The stunned response that has crystalised around the proposed inquiries into alleged abuse at public institutions following the broadcast of ITV’s Exposure investigation is perfectly understandable.
Yet after decades of scandal, alarm and outrage, controversy after
controversy, following numerous inquiries and reports, and despite the
best efforts of huge numbers of dedicated staff, one conclusion is
inescapable: Britain has created, in the words of Nick Davies, “an elaborate and sophisticated failure, a child protection system which does not protect children.”
Jimmy Savile was a popular public figure, a man who entertained
millions and raised millions for worthy causes. We need to understand
not only how he could evade capture and remain undiscovered whilst
hiding in plain sight, but more importantly, why did he and those like
him commit and continue to commit such terrible crimes?
The BBC’s Mark Easton provides a stark answer: From the 60s until relatively recently, there existed a pervasive
attitude that unwanted sexual advances were an irritant rather than a
disciplinary matter or a crime.
Indeed, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, Protection from Harassment
Act 1997 and Employment Equality (Sex Discrimination) Regulations 2005
have all advanced wider public attitudes.
at WalesOnline agrees. He dispels the conventional perception that the
past was a safer place as a myth, suggesting that illegitimate
privileges claimed by false authority (such as with the expenses of
sleazy politicians, media and Police over phone hacking and bribery and
now celebrity scandal, an easily augmented list stretching from bank
rate fixing to bike race doping) deserve to be challenged more regularly
also argues the Savile row is “an exemplar of wider social issues
around sexual abuse” – that it is a matter of prevailing cultural
attitudes. However she is less convinced that the cycles of abuse have
One simple overriding fact underscores this analysis: its scale.
According to a 2009 metastudy
from the University of Barcelona published in Clinical Psychology
Review, more than 1-in-4 adults globally are estimated to be victims of
paedophile abuse – that’s about 20% of all women and 8% of all men suffered sexual abuse as children!
In the current population of UK children alone, this calculates as
1.5 million girls and over 500,000 boys, which is statistically
consistent with the total estimate of 1.1 million offenders in the UK.
The highest recorded figure is for South Africa, with a victim
prevalence rate for women of 43.7% and for men of 60.9% – a truly
shocking number figure which cannot possibly be separated from the
cultural history of apartheid in that nation. Other countries recording
notably high levels of abuse for both males and females include
Tanzania, Israel, Australia and Costa Rica, each with their own darker
recent histories of social inequality and repression.
It is easy to see how, on a deeper level, public interest in the
Savile case reflects not just his defamed celebrity, but that he has
become an avatar for huge numbers of victims to project their own pent
up experiences of suffering. The demonisation of a once-lionised disc
jockey reflects the parallel disgust at our national culture which
elevated him and allowed those like him to prey on so many.
Ultimately sexual abuse in society says much about the state of
sexual attitudes within that society. Because sexual abuse is abuse of
power, the dysfunctional relationship it represents between individuals
also directly reflects the level of dysfunctionality in the relationship
between the state and the individual.
So if this or any other country is to successfully address the
problem of sexual abuse once and for all, it will only be possible if we
are to develop more open, engaged and responsible relationships based
more closely on the principle of equality.
Thursday, 1 November 2012
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