttural song with grunts, growls and sobs to compliment the brutally honest confessions of a lead singer who as a child had been sexually abused.
Jonathan Davis was raped by his neighbour and his parents never believed him. The first part of the song is from the point of view of the abuser, messed up yeah?
“Little child, looking so pretty
Come out and play, I’ll be your daddy
Innocent child, looking so sweet.”
To form that kind of position must have been an incredible thing for Jonathan to do. Most reactions to abusers is that of disgust and to demonise. To put himself into the abuser’s shoes must have taken a heroic effort on Jonathan’s behalf. Performing this song was utterly draining for Davis and it took him years to be able to sing it live.
The second half of the song is Jonathan’s anger at his parents for not believing him. The anger appears to overshadow much of the actual abuse.
“I didn’t touch you there
Mama said she didn’t care
I didn’t touch you there
That’s why mama stopped and stared.”
As a younger man I misinterpreted this as him being sexually abused by his father, something like many naive minds I didn’t think was possible and is never talked about. I was dabbling with the idea of working in mental health and doing A-Levels in Theatre, English and Psychology. I had also read excerpts from Marilyn Manson’s biography in which Manson graphically described sexual abuse at the hands of his grandfather.
This-blew-my-mind. How could people have sex with children? How could someone have sex with a child they were related to? What the hell is wrong with people? Child abuse is taboo. It’s arguably more taboo than murder. In prison (or on the front pages of certain newspapers) it’s seen to be worse to have sex with a child than kill someone. The Office for National Statistics has only started asking the general population about the frequency of sexual abuse in the last four years.
As my career developed I worked more and more with adults whom had suffered sexual abuse and the majority was at the hands of direct or secondary members of the family. It’s horrific, but you are more likely to be raped by someone known or even in the same household as you than a stranger*.
It’s hard to hide the unease of this revelation. Social workers are taught to question children when the child cannot see them, ideally when driving a car or engaging in an activity. The reason is twofold: It encourages disclosure and the child cannot see the horror on the adult’s face, horror that cannot be hidden even by the most hardened social worker.
So I have probably hit a nerve here and likely caused discomfort, for that I apologise but that’s not the full story. See people recover from the effects of sexual abuse. People bounce back and get stronger. Inter-family abuse is more difficult because there are often conflicting feelings about the abuser. On one hand the abuser did what they did, but they might also have been a loving parent that the abused had some fond memories of. It’s also often the case that the abused remains in contact with the abuser. Early in my practice I sometimes found this client group frustrating to work with, but I was looking at things backwards. It takes time to get trust then effort to keep continuity of care. This is understandable considering the persons trust in any authority or caring individual has likely been shattered by their early experience. And here I was expecting an individual with that experience to instantly trust me. The more I understood the interaction between the abuse and the person’s presentation the easier things got. I have over recent years started to describe some of the difficulties that people who have experienced childhood trauma as like a ‘Survivor Syndrome’, I think it has a nice ring to it.
Society never really helped me get my head around child sexual abuse in my clients. The training I received, although excellent doesn’t touch on how often the abuser is known to the family or even a member. Heavy metal artists such as Korn, Marilyn Manson and a notable mention; Machinehead gave me a greater understanding of what the people I worked with had gone through. The songs I was listening to were more honest and brutally forthright than my training or society ever was.
I acknowledge the suffering the artists had been subjected to. I personally think ‘Daddy’ should be required listening to any mental health professional. It’s raw, uncomfortable and genuinely upsetting. It also points out the failings that people have in acknowledging child abuse. We are better than the past but the truth is we often don’t want it to be true. 3 in 4 victims don’t report abuse at the time because they feel embarrassed, humiliated or that they will not be believed*. As a society we still prefer bogeymen who steal innocence away. Not the truth which is that the abuser is just as likely to be a member or close friend of the family.
To summarise I would like to state that ‘Daddy’ had a huge impact on me. It challenged many of the beliefs I had around child sexual abuse. I also think it points out some of the barriers to reporting sexual abuse. Furthermore I think it is an excellent education in the thoughts and emotions that an abused child may be experiencing. It is a musical expert by experience, a brutally uncompromising guide to how to manage child sexual abuse.
Metal is full of songs about taboo subjects. Rarely has it reached into me and changed the very way I saw the suffering of others in such a profound way. I have heard criticisms that the mentioned artists are being self-indulgent and looking for to shock their audience… well, yeah. That’s what metal is about, getting in your face with issues both gripping and profound. Korn put a cathartic song about child sexual abuse on their very first album and it went platinum. Can you imagine Beyoncé or Ed Sheeran doing the same through the medium of pop**? Only a metal artist could pull it off. From an artistic point of view the song is sublime. It’s a beautifully hideous and will provoke emotion.
Have a listen and change a life.
This article was hard to write. I’m off to do something nice. If you are working with individuals who have suffered like Jonathan; be brave and ask the hard questions you amazing human being. If you have suffered; stay strong you bad ass survivor and remember; they can’t hurt you now.
** According to NME magazine Ed Sheeran is a big fan of both Korn and Marilyn Manson!