Note: the opinions expressed below are my own, based on what I have read and seen and presently understand. I’m not a child-abuse expert, lawyer or psychologist, and I don’t claim everything I say to be 100% right. In some cases, I may well be wrong. Either way, I’m interested to hear what other people think.
A comment that poet/author Benjamin Zephaniah made on Newsnight the other day is still irritating me, and I wish it wasn’t. I’ve always liked Zeph’s endearing casual attitude (we’re not on first-name terms by the way, I just like calling him Zeph). Much like his wild explosion of Jack-in-a-box hair – a white-middle-class assault in itself – I’ve always felt that his signature, outspoken, not-arsed-what-you-think attitude is a welcome addition to any debate where an ounce of common-sense and rationality is required. But to say, like he did, that he’d always known that there was something a bit wrong with Jimmy Saville? I understand what he’s getting at, but I’m not sure what to think about that. Well actually I am slightly sure, as it would have been pretty pointless beginning this blog post with no idea, but what I am more is conflicted. Disappointed, too. The man has always struck me as open-minded, yet I struggle with this idea that someone could have always known. Let’s be clear on this: excluding the possibility of mysticism and some omnipotent power, nobody can know something without being privy to indisputable evidence and information. Otherwise, it’s a lucky guess. What Zeph is really saying, I suspect, is that looking back at Jimmy Saville now, with all this new information coming to light — some of which actually isn’t that new, and has conveniently been ignored by much of the media up until now — he’s not at all surprised that Saville was doing the things that some people claim he has done. And Zeph’s got a point, of course. That much is certain. When you think about it, everything about Jimmy Saville looks a bit dodgy now…such as the following things which I’ve randomly chosen to state here:
1: Everything about his appearance – the gold chains, the crazed hair, the worrying obsession with track-suits and cigars (the last two being a highly flammable combination, before you even take into account the kindling-quality of the wispy white hair).
2: His immense, almost inhumanely vast dedication to raising money for charity.
Now, you might think me stupid, but years ago, I never thought there was anything that dodgy about Jimmy Saville (I’m well aware that this might cause a wave of disbelief to rise up in you. It’s actually doing the same thing to me right now. Let’s both take a few minutes to get a handle on ourselves). I thought he was a bit weird, odd-looking, alien-like and eerily unable to keep his mouth shut for more than three-seconds at a time, but I never remember thinking that he could be some kind of sex-abuse monster who preyed on innocent teenagers and children. My reasoning for this is extremely simple: at the time, like lots of children, I was a child – no shit. I was yet to see the double or sometimes triple-meaning in things, and when Saville first appeared on the screen I was a while away from working out what all this girl-fuss was all about. Which might explain something about Zeph’s remark. While Zeph was some 20 years older than me and almost certainly more than slightly intrigued about what all the girl-fuss was about – indeed, that may even be putting it lightly, I don’t know – I was clueless and prepubescent. Back then, I had no idea what girls found enticing about track-suits, and to be honest, now I’ve been through puberty and come out the other side, I still don’t.
Something else: before anyone gets their knickers in a right old twist, I’m not defending Jimmy Saville. Even more so, I’m not suggesting that these sex-abuse cases brought against the now-deceased Jimmy Saville are bullshit and that it wasn’t sex-abuse, it was just young girls being tempted by fame and money and now they’re much older, they’re cashing-in on it. What I am saying, though, is that it’s very hard for anyone to tell the difference if that is the case, which it very well might be. I’m no expert, but I think it’s fair to suggest that where money is involved, some people are willing to do and say almost anything in a bid to be able to buy the newest iPhone. The obvious problem, then, is working out who the genuine victims of all this are — and abuse crimes associated with other celebrities — compared to the teenagers that knew what they were doing and entered into some kind of sexual consent naturally (or as naturally as anyone could with Jimmy Saville…). Add this to the problem of how attitudes change over the years and you have all kinds of trouble. For example, some people may only now be realising that what happened to them was actually abuse. History is overflowing with cases where we look back in time and cast a dim view on sexual practice between adults and children, yet you hardly ever hear a historian saying how appalled they are. Mostly, if they’re Fiona Bruce, they just smile and say it was part of that period and it was OK back then. Which makes things murky. Very, very murky.
