Finally, abuse victims are being taken seriously

 

Share

It's the kind of shift that happens once or twice in a lifetime. In the past few days, people who hadn't previously thought about it have suddenly realised that "a bit of harmless fun" might actually be a nasty sexual assault. About time, too: what kind of culture makes a household name out of a creepy child-abuser who didn't even hide his predilections? Jimmy Savile was knighted by Margaret Thatcher and given a Papal knighthood by John Paul II. Now he's the catalyst for a sea-change in public attitudes towards verbal harassment, unwanted touching and worse.

Just about every conversation I've had with women friends last week has produced an outpouring of angry recollections. One friend, now in her eighties, recalls being sexually assaulted by a dentist who treated her when she was a teenager. I've hardly met a woman who hasn't experienced these things, but for years we were told we didn't have a sense of humour or had imagined it.

Why did feminism take off with so much anger and energy in the 1970s? It was because a generation of young women strode into offices and colleges, expecting to be regarded as equals, and couldn't believe the way we were treated. I'm talking about a spectrum of behaviour from sexually explicit remarks to physical assaults. A chasm opened up between what women experienced and assurances from authority figures – bosses, police, politicians – that such things were rare.

It was infuriating to see popular newspapers campaigning about rape not because so many offenders were going unpunished, but because of supposedly "unfounded" accusations. The Soham murderer, Ian Huntley, and the black-cab rapist, John Worboys, were beneficiaries of the notion that "ordinary" men weren't sexual predators. The News of the World boasted about its campaign against paedophiles, but the men it went after were easy targets, convicted sex offenders living on council estates, not national figures.

Now a series of events has up-ended popular assumptions about what is acceptable. Accusations against Savile are piling up so fast that it's hard to keep track, and a picture is emerging of a pop culture where DJs such as John Peel saw sex with girls as a perk of the job. The Rochdale case, in which a group of men preyed on underage girls and forced them into prostitution, shows there's nothing historical about child abuse. Then there's the curious case of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, whose refusal to return to Sweden to face possible charges of sexual assault has exposed bizarre notions among supporters of what constitutes rape.

I don't think anyone can plausibly claim any more that sexual harassment is rare or that potential victims, including teenage boys, are sufficiently protected. So many institutions have questions to answer that the case for a public inquiry grows by the day. I don't believe all men are predators, but I want to see much tougher attitudes towards the ones who are.

www.politicalblonde.com; twitter.com/@polblonde

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour's Jeremy Corbyn arrives to take part in a Labour party leadership final debate, at the Sage in Gateshead, England, Thursday, Sept. 3  

Jeremy Corbyn is here to stay and the Labour Party is never going to look the same again

Andrew Grice
Serena Williams  

As Stella Creasy and Serena Williams know, a woman's achievements are still judged on appearance

Holly Baxter
The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea