Children molested and raped by Jimmy Savile knew they wouldn’t be believed. And today too as they speak out about what happened, they must feel they still aren’t really being heard. The police are following hundreds of lines of enquiry and the media is obsessively picking over emerging information. But I see a nation in denial still, still unable to look evil in the eye.
We must assume that there were other offenders who will never be exposed. Maybe those diligent emailers who send me daily missives about “Muslim paedos” will stop and think about how celeb “paedos” also have their protectors, their justifiers, co-conspirators, facilitators, and blood-line loyalists.
I’ve just received a fearful and livid letter from a woman – clearly well educated – alleging abuse by another famous TV presenter, still alive and a pillar of his community. He, she claims, was a VIP guest who handed her a school prize and invited her to visit a local TV station. The school thought it a great honour and her mum too: “That’s how it all starts... I was young for my years and easy meat for a man like him; my parents had divorced acrimoniously when I was very young... I did not like the man with whom my mother had been involved for many years. To have a man of my father’s age take a benevolent interest in me seemed wonderful to a girl with my history. Why haven’t I written about this before? For several reasons – the first of which is shame. A girl who is groomed and then sexually exploited does not consider herself raped...[HE] was protected by being well known and well connected.”
I obviously can’t share the details here, but they appear credible to me. Unfortunately she didn’t include her name and address ( I wish she had) but I will pass the information on to the police. No doubt some such complainants will be fantasists, but most, being older and wiser than when they were terrified kids, just understand that to make society feel guilty is a bigger transgression than what was done to them.
And they are right. Savile’s grisly crimes are watered down. Pundits drone on about the “culture” back then, and BBC reporters explain, as if to a CBBC audience, what that weird past was like, when DJs and pop stars could fiddle with or force themselves on young fans with impunity. It was a perk, a sport, joked about. Few ever kicked up a fuss about any of the indecent diversions. National treasure Tony Blackburn confesses he had heard rumours of what was going on but it was “always hard to translate into fact” – whatever that means. Now Blackburn is “disgusted beyond words”. Esther Rantzen, CBE and founder of ChildLine, explains it was “just gossip” and seems to suggest that a mere child’s testimony couldn’t amount to much. Their oleaginous words must only further upset the abused.
On to the rubbish argument that Savile’s crimes were undetectable because of past cultural norms. Remember that the age of consent was raised to 16 in 1885, and even during the Sixties when groupies were easy game for pop stars and DJs – the sainted John Peel being one – parents, educators, politicians and clerics did not sanguinely tolerate the exploits as fun and games. But the legal remedies then were inadequate whereas now we have stringent laws protecting the health and safety of children – laws, incidentally, daily derided by right-wing columnists and also liberals. Those changes in the law have made it a little easier for children to come forward, that’s all.
Another way of averting the deep depravity of Savile is to talk about lots of other bad stuff, only thinly connected to his crimes and so much less disquieting. Prominent women, some I admire, have spoken up about suffering sexist gropes in media workplaces. I completely sympathise with their anger and even the reasons they kept quiet. But telling these stories now is insensitive and solipsistic. And is an escape from both the knighted marauder of childhood, and the poor, pitiable girls at last finding a voice.
This week, after a reunion at my old Oxford college, I started re-reading TS Eliot’s Four Quartets. These lines sprang out:
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden....
And then these, which made my blood run cold:
...Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality
They, who should have, didn’t open doors to look at what was happening, and even today society is finding ways not to confront reality, perhaps because it is unbearable, squeamishness which is yet another betrayal of the sufferers.