The tragic letter that opened the floodgates

I’ve had countless emails from women and men who were similarly molested
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The Independent Online

Colleagues of paedophile Stuart Hall at the BBC were up and about on the media this week. Insiders around Jimmy Savile did the same last year. They described the fame and exuberance of the chaps, the outlandish behaviours, how they saw, but could do nothing. And then, as surely as night follows day, come the homilies and postulations.

Back then, "talent" could get away with anything. That's just how it was. Those were laxer times, the culture was different. People simply didn't care or mind that much that girls and women were subjected to sexist teasing and gropes in the workplace. Some, true, were forced to have sex, and that was wrong. But those are "historical" crimes, no longer tolerated in our modern age. Really? Do these apologists believe this dangerous bunkum or are they trying to smother the screaming truth with one more thick blanket?

I bet we'll find out one day that even as these scandals were erupting, powerful, rich and famous men carried on using and abusing girls, women and boys too, because they thought they were beyond the reach of the law and of public opprobrium. More victims, true, are coming forth to tell their stories, but fear and scepticism still disables them.

Since I wrote last week about the anonymous letter from a woman abused by Hall, I have had countless emails from women and men who were similarly molested or raped by teachers, care workers, fathers, step-fathers, neighbours and others. All but one begged me not to reveal their names. Several repulsive men have also emailed, furious that she and I, "lying bitches" both, helped bring down a "hero".

So, don't tell me we live in enlightened times when sexual exploitation is not tolerated. Carnal savagery continues and is covered up. The defenders of Hall also ask why the abused girl, now a woman, didn't come out before: the implication being that because she didn't, it didn't happen.

Let me tell you a true story, one I might have revealed before, but now back up in my mind, fresh as if it had happened last week. It won't convince those macho boys above, who think men are the most oppressed people in this land. But it may help to explain how powerful men can silence those they pick out to paw and use.

In 1987, my ex-husband unexpectedly left me and our young son. I found myself alone, weak and vulnerable. One evening I went to meet a minister in Thatcher's government to talk about lone parents, then as now being trashed by the Tories. He had asked me to go to some rooms he rented near Westminster. We were alone and he asked me to be his mistress. At first I was furious, then very frightened because he knew he was invincible. He said, rightly, that if I complained, it would be his word against mine, and I would not be believed. I can remember my hands going cold as I realised how unsafe I was at that moment. Thankfully he didn't touch me. But I never told anyone then. And I was a journalist with some clout.

Imagine then young girls, teenagers and women, or boys, trapped in rooms with overpowering men. Hurt and petrified, they can't, won't talk about it. Many are made to feel responsible for the violation. And these days when young women are more openly sexual or dress immodestly, guilt-tripping becomes easier and more common.

In the Sixties and Seventies sex was supposed to be free and guiltless. That creed took its toll on the innocent, who were preyed upon, and believed they had no right to object. Now, there is a different milieu, just as damaging. Children as young as seven are projected as sex objects by big business and the media; pre-teen and teenage girls wear clothes that are seen as inviting. The nation is hyper-sexualised. And though there is more repulsion when rape and violation are discovered, rapists and violators show no remorse, and some even find comfort in self-pity.

I talked to a couple of psychotherapists last week and both agreed that the idea of girls as easy meat makes abusers feel exonerated. They accept no guilt because "she made me do it!". One of the therapists has a patient who was coerced by her television agent to flirt with men in the business and seduce them when necessary because it is all so competitive. She did just that, got no jobs, and has lost all sense of who she was.

As part-time professor of journalism at Middlesex University, I am hearing shocking stories about sexism in our industries. A female student there told me she had been groped twice by independent television producers and told to "f*** off" when she rebuffed them. Again, all these women want to keep their secrets because they don't want to be seen as "trouble".

Casual sexism and more serious crimes against females have not been seen off. It is no easier for victims today than it was in the Sixties and Seventies. Complacency and collective denial have gone on long enough. Reality, though hard to bear, must now kick in.