In the last few weeks, revelations have emerged around former national treasure Jimmy Savile which are shocking, but to me, they are thoroughly unsurprising.
It’s not because - as all the predictable and
unpleasant jokes on Twitter might suggest - he somehow looked like a paedophile,
and it set off metaphorical mental alarms. It’s because of how utterly
commonplace everything outlined in the case is.
The Savile case is discussed as though it was a one-off event which occurred long in the past, confined to a specific set of circumstances and a specific point in time. This is not the case: when examined in the context of the culture in which we live - now - there is barely a detail in the case which is in any way remarkable.
Rape and abuse are frighteningly common: so common that they are rarely newsworthy. You probably know a few survivors of rape and abuse, even if you don’t know anything about it: some estimates suggest 17% of women have experienced rape. For comparison, about 1% have a gluten intolerance. Serial rape is more common than one may suspect, with a study by Lisak and Miller showing that 6% of men will admit to rape if it is not called that, and the majority of “undetected” rapists were repeat offenders, averaging 5.8 rapes each.
This silencing comes not from a “don’t speak ill of the dead” mentality, but, rather, a system of beliefs which make life far easier for abusers which exists today. Look at any story about high-profile rape, sexual assault or abuse allegations, and see if you can spot attitudes like this leaking it. Look to your own beliefs. Chances are you’ve absorbed thoughts like these yourself.
The culture of silencing survivors and protecting abusers sometimes extends beyond what people say and into active cover-ups: it looks like this may happened in the Savile case. Seven complaints about Savile were made to the police while he was still alive, yet nothing came of it. Again, this is sadly unremarkable, and poor investigation of rape cases is commonplace.
There is little new or
surprising in the Savile case, then, except that this is an instance where the
information has come to light at all. It also seems to have sparked a desire to
start investigating other past abuse where a cover-up may have occurred, for
example the alleged “Number 10 paedophile ring” in the Nineties. And, while this is an important thing to do, we run the risk
of allowing ourselves to believe that rape and abuse, and the culture which
facilitates these, is a thing of the past.
Savile was not an aberration, and neither was the cover-up. It’s endemic in our culture. If we look to the past, we must use these stories to inform our present and improve our future.