The Devil amongst us? The Jimmy Savile scandal
Hot of the Press
Battle of Ideas 2012
Saturday 20th October 2012
Since the first accusations of child abuse were made against the late Jimmy Savile in September 2012, this scandal has dominated media coverage and public debate like few others. The media’s and general public’s appetite for details is much like Jimmy Savile’s sexual desires. Enormous, irresistible and never ending.
However, as the scandal widens, day by day, we need to ask if a climate of hysteria is emerging?
How do we retain a sense of proportion, without trivialising serious instances of sexual exploitation of the young?
Emiritus Professor Frank Furedi in conversation with Ellie Young.
Tiemo Talk of the Town review
This was an un-scheduled, obviously unforseen hot topic, which turned out to be a very welcome addition to the ‘Hot off the Press’ strand of Battle of Ideas.
The discussion was a refreshing breath of fresh air on the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal that has dominated our news for the past 4-5 weeks. If you pardon the pun, what we got was frank talk, both literally and figuratively, from emiritus Professor Frank Furedi.
A Culture of Fear
In 2002 emiritus Professor Frank Furedi published ‘A culture of fear’. Amongst a number of fear based theories, he alluded to the possibility that in every household lived a potential abuser.
Sadly this may indeed be the case. Some reports state that a shocking 1 in 4 adults and children have suffered child abuse. Add in physical and emotional abuse cases and the figures are frightening.
Frank sought to put the hysteria into historical context. Firstly, he argued that it is highly likely that Jimmy Savile deliberately entered the pop music business in the sure knowledge that it would provide him with plenty of opportunities to be surrounded by young children. For reasons that have now become all too transparent I would agree that, with hindsight, that is now a fair assumption to make.
Changing moral values
Secondly, he made the point that the moral values of today are totally different to those popular in the swinging 60′s when Savile’s reign of, what society would now deem to be, sexual abuse and deviancy, was in its ascendancy.
It follows therefore that in interpreting and castigating him for his past behaviour, what the media has done this month can best be described as re-evaluating, conflating and mis-contextualising values of a different age with today’s moral values. In decades gone by, for instance in the 1960′s Savile’s behaviour (sex with under 16′s, groping women – excluding abuse of sick patients) would not have been considered scandalous. It was indeed considered legitimate, which would partially explain why he was seemingly rarely or never seriously pulled up on it.
This is an interesting point. A man in the audience agreed and questioned where all this might end, for he was aware of members of a well known and still highly revered rock band sleeping with 15 year old girls. Where do you draw the line?
Whilst I understand and can accept this argument up to a point, namely if society accepted sexual advances and engagement with under 16 year old’s as well as older women, and men took advantage of that i.e. went as close to the line as feasible without causing a scandal, then it is arguably wrong and unjust to now deem this immoral, illegal and un-acceptable behaviour because acceptable moral boundaries have shifted with time.
Age of consent
That said, for decades the age of consent has been 16. Perhaps that was one of the laws that society/The Police didn’t particularly look to prosecute years ago? If so, there may well be legitimate questions for The Police to answer, but it’s not practical or reasonable to apply today’s standards to yesteryear’s. It’s not so long ago when it was not compulsory to wear a seat belt when driving or that it wasn’t illegal to drink and drive. Are we to go back and prosecute those that used to drink and/or failed to wear a seatbelt? I don’t think so.
Culture of abuse
Frank Furedi’s (pictured above) other vital point was the growth of what he termed “toxic values ” and a ‘culture of abuse’ in society. In his view the term ‘scarred for life’ is a recent phenomenon of the last 25 years. What he meant by the culture of abuse is that he considered “abuse can become what you want it to be and that includes being destructive. It’s therefore a cultural phenomenon.”
In other words he is saying that abuse has always existed well before the days of Jimmy Savile, but people didn’t respond to it in the way they are arguably being persuaded to now by the media and popular culture.
This met with a fair degree of agreement from the audience, with one woman saying, “We’re just ripping behaviour out of historical context. Savile having sex with 15 year olds was against the law then and is now, but frankly people weren’t that appalled by it.”
