The Jimmy Savile scandal brings to light the protective environment in which many predators function and the need to openly address the insidious sexual abuse of children
Jimmy Savile: the signs were all there. “Agencies could have spotted signs of behaviour” The Telegraph reports. “‘Creepy’ Jimmy Savile was banned from Children in Need more than a decade ago” another news story tells us. BBC insiders “knew he was an abuser” says the Guardian.
Yes, people knew all along it seems. Just not at the right time. Child victims were ignored, perhaps even silenced. But how many cases of sexual abuse could have been prevented if those who were informed had listened and not succumbed to their doubts?
It seems we are still too scared to face some facts in our society. Yes, there is a swell of national outrage whenever a child abuse or child grooming case reaches the news headlines, but what do we do when such stories are not being sensationalised, or their perpetrators not publicly identified? From time to time, we hear about groups of men who groom girls, women who abuse young babies and celebrities who secretly harm some of the most vulnerable children in society, but do we hear about the predators in our own communities, in our neighbourhoods, sometimes in our circles of acquaintances?
The sad thing about news headlines is that soon they are forgotten about. But child sex abusers do not go away. They are disguised. Like the Ancient Greek myth about the Minotaur in the Labyrinth, they are hidden in society. Sometimes, like those of the Rochdale case, they are taxi drivers and business owners. Or, like Jimmy Savile, they are celebrity figures. More often than not, they are people living in convenient obscurity who, in all likelihood, will never be identified on the news.
You may not know it, but you have probably come into contact with someone who is a victim of sexual abuse. According to the NSPCC, nearly a quarter of young adults experience sexual abuse during childhood. A few years ago, I was shocked to find out that one of my own friends was a victim. Usually bright and cheerful, one day she came into lectures looking ill and distracted. Instinctively I knew something was wrong; it had been building up. That day, she had decided to get help. She confided in me: that was the first day on her step to recovery. I’ll never forget the shock I felt, but luckily, I knew a few people who could help her get the help she needed.
Not everyone has someone to confide in. There are a range of factors preventing children who are abused from speaking out. Fear, age, uncertainty, dependency, culture. More often than not, the abuser is a person in the victim’s own family, and the victim fears what will happen if he or she reports them to the police. But when those who do speak out are ignored, the crime worsens. The very act of keeping silent when abuse is brought to light is a crime, because it allows the abuse to continue.
I believe our society needs better support structures. Those who are victims need to know what help is at hand. They must feel able to speak out knowing that there are protective mechanisms in place to safeguard them if need be. Moreover, we as individuals need to be better informed about what to do if a victim of abuse seeks our help and what to do if we suspect that someone is being abused. Better campaigns raising awareness, providing help-lines and giving general advice on where to seek support should be implemented.
That said, prevention is always better than cure. To get to the root of the problem and identify what is allowing such abuse to occur in secret is not easy. In this way, news stories do help. One of the first sensationalised cases of child sex offenders was reported in 1885 in the Pall Mall Gazette. Journalist W.T. Stead exposed a large scandal involving ‘gentlemen’ of London and forced prostitution of young working class girls. The reaction to the reports from the Victorian public was one of complete outrage, and subsequent laws were implemented to try and safeguard vulnerable children.
In the same way, news reports today can help solve problems by raising the profile of such crimes. Hopefully victims in our communities will come forward with newfound courage to speak up. But we must support them, firstly by believing them. Let’s affirm we’ve learnt from the Jimmy Savile case and will no longer brush the issue of child sexual abuse under the rug in our communities.
Image from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19887019
Reclaim Your Stage:
The Platform is a groundbreaking blog that provides current affairs and cultural commentary. Our pieces offer challenging opinions from a range of spectrums; that’s why we love hosting a platform for them.