The papers have been full this weekend of reports of a documentary to be aired in the coming days about the late Jimmy Savile and his alleged sexual abuse of young girls. Plural. It looks like the allegations could be the thin end of the wedge, and that many more witnesses or survivors may come forward, and more allegations about him and those close to him will come to light.
As is the tendency in these situations, there has been a fair amount of victim blaming. Why come forward only now? Plenty of accusations that these women are lying, trying to destroy the poor defenceless dead bloke’s reputation.
But what is pretty evident from the details already released is that some of the alleged victims did try to speak out. But were silenced. There are allegations of cover-ups at the very highest levels of the BBC among others, and some of the rumours (not, I think covered in the documentary) even touch on other public figures, powerful ones, some who may be alive today.
Some of the girls in the documentary were in care homes or special schools.
It has been proven again and again that children raised in these environments – boys and girls – both in the 70s and more recently – are deprived of a voice. They are not listened to. So speaking out against an abuser isn’t as easy as it may sound. Any survivor of abuse at any age may find talking about what happened very difficult. For children it is even harder to put into words what has been happening to them. When it comes to actually speaking out against someone in a position of power – a priest, a teacher, a TV presenter, a care worker – it is even more difficult.
We are taught from a young age that grown ups are right about most things. Learning that they aren’t – that sometimes our parents get things wrong – us actually a hard milestone to pass. So imagine being abused, getting up the courage to put what has happened into words and then being accused of lying? Punished for it.
It would be nice to say that this kind of thing could never happen now. But it does. Look at what is coming to light in Rochdale. And how many more scandals will come to light in years to come? How many children are hiding terrible secrets, knowing that they wouldn’t be believed if they spoke out? Even being led to believe that what is happening to them is normal?
Phrases being thrown around about the Savile case are pretty frightening. “Cover-up”. “Common knowledge”.
What if someone had listened? Taken their fingers out of their ears? Given children a voice?
How about learning from this and making it possible for children to have a voice now? How much abuse could have been stopped? And how much more could be prevented?