Child sexual abuse is on the agenda in Australia, with state inquiries in Victoria and NSW, and the recent federal government announcement of a Royal Commission into institutionalised abuse of children and young people. The Jerry Sandusky case in the United States confirms – if confirmation is necessary – that not only is the Roman Catholic church responsible for systematic and apparently systemic abuse together with its cover-up. The problem goes way beyond church and church-related institutions.
Predictably, Australia and the United States are not alone.
The ongoing Jimmy Savile scandal in the United Kingdom provides insights into the corporate culture of condonation surrounding child sexual abuse. Savile, who died in October 2011 at the age of 84, is alleged to have spent the greater part of his life sexually abusing children and other vulnerable young people - as well as, according to at least one account, engaging in titillation (for him) involving the bodies of deceased human beings.
The man swept to fame with the support of the BBC, where he featured as a principal player in long-running television programmes including 'Top of the Pops' and 'Jim'll Fix It'. His celebrity grew as he launched charitable enterprises – these, it now appears, being used by him as fronts for his allegedly criminal activities and enabling him, through his 'charitable' guise, to access schools, reformatories and hospitals to engage in criminality with impunity.
Although initially reported as if these revelations were new, it now appears that allegations were ongoing for decades, with knowledge existing in various parts of the organisations where Savile's conduct is alleged to have taken place – including but by no means only the BBC. Police and prosecution services had notice on more than a few occasions.
Colleagues of Savile are implicated, the contention being that he was not alone in his exploitation of young women and girls, particularly in the context of his BBC programmes, and that at least some persons in positions of power and authority within the BBC were aware. It appears, now, that boys and young men were targets, too. Revellations about his exploits at hospitals and other institutions, including a north Wales care home – Bryn Estyn, Leeds general infirmary, Stoke Mandeville hospital and even Broadmoor, add to the infamy.
Peter Sutcliffe, having been convicted in 1981 of the murder of 13 women in Yorkshire, imprisoned 'for life' and now serving time in Broadmoor, has come forward to defend Savile. According to Sutcliffe, allegations against Savile are 'a load of rubbish' with 'people' being 'carried away' and 'jumping on the bandwagon'. The Sutcliffe connection has led to further disclosures including police confirmation that Savile came to their attention during the time of Sutcliffe's crimes and before Sutcliffe was arrested. Savile, it appears, was questioned as part of the 'Yorkshire Ripper' investigation. Later, he became one of Sutcliffe's regular visitors. This has raised questions as to whether Savile and Sutcliffe were acquainted before Sutcliffe's arrest.
Out of this murk and morass, certain factors have become clear. Not only were complaints made about and against Savile during his lifetime, and not only did material from police investigations go forward to prosecuting authorities. Perhaps most damning of all is that despite the complaints, despite the knowledge of Savile's predilection (apparently widespread), charities continued to take his money, lauding him for his 'generosity', while institutions continued not only to welcome him, despite their 'care' of children and young people and responsibility for them. Institutions went so far as not only to give Savile unrestricted entrée, but provided Savile with his own keys and living accommodation on the premises. On top of it all, Jimmy Savile was appointed by then Health Minister Edwina Currie to head a task force at Broadmoor. This occurred in 1988 when strikes led the Thatcher government to impose direct control over the facility. Savile was appointed despite his lack of expertise, training or experience in health matters or employment issues. With police classifying him as a 'predatory sex offender', hindsight now confirms Savile's experience as centred in his abuse – including sexual assault - of Broadmoor patients.
The Department of Health has launched an inquiry into how Savile came to be appointed to the Broadmoor task force, and how he gained access to patients in all three hospitals. Asking that all relevant papers be disclosed, former Minister Currie describes Savile as 'totally evil', and says she has '… nothing to hide over Jimmy Savile'.
So it is that Peter Sutcliffe's words are revelatory: 'He [Savile] visited a lot. He'd always come and chat with me on visits and I would introduce him to my visitors. Several times he left £500 for charities I was supporting.'
Thus money speaks. So, too celebrity.
During Savile's lifetime, when media stories based on claims of his predatory sexual conduct were scheduled to go to print or to air, Savile is said to have threatened journalists, editors or producers. A key plank in his repertoire was the contention that if he and his conduct were 'outed', the charities bearing his name or in receipt of his largesse would be damaged: their financial status would suffer a hit. Charitable institutions, it seems, weighed more than the words of those suffering Savile's abuses. 'Charity' was more important than the bodily and psychic integrity of his once and everyday targets.
She is also Visiting Fellow, Lucy Cavendish College, University of Cambridge.