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

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own