At the last count about 450 people had made allegations that the late Jimmy Savile had assaulted them sexually. There are those who say that people are jumping on the bandwagon in the hope of obtaining damages from his estate. From our understanding of sexual abuse we prefer to start by accepting that the allegations are true. We believe that the whole episode demonstrates graphically how a person in power with a forceful character can subdue victims to the point that very few of them report abuse as they think they will not be believed.Some, of course, did disclose, but were not believed, or there was no subsequent action because of possible repercussions. When questioned, Jimmy Savile firmly denied concerns which were raised or he made such blatant statements that people assumed he was joking. The outcome was that it was only after his death that numbers of the survivors have felt able to speak up.
Jimmy Savile was working in the pop industry, a scene where groupies threw themselves at pop stars and there was a much freer attitude to sex than in many other parts of the community. This does not excuse those who used positions of power and influence to abuse young people.
One of the results of the Jimmy Savile affair is that there has been a subsequent sharp increase in the number of people disclosing abuse generally. The high profile reports in the news have triggered memories, and survivors have concluded that it is time they spoke up.
Children Webmag’s starting point is that people making allegations should be enabled to speak out about their experiences. This does not mean that everything they write is necessarily true. The passage of time renders the memory shaky; for example, a victim may have a vivid memory of the smell of the abuser but not recall in what year the abuse took place. Standards of parenting and care have changed over the years; the use of corporal punishment was acceptable fifty years ago but is not today. The age and level of understanding of the victim at the time could lead to the misinterpretation of some events. Attempts to understand subsequent problems such as mental ill-health may lead adults to blame their misfortunes on to their earlier experiences as children when there may be multiple causes. And of course there may be some who are after the money in making allegations, but they are far fewer than the public think.
Our basic policy, nonetheless, has been to let readers use the correspondence column to speak of their experiences, and there have been many powerful and moving contributions, for instance about readers’ experience of residential care or of sociopathic partners. In publishing these contributions we are offering a platform; we are not endorsing them as true, though most have the ring of truth. We have turned down few for being incoherent or abusive.
What Children Webmag regrettably cannot do is to solve the problems described by correspondents. We have no magic wand. We have been able to point some readers to people or organisations who may be able to help them, but this is not a service we promise to offer; our resources and knowledge are too limited. We only hope that the sharing of the issues brings some comfort to those who find that others have had similar experiences, and that describing and analysing the problems helps to bring some greater understanding and maybe closure.
In particular we hope that the prominence given to Jimmy Savile’s abusive career will have made the subject less taboo and will have enabled many more survivors of abuse to speak out. That is the silver lining, but it would have been better if the dark clouds of abuse had not been there in the first place. Our wish is that the greater openness enables victims of abuse to speak out sooner, and that the knowledge that the abuse will be made public deters abusers from the start. That would be a really positive – if unintended – legacy.