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Breaking the code of silence

By Sophie Love - posted Wednesday, 24 October 2012


The current revelations and reaction to the accusations and allegations made against Jimmy Savile in the U.K. should be used as an opportunity to reflect and learn, rather than dismiss the furor as fakery, feminism and 'paedo panic'. Let's look at some cold, hard facts.

One in five children are sexually abused. Just stop for a minute and think about that. Think about five adults you know. One of them will have been sexually abused (they may have blocked the memory out or they may keep it close to their chest as their deepest, darkest, most shameful secret). Think about five children. One has, or will be, sexually assaulted. Their innocence stolen and smashed, never to be recovered. That's not 'pedo panic', that is a tragic reality.

And what do we know about pedophiles? They are not men in grey raincoats lurking on corners. Not at all. That government campaign about stranger danger did more to mislead the public than any other. They are mainly men, that is true. They are clever. They are manipulative. They are respected. They inveigle themselves into positions of trust and authority where they can access children and young adults. They are teachers, priests, babysitters, friends, uncles and people in the public eye. They consciously create an aura of untouchability about them so they are never suspected, never called to account. Never accused.

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It is precisely because they appear so untouchable and are deemed so respectable by everyone except the victim that he or she cannot speak out. Because the wrath and spite of the perpetrator would be brought down on the victim and that poor innocent cast out of society, their family, their community, as a liar and merchant of destruction.

That is why children bury the truth in their hearts and minds while acting out in grief and rage. That is why adults still feel ashamed of acts which they were innocent victims of, and have such difficulty speaking out. That is why so few perpetrators are ever named and shamed. Because the burden of proof lies with the victim and acts of secrecy and shame are almost impossible to prove. After all, where are the witnesses to support the allegations? Of course there are none.

But the adults around those children are also duped by the personality of the perpetrator. They see things that they find odd but are charmed or smoothed away and they, too, perpetrate the code of silence around child sexual assault. Some children, when they have the courage to speak, are told not to ‘make things up’. And the aura of untouchability around the pedophile is therefore strengthened.

Jimmy Savile was a hero to children of my generation, growing up in the U.K. He was a star of almost mythical power. He could ‘fix’ anything and made dreams come true for millions of children. He was seen as a superhero who helped the poor and sick, granted wishes and he was in every living room, on every TV countless times a week as well as broadcasting on the airwaves. He was ever prevalent and he was labeled a saint, knighted by the Queen and feted wherever he went.

Now it appears that his superstardom was used as an excuse for behavior that is intolerable to us today. It’s great that we have evolved enough as a global society to see now that stars taking advantage of the awe and wonder of young girls’ (or boys), is abuse and assault - that we are finally breaking the code of silence around abuse. Sadly, it is not uncommon for the truth about a pedophile to only be exposed after their death. Actually, that is normal.

I was abused 44 years ago and I am still so scared of my abuser – a man who is a pillar of society that I will only be free of him when he is dead. His hold over me is visceral and time, nor distance, nor any amount of therapy, will not lessen it. And I know that if I spoke my truth to those who know him I would be damned, heaped with shame and terrible accusations, which would destroy me. So I don’t, and I won’t name and shame. I understand all those who have remained locked in a prison of silence and shame for so long - they have my empathy and compassion.

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This isn’t just about Jimmy Savile, this is an indictment on the society, culture, and community that allowed and accepted his behaviour.  It isn’t a witch-hunt or a ‘pedo panic’, this is a society who is revolted and revolting against the idea that someone they trusted with their children serially abused that trust.

This vitriol and rage is understandable. These are the emotions that are felt when the extent of the betrayal of trust is understood in a case of sexual assault. And in a way, Jimmy Savile has hoodwinked all of us who lived in the U.K. at that time. We have all been victims of his manipulation. Just as Diana’s death tapped into a grief that needed an outlet, so too have these accusations and allegations provided a much-needed outlet for the emotions, discussion and community focus that child sexual assault needs and deserves.

Our fear and loathing can unite us. Lessons can be learnt, changes can be made, and dialogue can begin now that the can of worms seething in our society has finally been opened. Sexual assault pervades all perceived barriers of class, or race, or religion or fame or fortune. We have to stamp it out. We have to be vigilant.  We have to be aware. We have to be wary. And we have to stand up and say ‘we will not tolerate sexual crimes against children or minors’.

Because if pedophiles know that we are watching, that we are on our guard, that our children are protected, that we will listen to children, that we will believe children, that we will prosecute and we will win, then they will think again and their perverted proclivities will be made more difficult, and finally, perhaps, they will stop.

For more information on child sexual assault go to www.aifs.gov.auwww.casa.org.au or www.bravehearts.org.au.

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About the Author

Sophie Love has been involved in the advertising and media industries since the 1980's 'greed is good' heydays. British by birth, but Australian by choice, she is passionate about this beautiful sunburnt continent and re-connecting Australians to their literal roots - where their food comes from. She runs a farm, a family, and a marketing/design agency. In her free time (!) she likes to put pen to paper and share her thoughts about a wide variety of issues and modern day dilemmas. You can read more at www.littlehouseontheriver.com.au.

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