What parents can learn from the Savile scandal

For me, one of the most chilling images of 2012 was the toothy grin of a 9-year old cub scout, giggling into the camera as the ribbon of a giant Jim’ll Fix It medal is wound around him and his friends. It would be thirty-five years before he told anyone what happened next. On what had probably been one of the most exciting days of his life, he was led into the presenter’s dressing room at BBC Centre and told he could have a badge of his own if he did as he was told.
Today a joint NSPCC/police report says that Jimmy Savile was a ‘prolific, predatory sex offender’ who committed crimes over fifty years. There will, no doubt be enquiries in hospitals, schools, radio and TV stations into how he was able to get away with it for so long. But why were his victims unable to tell someone? A teacher, a nurse or a parent? Commander Peter Spindler of the Met police put it succinctly when he said that Savile ‘groomed the nation.’ The cub scout’s mother had sent her son off that day with a tie, as a present for Savile. How could that boy have gone home and told her what had been done to him by the apparently lovable presenter? It was only last year when the scale of Savile’s crimes became apparent that he was able to tell his wife.
It would be nice to think that Savile could not escape justice for so long nowadays. After all, aren’t our children aware of their right not to be touched or to be forced to touch others? Aren’t they so much better able to express their feelings? Perhaps.
Today’s report is called Giving Victims a Voice, but a voice is not enough if no-one is listening. Savile’s own great niece has described how his abuse was brushed off by colluding family members who had too much to lose. It was just how Great Uncle Jimmy was; as if sexually abusing children and young people was another harmless eccentricity along with cigars and shiny silver tracksuits.
 I’d never have spoken to my parents like that.’ I often hear those words from my clients, and while it’s true that a huge change has taken place in how children and adults communicate, is that such a bad thing? Parents can no longer silence a child with a look, and children are no longer seen and not heard. Commander Spindler says, ‘This whole sordid affair has demonstrated the tragic consequences of what happens when vulnerability collides with power.’ As adults we have power; our children may be vulnerable, but when we listen to them, and believe what they say, we give them power of their own.
Dorothy Boswell
January 2013