I remember a popular saying back when I was young. It was play the white man. It cropped-up every now and again, and at the time, with a very basic social compass and little life-experience, it seemed to make sense: act like the white man and you were good. There were very few ethnic minorities around when I was growing up, so this saying didn’t seem racist in any way, it seemed entirely fair and normal. Now I look back, I realise a few things I didn’t understand back then. One of them being that the people who said this didn’t believe they were really being racist – they just didn’t know any ethnic people and that knowledge bred an innate disliking based on instinct and falsehoods which they believed to be fact not open to debate. Racists were people who killed the blacks – but these people who said these sayings? They just didn’t really like the blacks and that was an entirely different thing. In some ways, I think hearing things like this did me a kind of favour. It slowly introduced me to the worrying fact that adults can be as ignorant as anyone, and that class and education doesn’t necessarily mean someone can have a broad and informed knowledge of the world around them. Even the smartest people are capable of thinking total bullshit, and, as in all cases, the smartest people are the most dangerous individuals of them all.
In my mind, one thing with the Saville – and other cases – is clear: years ago, like it or not, we as a society just didn’t think of abuse in the same way as we have come to now. Abuse of the most sordid kind was taken more seriously, but otherwise, it wasn’t always considered a big deal. Years ago, people were convinced that if you went out with wet hair, you were extremely likely to catch a bad cold or maybe even worse. In the same way, for a lot of people, child-abuse was something so grim that it just wasn’t talked about or discussed openly. In fact, some people probably questioned if it was even real, since paedophilia has long been classified as a mental illness and for a long time, the validity of mental illness has in itself been incredibly disputed, even amongst the so-called professionals. I get the feeling now that if I’d been an adult back then and my child had come to me and said his or her teacher had been touching them, I’d have been pissed-off. That would have been the first thing. But take it one step further…If they’d had the bravery to tell me how they had been raped by an exceedingly popular television presenter, I’d like to think that I’d have listened and really taken it in, but I can’t be sure I would have, can I? Especially if I mentioned it to a friend and they said, confirming my thoughts and bias, that the whole thing was ridiculous and my child was making it up. Some perverse charade. The very last thing I may have thought was that they were being brave in coming forward. The sad truth I don’t want to admit is that it’s more likely that I would have behaved in such a way. A way that horrifies me and goes against my better judgement. It’s disgusting to imagine yourself as acting in a way which might perceivably damage your child, maybe even irreversibly — this, on top of the initial legacy of already-inflicted damage — but in many ways it may also be essential. If you don’t accept it’s possible to be wrong then you’re ignoring the problem…the horrible truth that anyone can ignore despicable crimes if everything around them tells them not to believe what’s blatantly in front of their own bloody eyes.
For me, another massive problem with the reports that are circulating is that, unlike in many cases, where a case is put forward and then some months elapse until the case closes and the assimilated information is processed, the Saville case seems to have gone from 0 to 60 in less than 2 weeks. Firstly, very little detailed information about the girls has come about, enabling a frenzy of misdirected speculation. The media so far has largely presented these girls as vulnerable and young rather than young and prepubescent – one of the defining things which would make it paedophilia rather than straight-up abuse of power over a minor (by the time I post this that may well have changed as more information comes to light). Rape is, yet again, something which many people understand as one of several slightly different things, and now we have various papers making various claims, just to sell copies, just because they can. Additionally, when reports first surfaced, the now-deceased Jimmy Saville was accused of a broad spectrum of crimes but the accusations were cautionary and speculative at best. Yet in the last few days the tone and the language has changed and shifted, both in the papers and on the TV. The reports no longer speak of alleged crimes. Now, it’s all about crimes which definitely took place, as if a large number of people coming forward means that someone is guilty, irrelevant of the status of those claims, and whether or not the claims all contain similar characteristics which help prove them valid, or as close to valid as is possible. As that is (arguably) the case, I can’t help but think that several major investigations into Saville started many months or years ago and that what we’re seeing now is some kind of conclusion to a much bigger story that’s been hidden (some papers reported that investigations started years ago, although the validity of this is, quite rightly, something which needs to be questioned in itself). The thing is…if that’s the case, why are the BBC and other authorities reportedly investigating it only now? So many things just do not add up, and in too many instances, we’re treated like babbling, ignorant fools.
As for the truth ever really coming to light on who allowed the abuse to prosper and continue, I somehow doubt that it’ll ever happen. Personally, I can no longer trust any of the reports that come from the BBC or other sources, and I’m also finding all the latest news of people coming forward and admitting they knew something – yet didn’t do anything about it for alleged good reason – to be difficult to believe. It all seems like too many people covering their own arses now that society has finally dumbly realised/admitted what actually constitutes child-abuse — something which should, surely, have been really quite clear all along. The biggest shame, for some, is that we’re not advanced enough yet to dig Saville up, reanimate him and question the man ourselves, as some people would no doubt do in a minute while recording the whole sorry-thing on smartphones: a whole different moral and ethical debate in itself and one which I’m not convinced would even begin to untangle the whole confusing argument that currently shows no sign of slowing down.
The next installment of this story is here.