Disastrous floods in Kenya should put allegations about Kevin Spacey in context – Kate Copstick

As Kenya recovers from devastating floods, Kate Copstick, who runs a charity in the country, finds herself appalled by the British media’s relative lack of interest and what it chooses to focus on instead

Is there a word for enraged despair? Or despairing rage? There should be. The kind of feeling that eponymous Shakespearean characters howl at the moon through multiple lines of iambic pentameter. But in a single word. I have been in its grip this past weekend.

I should simply not read the papers. Except, of course, The Scotsman. On this particular morning, my mood takes another swing to the Victor Meldrew as I read a few column inches dedicated to the news that North Yorkshire Council is planning to remove all apostrophes from street signs because they confuse computer databases. Could Victor even declare “I don't believe it!” now? That naughty old apostrophe in there might confuse someone's computer.

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As some might know, I run a little charity in Kenya, Mama Biashara. We rescue women and girls from unprintable horrors, relocate them and set them up in group businesses and, in effect, a new life. Kenya is currently in the midst of a nationwide catastrophe. It is not the only country but the destruction is devastating.

Residents of Mathare, Nairobi, stand next to houses destroyed by storms and flash floods last month (Picture: Simon Maina/AFP via Getty Images)Residents of Mathare, Nairobi, stand next to houses destroyed by storms and flash floods last month (Picture: Simon Maina/AFP via Getty Images)
Residents of Mathare, Nairobi, stand next to houses destroyed by storms and flash floods last month (Picture: Simon Maina/AFP via Getty Images)

There is flooding everywhere. Thousands displaced and homeless. Thousands missing. Untold numbers dead. A friend contacted me last week to tell me four entire villages had been swept away when the dam near Maai Mahiu burst. Torrential and prolonged rains, combined with the kind of badly maintained systems that would struggle to drain a pot of pasta have combined to create a sea of sewage in built-up areas.

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Slum villages cleared

The Maasai Mara is dotted with erstwhile high-end safari camps and lodges which are currently more Waterworld than Born Free. Meteorology is no respecter of the TripAdvisor star system. But it is mainly the poor who suffer in these floods of biblical proportions. And they are suffering.

There is nothing quite like a good-going emergency to allow a bad government to get its claws into its most vulnerable people while they are down. Slum villages on riparian land are being razed and inhabitants displaced. The land grabbers are out in force everywhere. I am just telling you because I think it is important. And I have not seen much in our press.

Although there is quite a lot else going on in the world… As we prepare for a Song Contest in which Eurovision extends to Israel (geography was never my strong point but…) we might remember in Gaza that more than 34,000 have been killed and 77,000 injured, and in Israel 1,139 are dead with 8,730 injured.

Meanwhile in Scotland last year, there were over 39,000 accommodation applications from homeless people – while the average age of death for those homeless was 43 for males and 39 for females. We do seem to be at a time in history when everything is either being ripped to shreds, or falling apart of its own accord. Not quite an 'end of days' scenario but…

Life-saving scientist

Yes, I do have a point, and I am getting there. On a personal level (you might say selfish, I prefer personal) I was honoured, last weekend, to be asked to be part of the celebration of the life of a much-loved man – an internationally respected, brilliant research scientist – who revolutionised the way medicine approaches sepsis.

His extraordinary dedication and passion will, in the fullness of time, save millions of lives. Especially those of newborn babies. Millions. But he did not have the fullness of time. The whole world should weep with his family and friends at the death of an extraordinary man such as he. But it doesn't. Of course it doesn't.

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And one reason why it doesn't is all the other things that attract our attention, like the six full pages recently devoted in one newspaper (which I shall not name) to an account of an actor allegedly having his bum felt by Kevin Spacey at a press party. Ten years ago. Six full pages. This is not even the tabloid press. (Spacey, who also faces allegations from other men, says people have “made up stuff about me or exaggerated stories”).

Low bar for trauma

There are huge battles being fought in the world right now. There is great injustice and there is great bravery. There is tragedy and there is catastrophe and we get six pages about a bloke in his 30s who has “waived his anonymity” in an interview. Not so much waived his anonymity, it seems, as allowed it to be taken out, twirled all about and enthusiastically re-enacted in a dance of the seven veils. And so we dedicate six pages of a national newspaper to him.

I realise I might appear, to more sensitive readers, and those labouring under the misapprehension that we are all guaranteed a life of loveliness, to be lacking in empathy. Too true I am. To be honest, I am equally lacking in sympathy. He was felt up. Fully clothed. In public. Are we not setting the bar for trauma a little low?

I am persuaded – never having met the man myself – that Spacey, who was found not guilty of various sexual offences last July, is not the most well mannered of men. In any way. But his reputation has been alive and twisted for decades. There is, to be brutally honest, a lot of it about in that profession. Always has been. Always will be, I expect.

And these six pages of self-indulgent interview left me disliking the alleged victim more than the alleged bad guy. But more than anything, they left me screaming “I just do not care”.

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