If you were abused by Jimmy Savile 30 or 40 years ago, is it really wise to reveal all now, or would it be better to keep it to yourself?
I think it’s the latter. I think there is more virtue in keeping the abuse as a firm part of your past, rather than offering it up to a scandal-hungry media and abuse-obsessed society that are desperate for more episodes of perversion to pore over.
There is now implicit pressure on everyone who had a sordid encounter with Savile – whether it’s the 14-year-old girl whose thigh he touched or the young women he is alleged to have raped – to come forward and tell all.
They are implored to spare no detail, to pour every memory, however vague, into a hack’s expectant dictaphone. The best victims also supply the media with a photo of what they looked like when Savile abused them, thus allowing us to behold their innocence and imagine its destruction by the monster Jimmy.
Who benefits from this, from the non-stop parade of Savile’s sad victims across the front pages of the papers and on serious TV programmes like Panorama?
The victims themselves don’t get much out of it, since they are cajoled into reliving unpleasant things that happened decades ago. Worse, they’re publicly branded as damaged, as permanently scarred, despite the fact that many of them will have led full, interesting lives since that one time a dirty old man did something bad to them.
They are immortalised as one of Jimmy’s Victims, and in the process they are dehumanised, turned from rounded, complex individuals into simply sufferers.
Justice doesn’t benefit from these revelations, either, since Savile is dead and cannot be found guilty of anything. It is virtually impossible to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the allegations against him are true, because, in a civilised society at least, the dead cannot be put on trial. Which raises the question of why so many of the police’s resources are being pumped into gathering more and more Savile abuse stories.
And society as a whole doesn’t benefit from the open invitation to every person who had a bad encounter with Savile to reveal all. In fact, society, the big communal space we all inhabit, looks set to be the biggest loser in all this.
The Savile scandal will further dent social solidarity. The promotion of the idea that paedophiles lurk everywhere, that, in the words of the deputy children’s commissioner Sue Berelowitz, “There isn’t a town, village or hamlet in which children are not being sexually exploited”, will exacerbate today’s climate of suspicion and mistrust. The now widely accepted idea that there were “paedophile networks” at the Beeb, in the NHS, even around Parliament, will ratchet up already high levels of public cynicism towards institutions and the political sphere.
Meanwhile, the serious discussion about introducing mandatory reporting of every rumour involving child abuse will intensify our alienation from one another, encouraging us to live in a permanent state of suspicion towards our colleagues, friends, strangers. It will unleash a potentially very ugly finger-pointing climate. Who would want to live in such a warped, Stalinist-like society?
The reason the Savile scandal continues to gather pace, despite its obviously destructive effects, is because there are two industries that do benefit from it – the media industry and the therapeutic industry.
In the media, right from the salacious tabloids that like nothing better than to panic about paedophiles to feministic commentators on the broadsheets who muse at length about “cultures of abuse”, the existence of an alleged 300 Savile victims is like manna from heaven.
They can wring both titillatingly horrifying stories of woe from these victims (in the case of the tabloids), or hold them up as evidence of a deep-rooted climate of sexism (in the case of the broadsheets), and thus the more victims there are, and the more they are willing to relive their pasts publicly and frequently, the better.
Meanwhile, the therapeutic industry – the various experts, child-protection charities and “survivor networks” that make a living from pontificating about trauma and how we might cope with it – see in the Savile story an opportunity to further propagate their abuse theories.
Primarily, today’s therapeutic industry promotes the idea that the best way to cope with bad experiences is to revisit them, relive them, tell everyone all about them, whether by opening up on a therapist’s couch or by writing a ‘misery memoir’. In essence, people are invited to make sense of any problems they have in the present through exploring things that happened to them 20 or 30 years ago. They are encouraged to redefine themselves, not as conscious beings in control of their lives, but as ‘damaged goods’, whose bad experiences scarred them and screwed them up and determined their destinies, by denting their self-esteem or making them depressed or whatever.
This is a deeply and disturbingly fatalistic view of human life. It gives the impression that our entire existences, our whole adult lives, can be shaped by the actions of one weirdo in our childhoods or teenage years. Indeed, those who shrug off their past misfortunes, and who refuse to let them rule their lives, are now said to be “in denial”; they have failed to submit to the trendy therapeutic idea that we are all prisoners of our pasts.
What a high price we are paying just so the media and others can get a kick from the Savile scandal. There are probably people out there who were abused by Savile but who refuse to allow that fact to determine who they are, and who have thus resisted the rather sordid invitation to tell a slobbering nation and handwringing commentators all about it. I have great admiration for those people.