The revulsion that attended the revelation of Jimmy Savile’s six-decade career of sexual predation is, in some quarters at least, giving way to weariness, even scepticism. As Operation Yewtree proceeds – and the list of long-standing media favourites accused of “historic” offences grows ever longer – the horror over Savile is turning to talk of witch-hunts and “things being different then”.
Such complaints are as invidious as they are absurd. Not only is there no reason – legal or moral – for such crimes to “expire”, particularly given the trauma that often results. Rape, sexual assault and child abuse were just as illegal in the 1960s as they are today. The times might indeed have been more “permissive” – for which read misogynist. But while that may explain why such behaviour went unchecked, it can neither excuse nor render it less criminal.
With Stuart Hall’s admission of 14 counts of indecent assault against minors dating back 40 years, the notion that our new, post-Savile sensitivities are leading us to penalise what was, at the time, normal behaviour can, at least, be laid to rest. These were not the actions of a powerful figure in an earlier, more robust age. They were, as the prosecutor put it, the actions of an “opportunistic predator”. Indeed, even the routine use of the word “historic” to describe the crimes now coming to light is to be queried. As the correspondence between one of Hall’s victims and The Independent columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown makes heartbreakingly clear: these offences may be buried in the past for those who committed them, but they are rarely, if ever, left behind by their victims.
For too long, victims of sexual crimes have been shamed or intimidated into silence. A slight tilt in the cultural balance does not constitute a witch-hunt. Even if a rape was many years ago, it is still a rape.
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