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Jimmy Savile and A Very Dark Place

Posted on: Thursday, 1 November 2012

Every so often a news story comes to light that's so awful - so mind-blowingly horrific - that it, well, torments me. When said story emerges I just can't stop thinking about it. It worries away at me until I'm in some sort of foot-stampy bad mood without really realising why. 

And then, finally, I do realise. Oh, that's the reason I feel a bit sick. Jimmy Savile and his antics. Oh, institutionalised sexism at the BBC. Oh, what a dirty get. How unbelievably depressing.  

The Jimmy Savile Debacle (hereafter known as the JSD) is big news here in Brussels in much the same way I'm sure it is in the UK - staff room conversations, lunch time internet browsing for the latest developments and so on. Just this morning the announcement came that his estate has been frozen in anticipation of legal action being brought by his victims. 

My mum and dad have been over for a few days and, amongst other things, we talked about the JSD. And why not, eh? It's tabloid fodder of the finest quality. There's a sordid detail of the story for every member of the family! Dad was interested in his gravestone being removed - "Jaysus, that was some creation of a thing." Mum recalled his coffin being ceremoniously displayed in the lobby of the Queens Hotel in Leeds - "I bet those people who were crying over him in the streets feel a bit, well, silly now."

Now, I'm not here to debate whether we should be treating him as innocent until proven guilty. Neither am I interested in discussing whether a lot of the public rage currently being directed towards him is misplaced and, well, a bit pointless given that he's dead and all, as I've seen elsewhere on the t'interweb. 

Let's just assume for a moment that, say, half of these (now several hundred) allegations have maybe half of a shred of truth in them. 

Can you cope with that? Certain? OK, read on.  

I hate the fact that this story speaks of an era where children were frightened to speak to their parents about things that had happened to them which made them feel uncomfortable. An era when girls were more scared of men than they are now. An era when young women weren't comfortable exercising their rights - although 'rights' seems a curious word to apply to 'not having to put up with being mauled by any man who took the fancy'.  

An era when abuse wasn't just endemic within organisations like the BBC, but dismissive attitudes towards certain sexual behaviours and activities were more widespread. An era when certain curtains on a housing estate were drawn in the middle of the day and everybody knew why. 

I know I live in a culture of Child Protection and Stranger Danger and Daily Mail headlines about society going to the dogs. I know that the definition of abuse has changed over the last forty years or so. Esteemed Beacon of Political Correctness Jim Davidson has weighed in with that very point on his blog:

I read a thing today(in The Express) some one saw 
Jimmy Saville pinch some girl’s bum . Apparently that is a sexual assault. Where will all this end." (sic)

Not content with being left on the sidelines, everyone's favourite celebrity commentator Max Clifford has also claimed this week that fifteen 'celebrities' have contacted Uncle Max in a flap that they'll be caught up with the JSD: 

"In those days we didn't ask for their birth certificate! Fnarr fnarr!" he's bleated in some public forum or another. "Some of these lads were 18 and used to work in factories...then they found themselves in fancy dressing rooms with girls throwing themselves at them! What's a fella to do?*"

*Maybe not an exact quotation, but near enough. 

We're talking about two different types of accusation here. Some girls, from the sound of it, didn't invite any sexual attention from Savile at all. At the time of their abuse they were unfortunate enough to be living in a Borstal-type school or lying in a hospital bed and expected to show their appreciation to Lovely Mr Savile. 

Some of them, however, put on some lipstick, wore a short skirt and sat in the studio audience of Clunk Click. Some of them undoubtedly wanted a taste of a celebrity lifestyle. They wanted to feel a little bit older than they actually were. Teenage years are a confusing time. Remember being 16? Remember being adamant that you knew best?  

This is what Davidson and Clifford seem to be missing. 'Abuse' is not a new-fangled PC term. People - women, men - have known for years what makes them feel uncomfortable. The fact that it was the 60s and the 70s and, to use Clifford's poorly-chosen phrase, 'things were opening up' is irrelevant. If someone forces someone who is - and this is crucial - too young or too naive to know any better to do something that makes them feel uncomfortable, that person is taking advantage. That's abuse. 