Another women recounted that as a 13 year old growing up in the 60′s if she were wearing a mini skirt, “it was normal to get men touching your legs. You’d just smack them. And smack them again if they didn’t stop and then move on! The reason we didn’t say anything was because it had no effect on us. I wasn’t harmed then and aren’t now.”
When I asked if Frank (pictured below) was inferring that this was just a media storm and whether people used to just put it behind them he concurred, explaining that the media is converging in it’s un-relenting attack on the BBC.
Frank believed this culture of abuse, that “becoming a victim”, was dangerous, saying it can make children (and adults) less resilient than they might otherwise have been.
He recalled how a few years ago there was a huge furore over the Headteacher in a North East School who banned parents from taking photos of the children on sports day “to protect the children”. Many were appalled at this over reaction and considered it would just be a one off, but it’s since become common policy now right across the country. It’s ridiculous and speaks to my fear of this dangerous culture of abuse.
“We’ve arrived at a situation where generations are estranged from one another. Where any adult is perceived as the dangerous stranger for just touching a child, when for instance, the child may have fallen over or appear upset for some reason and the adult is merely being a compassionate comforter.
Children need and want to be hugged and loved. We’re paying too big a price now and things are no better. Children are no safer.
The key for me is how we handle powerful people. They seem to be allowed to get away with anything.”
A woman in the audience agreed, making the point that, “It’s very negative if we encourage children to be fearful of adults. We now have adults fearful to interact with young people.
Schools are telling children to be fearful. This is just so wrong.”
In defence of the BBC
One man, in support of the BBC, said “it seems that the only people in Britain unaware of Savile’s abuse were senior BBC executives. That may well be true. Senior executives don’t want to hear bad news and perhaps staff kept the bad news away from them. The danger is of re-interpreting events years later on and therefore out of context.
Frank closed by saying the multitude of inquiries would prove to be pointless and a waste of time and money as he could tell us now what the 4 main outcomes are likely to be.
There is a danger when we parade celebrities as morale crusaders, such as Jamie Oliver and Bono for instance. Jimmy Savile was like this. Remove his charity work and he’s just Jimmy Savile TV presenter. The sad thing is we still do this to celebrities today.”
My view is that first of all we have a slight conundrum. The good and bad side of Savile. Despite current revulsion towards him, you can’t deny he did a lot of good in his lifetime. He did raise millions for charity and also was undoubtedly an excellent and extremely popular TV and radio Presenter. He did make dreams come true on ‘Jim’ll Fix it.’ There’s no way he would have lasted so long in show business if he wasn’t.
Set aside from that though, this is hard to recall now with his reputation so utterly in tatters due to ‘the other side of Jimmy Savile.’
At the start of this review, the question was posed about whether the media/society was getting hysterical over this. I think we are, but it’s entirely justified. People are shocked that his excesses, his crimes(as they were under law) were well known in many institutions – The BBC, Broadmoor Hospital (pictured above) the Police, Duncroft school etc… yet no-one blew the whistle and called time on Savile until father time caught up with him.
Regarding the ‘culture of abuse’ I am fully aware that abuse is real and much more universal than many people realise. However I do believe the passage of time can and should be a healer. It’s barely credible for people to be talking about ‘bearing the scars of abuse’ of events over 20 years ago.
I also still believe still that many more ‘victims’ could and should have spoken up much earlier, not just for their own sakes, but for the sake of the other victims that were to follow. One ‘victim’ Karin Ward, spoke on Panorama about how, at age 14, she repeatedly over a period of time allowed herself to be used sexually by Savile in order to visit TV Centre and get on TV. I can’t respect that or accept victimhood from someone allowing herself to be bought just to get on TV.
People should have spoken up a long time ago – victims, adults and others, children too, in the know, all those years ago stretching back to 1959.
People do need to get a grip on this. Be realistic. We do need to learn lessons from this regarding how we report and handle complaints and how TV deals with its major stars and doesn’t allow them to get away with anything. Proper accountability is required too for those in authority, individuals (be they private or public figures) and institutions too.
Tiemo Talk of the Town
30th October 2012