How Silence Fixed it for Jimmy Savile – The Yewtree Child Sex Abuse Police Investigation must guard against the backlash
Dr Raj Persaud and Peter Saunders – Chief Executive – National Association for People Abused in Childhood – Peter was involved in production of report ‘Giving Victims a Voice’ released at the Operation Yewtree Press Conference Today
Many will be wondering what is the hidden agenda behind the publicity Operation Yewtree courts today. In this kind of complex, delicate, police investigation, sometimes there’s more going on than meets the media eye.
Sections of the press are not that interested in sexual abuse of children, they’re obsessed instead with celebrity – which is partly why this investigation has achieved so much attention.
Sometimes investigators might need to exploit the power of the media spotlight – Jimmy Savile is dead, but a string of celebrities have been questioned in the same inquiry, grabbing headlines. If a victim, who feels isolated, reads in the newspapers that their abuser is being questioned over similar charges, the hesitant may then come forward, so publicity becomes a forensic tool for collecting evidence.
These kinds of cases are difficult to pursue using standard police methods; sexual abusers of children often elude the law, even over an extended offending history.
According to ‘Giving Victims a Voice’ published today by Operation Yewtree, 214 criminal offences have been formally recorded so far across 28 force areas in which Savile is a suspect, dating from 1955 to 2009. Within the recorded crimes there are 126 indecent acts and 34 rape/penetration offences alleged of someone awarded an OBE in 1971, knighted in 1990, receiving a Papal Knighthood in 1990. The incredulity raised by this enigma provokes what those in the field are anticipating and referring to as ‘the backlash’.
The backlash will consist of protests that so many previously undetected allegations about one individual just aren’t plausible. Of reported offending by Savile, 82% were female, most in the 13 to 16 age group. 57 allegations implicate hospital premises (including hospices), 33 relate to television or radio studios and 14 identify schools. The scale is so staggering, this must be a ‘witch-hunt’, a publicity seeking bandwagon, or many are simply more innocent encounters being exaggerated. That is according to the ‘backlash’.
Treating and helping sexual abuse victims means we appreciate a sexual predator frequently gets away with multiple offences, often in startlingly brazen circumstances. This is the most secretive and covered up of crimes. Once the psychology is understood, it’s possible to grasp that it’s entirely plausible that someone could have been responsible for hundreds of separate sexual abuse offences, some of them with little attempt made to hide the crime, and still elude prosecution.
Sexual abusers of children are not obviously disturbed or dysfunctional, lurking shambolically in public spaces; instead they are often ‘pillars of the community’ – highly intelligent, confident, respected and successful. This disjunction in the public imagination over what they should look like and behave, means witnesses are often in denial, and can’t spot it.
Predators abuse their positions of authority and respect to get close to victims and avoid allegations – ‘no one will believe you’ – they explain to a victim – ‘don’t you know who I am’? They target the vulnerable who often have been abused before, and this, plus the mind games abusers deploy, means victims frequently end up believing they ’caused’ the crime, ‘colluded’ with it or in some way ‘deserve’ it.
Another notorious tactic is to point out to their victim that involving the police will mean a family, a business, a community or a charity, will lose the central character on which they depended. The victim is transformed into the abuser by this mental device – it will be you who will be responsible for the hospital losing its funding if you put away its chief fundraiser – runs the manipulative argument.
Abusers are past masters of distracting witnesses and a community from their true machinations. For example, Jimmy Savile appeared to the outside world as a lovable eccentric – thus idiosyncrasies, such as apparently driving everywhere in a ‘camper van’, were viewed through this lens. In fact the camper van now emerges as a possible key tool in his sexual abuse strategy.
He hung out with Royalty, lunched with Prime Ministers, courted newspaper headlines over his good causes, so to pursue such a jovial saint would have appeared to any victim as if they were taking on the establishment, the legal profession, the media, charities and the government. Perhaps even the police. Victims probably felt the battle was lost before it had begun. By these same mechanisms, including shame, many being sexually abused now, remain silent.
Victims are selected because they are isolated and vulnerable, so to gain attention from a famous respected person, or to be in the audience of a TV show, means they sometimes believe being abused is the price they must pay for these compensations.
The ‘backlash’ means many will question what is the point of pursuing allegations against someone who is dead, and where no justice is possible for the victims. It is true that the famous attract unhealthy attention and sometimes malicious copycat allegations, but this could be all the more reason to demand a more robust, efficient and fair investigative process that is trusted by all sides.
Operation Yewtree represents an opportunity to transform forever the legal landscape so never again can a marauder such as this escape detection. What needs to change is an awareness that sexual abuse can be going on right under our noses without us realising. We must become more sensitive to all children and what they may be remaining silent about. Families, doctors and schools, working with charities such as Childline and NAPAC, can become better resourced to help the young do something about abuse.
Today’s report finds that Savile’s peak offending was in the 1960’s and 70’s, before the national charity that provided a listening ear to children, Childline, was created by Esther Rantzen in 1986. Is this significant?
What might stop sexual predators in the future is if children are more likely to be noticed or to complain if abuse occurs – predators are intelligent enough for better detection to become a major deterrent.
The uncomfortable truth remains we also need to understand ourselves better and how we can so easily fail to act or notice crimes and suffering in our midst. Jimmy Savile cleverly deflected national attention from his personal life by slyly declaring that the success of ‘Jim’ll Fix It’ was down to his dislike of children.
But why were we so easily distracted?
The shocking number of victims divulges just how many different reasons there can be for secrecy, plus how intimidating and manipulative the dark hidden side of the criminals can be.
But it does also reveal something about the rest of us; we were not vigilant enough.
If you are a survivor of abuse or someone who supports a survivor, consider the NAPAC website http://www.napac.org.uk, national freephone support line 0800 085 3330. And Childline on 0800 1111 and http://www.childline.org.uk
Pete Saunders is an adult survivor of childhood abuse. He was abused by the head teacher of his primary school, a family member and two priests at his secondary school. He didn’t have a lot of luck as a child. He became a teacher but after carrying the burden of his abuse secret until he was nearly forty he told all. Not too many people were that interested but he subsequently discovered that he was not the only person this crime had affected. He left teaching and now runs NAPAC, the National Association for People abused in Childhood.