'They wanted it!' cry the Savile defenders. I have no doubt that some of them, perhaps, did. So? A four year old might want to eat nothing but McDonalds morning, noon and night; but a responsible adult isn't going to feed them that. That's abuse. A teenage girl who 'wants' sex with a man in his late thirties - or even older - is not capable of making that decision. Like the McDonalds, it's going to cause no end of problems for that individual in the future. The adult needs to take charge. The adult needs to show that they know better.

Jim Davidson and Max Clifford et al don't agree with me. You might not. You might think my McDonalds analogy is a little crass. But my point is this: sex too young with older men messes girls up. 

The last media story that made me feel similarly sick was the tale of child sex trafficking ring in Rochdale. The more I think about it, there's a number of points of parity with the JSD. One line of defence that was used was that they 'wanted' it. Amidst the flurry of race-related fury that surrounded the case, ringleader Ahmed called the judge a 'racist bastard' and was banned from the courtroom. These girls, he claimed, were running a lucrative prostitution empire. They were demanding alcohol, phone credit and money in receipt for their services. 

These were girls from troubled backgrounds. Girls who were arrested in the very takeaways that were the stamping grounds of their sexual abuse for being loud and sweary and violent. A policeman taking evidence from one of the victims simply yawned as she detailed the history of her treatment at the hands of her abusers. She was told that her case wouldn't go to trial because a jury wouldn't believe her. 

But, shockingly, it wasn't just the perpetrators of these hideous acts who were deeply, deeply at fault. Social services were complicit, too. The NHS made over 80 referrals to Social Services in Rochdale which were ignored. These streetwise girls were making their own decisions, it was felt. 

No teenage girl who can barely remember having sex with 20 much older men because she'd been plied with so much alcohol is making her own decision.

No girl who vomits over the side of a bed while being raped by two men is making her own decision. 

Those images take me to such a dark place I don't know what to do about it. 

I know, however, that you can't blame budget cuts or bureaucracy for these gross failings. Nazir Afzal, the chief crown prosecutor for the North West, puts it best I think:

"Sexual assault is the great silent crime of our time and the silence makes it invidious. It's the kind of crime that prefers darkness and we need to shine a light on it, and for that we all share a responsibility. Every community worker, professional and neighbour has a duty not to stay silent."

(you can read more here). 

It seems that in 40 years, the definition of assault has indeed changed. It's changed for the better. But despite these changes, the defence used by people who take advantage hasn't moved. In the Rochdale case, the rapists' view that these girls 'wanted it' is a disgrace. Social Services' view that they were 'making their own decisions' (substitute 'wanted it', if you like) is a disgrace. In the JSD, Clifford and Davidson's argument that 'Ooo, girls want it!' and 'Ooo, doesn't she look 21?' is a disgrace. 

With sexual abuse, it's everyone's responsibility to make a scene. 


(I promise to be less dark and miserable ASAP. Excitable post about wonderful new eyewear coming up shortly.)


  1. Just unbearable, all of it. My daughter is 13, dreams of a career in theatre...makes me literally bilious thinking of girls like her at Savile's shows and in his dressing room. That so many are outraged now is, I suppose, some kind of progress from the stone-hearted shrugging of shoulders. But that so many who do have a voice, and do have the power to make decisions, arrests, interventions, are still shrugging it off with hackneyed old responses is beyond vile. I find it so hard that to comprehend why more people didn't report his crimes to the police while he was alive...victims' (or their parents') belief that it wouldn't be taken seriously really rocks my faith in our institutions. You are so articulate, thank you for putting into words what has been churning around in my head.

    Bring on the eyewear post!

    1. Belinda - thanks for the comment. It's been snaking around my mind for the past couple of weeks now - I had to try to put it into words. I agree entirely - why did parents not believe them? Or why did they not speak to their parents in the first place? And with this Rochdale case it seems we've barely moved on. I feel like there's a pretty substantial group within society that thinks that 'it was the 70s' and 'teenage girls can make their own decisions' are valid excuses for such behaviour. I refuse to accept that. They're not.

      Anyway, yes, I'll be more light-hearted soon!


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