All that is needed for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.
Or good women.
How do the Gary Glitters and Jimmy Saviles of this world get away with it for so long? I think I know – sort of. I am not a trained psychotherapist … but I am a survivor. I grew up with a paedophile.
Savile may not have ever been convicted, or even charged, but the evidence against him is mounting up. I saw ITV’s documentary The Other Side of Jimmy Savile and I recognised the patterns. The patterns of abuse against those girls, his victims’ guilt and fear and the denial of those who saw what he was doing.
As I’ve already stated, I grew up with a paedophile. I was one of his victims. But I’m not simply looking back on my experience of abuse, which is too complicated for me to tease out in a few lines, I’m also thinking of the times I observed him abusing others. Only I didn’t know that it was abuse.
When he instigated and controlled a game of Truth or Dare at my thirteenth birthday party that ended with him French kissing my fourteen-year-old friend, I was shocked and horrified but the adults (including my mother) laughed as if it was all totally acceptable. When, a year later, he tried to French kiss me and I pulled away, he laughed at me. I had my first job that year. I waited table in a busy seaside snack bar and he would come in at the weekends for a cup of tea and a chat. The owners were a sycophantic couple who fell totally under his spell and would sit at his table and vie with each other for his attention.
One particular Saturday, he was there, my employers were with him and, I don’t know what they were talking about but, as I passed with arms full of dirty plates he called out to me.
‘What do you think about incest?’ he asked.
‘Urgh.’ I replied, blushing and embarrassed. ‘That’s horrible.’ I tried to laugh it off but the café was full and I knew that everyone in that small room had heard him.
He was hurt. ‘Oh thanks very much,’ he said.
Why do I mention this? Because he employed the same tactics that Jimmy Savile is alleged to have done. Total openness. If you carry out this behaviour in plain view, no one will see. No one will believe. Predators like that possess of a mix of charm and menace. People will glory in the attention of such a powerful personality, or they will be too afraid to cross them. And we all have the facility to say to ourselves, ‘Nah, I didn’t just see that. There must be an explanation.’
My pet predator told me, once I’d reached sixteen, not to bother bringing friends home any more. They were now too old for him. Instead, he began to prey on my sister’s friends. It was normal for him to sit underage teenage girls on his lap and joke about how aroused he was getting. Pity the girl who refused to sit on his lap or who rebuffed his advances. She would be cold-shouldered immediately for being snotty and humourless and he would sulk until the offender went home.
On my sister’s fifth birthday, he brought her a big book of nursery rhymes that had been chosen by fourteen-year-old twin girls of his acquaintance. I never met the twins but he showed me a photo of them.
‘I’ve had them,’ he said.
Interestingly, he didn’t try it on with my sister. She hasn’t seen the documentary yet. I have taped it for her and don’t want to discuss it too much because she must make up her own mind. None the less, Jimmy Saville’s fall from grace has been a topic of conversation for some days and today, as we pushed a trolley around our local supermarket, she wondered why our paedophile didn’t prey on her. He did abuse her but it was different. He battered her, brutally and often. Why was it different for her? Because these men (and presumably their female equivalents) have an instinct, a radar for suitable victims – they watch us and they suss us out and then they make their moves. My sister was not a suitable victim. She could not be manipulated. She could not be blackmailed. She would stand up and shout and defy. The only weapon our monster had in his arsenal to tame her was violence and ultimately even that failed.
I was a suitable victim. The women I saw in the documentary were suitable victims. Were we more biddable? Malleable? I’m not sure but I do know that all of us have taken the blame on to ourselves. Even when we come out of the shadows and say ‘this happened to me,’ we are fully prepared for someone to say, ‘It must be your fault. You must have done something to encourage it.’ And you know, when someone does say that, we accept it. We may argue but, inside, we accept it. Even after years of therapy, the guilt does not go away and that’s why it takes so long to come out and tell anyone. I didn’t tell my own sister the truth of my experiences until I was thirty-six. Can you imagine what it must have been like to come out against a public figure like Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter? Especially when they are thought of as national treasures.
So, I have tried and condemned Jimmy Savile. Maybe that’s unfair, he’s not here to put his side of the story, after all, but guess what, I don’t care. I know what I know and I know that the women I saw last night were telling the truth and I commend them for having the courage to come out and tell their stories.
As for those who saw, who stood by and did nothing? I’m going to surprise you here because I want to say – give yourselves a break. We all have feet of clay. Yes, someone should have realised that a man who hangs around a girls’ approved school and takes children out in his Rolls Royce for a ride, probably isn’t there for altruistic reasons. But hey, none of us wants to look into the face of a friend, a relative, a charity fundraiser and think, I’m looking into the face of a monster. My sister shocked me when she condemned our relative as a paedophile. I thought she’d gone a step too far. And if I can feel that way …
Edmund Burke was right. We all need to defend the weak and the exploited but first, we need to learn that it is OK to stand up and be counted because that takes courage, a courage we can foster in our children so that, one day, creatures like Savile, Glitter and all those other unknown monsters will be unable hurt any of us.
* Since I posted this much, much more has been revealed about the abuse of children by public figures. I am shocked. It is a national disgrace and it is apparent that those who had the power to do something to stop Savile and his ilk chose not to. I hope that they can be routed out, named and shamed. I don’t mean the woman who allegedly saw Savile abuse an apparently brain-damaged girl, I mean those in the BBC and those in the hospitals he raised money for who knew, KNEW, what he was doing but decided to keep using him and allow him free rein. You are disgusting. As is the woman I know of personally who said (and I quote), ‘Those girls were probably gagging for it.’