When the allegations about Jimmy Savile began, a lot of people were heard to say, “But he’s not here to defend himself…” To begin with, I was inclined to agree. And if it had been one person claiming he had abused her, I would think she was probably just looking for her 10 minutes of fame, maybe to sell her story and make a few quid. But it seems that each day another person has come forward, another allegation made, another 70s star implicated. I’m sure by now the amount written on the subject has become gargantuan, but I wanted to address the issue of Savile not being here to answer the accusations levelled against him, and of why these women have waited until that was the case.
In the ITV documentary that started this media storm, one of the women mentioned that Savile had given her a copy of his autobiography, and written inside of it, “no escape.” The main way a child abuser gets away with the abuse is by making the child believe they are omnipotent, that the child cannot speak out because nobody will believe them, that even if they leave, the abuser will find them. That there is no escape. This is not just with child abuse, but in most cases of abuse. I remember once reading a book about a young woman who was kidnapped by a man and lived in his house as his slave for years before finally escaping; the reason she’d never left through the unlocked door, even when he allowed her out to a day job, was that he had convinced her he was part of a world-wide organisation that would always find her and hurt her, before returning her to him. People may scoff at this sort of belief, and think there’s no way any intelligent person could become convinced of such a thing, but when a person is in a vulnerable state they tend to be more likely to believe outlandish claims. Children being abused by a figure in authority are much more likely to believe they cannot speak out; if the abuser is a parent, teacher, staff in the home they live, in, how do they know they will be believed and removed, rather than fobbed off and left to face their abuser’s wrath?
Savile would regularly visit a home for “troublesome” young girls, most of whom were resident under a court order, and choose a few “lucky” girls to take out for the afternoon. They all knew what was expected of them on those trips. One woman said that when Savile groped her as she sat on his lap at an event she jumped up and shouted at him, and found herself removed from the situation. She was locked in an isolation room for several days and told she could only come out if she stopped saying such terrible things against such a nice man who had done so much for them. Apparently everyone knew the rumours, and people found him creepy, but nothing was ever done. One ex-police man has come forward to say that he tried to start an investigation, but his superiors halted it, saying basically that Savile was untouchable because of all his charity work.
When a child is being abused, whether it’s sexual, physical, emotional, or any other kind of abuse, they look desperately to people outside of the situation for help. They may be too scared to say anything, wishing someone would just notice something was wrong from the tone of their voice or the expression on their face. They may make what seem like jokes or off-hand remarks, all the while internally wishing for someone to notice their plight and do something about it. When the abuse seems to be so obvious that someone must notice, and nobody says anything, nothing is done, they think perhaps nobody sees anything wrong in their situation; that perhaps they deserve it, or it’s their own fault and they should just put up with it.
Many victims of child abuse never speak out. Often those that do find the courage to speak out do so long after their abuser has died or is otherwise untraceable; before this point their fear of retribution is just too great. The original Haut de la Garenne child abuse scandal began in 2007, but the investigation was into claims of abuse in the 1970s and 1980s; the people arrested for those incidents were ex-staff members, and it took the victims that long to speak out; how much more terrifying must it be to speak out against someone so completely untouchable as Sir Jimmy Savile, he who has raised millions for charity, runs marathons, volunteers his spare time in a hospital, all round good guy. Saint. When the documentary was first scheduled to be aired, everyone was up in arms: how dare anyone sully his good name? One of the women in the documentary said she didn’t expect anyone to believe her; nobody had believed her when it had first happened, after all.
If one good thing can come of this situation, it should be that people will be more inclined not just to listen to children when they make accusations of abuse, but also to pay attention to the things they are not saying.