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?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Residents of the Gravesham constituency are 10 times closer to what Peter Hain scorns as the “Westminster elite” than are those of Linlithgow and East Falkirk  

Will no one stop the march of localism?

Jonathan Meades
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam