Monday 15 October 2012

On Jimmy Savile

Can much more be written about Jimmy Savile that hasn't already been said? The media are certainly having a good go, seeking women he abused as young girls and linking him to abuse at hospitals, the notorious Haut de la Garenne children's home in Jersey, and now suggestions he may have sexually abused corpses. A day does not pass without new, grim allegations splashing themselves across the headlines. And it is right that Savile's carefully-cultivated image as a national treasure is hung, drawn and quartered by the press. It is just a shame the violence done to his celebrity is scant compensation for the violence he visited upon his victims.

Who knows what else investigations into Savile's crimes might uncover? There are, of course, strong allegations linking him with Gary Glitter, and evidence that eyes were very much averted away from the sexist broadcast culture of the 60s, 70s and 80s that allowed his abuse of under-aged teenage girls to happen. There were plenty of rumours, of course, but the institutionally sexist culture of the time and the aura of celebrity could easily ensure voices raised in accusation were silenced. When it's a teenaged girl's word against a much-loved charity-mongering personality, who in the 1970s would a jury believe? And would it be that much different today?

Pre-Savile, perhaps. But now? As leads are followed and more victims come forward, there will be a few very-much-alive celebrities linked to the abuse starting to feel the heat. And with the collapse of the conspiracy of quiescence at Television Centre comes the rippling effect. Other celebrities with no relationship to Savile but are guilty of equally despicable things, who've paid off victims, bought the silence of accomplices, or are hiding behind expensive lawyers and their gagging clauses now have reasons to be fearful. 

Along with the exposure (and possible extinction?) of this criminal culture, I am also hopeful we could be seeing the beginnings of a cultural step change.

In this old post on the interminable Julian Assange circus, it was noted that "allegations of sexual assault and rape are ... historically under reported due to psychological trauma, shame, fear of reprisal, cultural pressure, and the complex of ties working to keep women in their place." These are ABC's that, unfortunately, this summer's nonsense over Assange's charge-evading antics showed some socialists need reminding of. But anyway. What that sorry episode demonstrated for all to see was how deeply sexism stains contemporary culture - even on the left.

Just for the record, I still believe Assange is innocent until proven otherwise. But I will give his groupies one thing. In defending their hero, they did point out it was most unusual for the British state to pursue someone with this degree of vigour for a crime of this nature. While it no doubt raised conspiratorial eyebrows in some quarters, I think this was a good thing simply because it provides a high-profile precedent for future treatment of crimes of sexual violence. The expectation that rape and assault allegations be investigated with the full weight of the law regardless of the standing of the alleged perpetrator was a consensus position that rallied people from all points of the political spectrum. And with the Jimmy Savile case, we're seeing its repetition and reinforcement in the popular imagination. This time, it's the abuser(s) whose behaviours are unacceptable - the abused are explicitly not positioned as 'asking for it'. For once, the responsibility of the abuse lies solely with the abuser. The shame attached to coming forward and making allegations has, in this case, been suspended. The weight of social opprobrium is temporarily lifted.

Wouldn't it be much better if things changed so this was the cultural default, rather than the exceptional situation facing victims of sexual abuse? Of course, yes. But how to get there? Perhaps the Savile saturation levels are such that among the thousands of people who fall victim to sex crimes every year, some will feel encouraged to report it. Perhaps because of the media attention, many more rapists and abusers will be tried, convicted and sentenced. Perhaps the depressing and disturbing exposure of Savile marks the beginning of a new maturity in how we as a society encounter and handle these awful crimes, and that the notion victims are in some way responsible for their abuse and/or rape is on its way out.



Phil said...

For Frank Jackson, this blog is not the place for making making very serious allegations. You need to take the matter up with NZ police and, failing that, your local parliamentary representative.

Rory Connor said...

"Haut de la Garenne" - isn't that the place where in 2008 the Jersey police spent several months digging up the grounds in a search for the non-existent bodies of non-existent murdered children? Why is this being quoted as if it proved anything - other than the existence of a Witch-hunt?
Rory Connor