Never do I feel more aware that I’m not from Australia than whenever there’s a media blitzing story that everybody (back in Britain) is talking about.
And just imagine how difficult it is to describe Jimmy Savile to people who’ve never ever heard of him.
'Well he was this sort of old, sleazy, weird guy with peroxide hair - wore tracksuits and loads of bling. Spoke a bizarre nonsensical jargon – asitappens, owsabout. Liked to talk about how much work he did for charity and generally came across as an arrogant, creepy, self-promotion merchant. Very popular, he was. Never off the telly.'
To nobody’s great surprise – apart from bewilderment as to why it took so long – Jimmy Savile appears to allegedly have been a serial sex offender.
I have to be careful about how I put this, but I’ve had quite a lot to do with sex offenders over the years.
In the late 1990s, I spent a whole year in the so called ‘protected wing’ of a well-known penal institution, interacting on a daily basis with rapists, flashers, child molesters and the like – and before you ask, I was there, not as a prisoner, but as a writer-in-residence.
Further, in Australia, as a probation officer in Northern New South Wales, I personally ‘supervised’ a number of sex offenders who’d been released on Parole.
Most sex offenders are people like me and you. More or less. Ordinary blokes – because blokes it (nearly) always is - from various different backgrounds and circumstances who, in the main, made a terrible, hideous, horrific error of judgement with little or no thought – or certainly not at the time – for the feelings of their victim or the consequences of their actions.
Guilt? Like you wouldn’t believe. So guilty, so utterly mortified by their actions, they could barely bring themselves to talk about it – even to me – a State appointed counsellor and confidante they were actually legally obliged to offload on.
You think old Jimmy felt guilty about the stuff he did? Of course he did. Of course he did. That’s why he disguised it so well, masked it with his relentless charity work, tireless self-promotion and – watch the Louis Theroux doco – his awkward caginess about questions even remotely about the Man rather than the Celebrity.
Understandably, they obviously feel the better for openly talking about something they’d kept hidden for so long, due, no doubt to a combination of shame, fear, ridicule, derision and - who knows - possible recriminations.
In the 1960s a six year old me was fishing for baggy minnows in Hogganfield Loch in Glasgow’s East End. There was a guy – he just seemed to appear out of nowhere, at the secluded bank where I was casting, helping me out. Or pretending to.
As victims we have to acknowledge to ourselves that it wasn’t our fault, that we really were truly innocent and exploited, and therefore should have no truck with our feelings of shame, self-loathing and, even, embarrassment. It wasn’t our fault.
Well, it was their fault. But, fact is, they’re people too. Harsh but true. Not that you’d think so since society’s default response is to castigate them, derisively condemn them to a clandestine life of guilt and concealment - terrified beyond belief that their awful secret will get out, thereby encouraging them to lock it away, pretend it never happened and construct ridiculous unsustainable justifications.
If you ask me, we - there’s that ‘we’ again - need to open up about childhood sexual abuse, about all kinds of sexual abuse.
We need to acknowledge a bad thing happened - it was wrong - but it happened. Victims and perpetrators alike - and of course, sometimes perps are victims - need to be able to talk about it without fear of humiliation, pity, revulsion and self-righteous castigation.
Victimhood self perpetuates. Like an acid, it eats away at your self confidence and ambition. It becomes a crutch.
For me, meeting so called sex offenders, albeit in a professional setting, helped me to come to terms with the negative feelings and dissipation of self worth that possibly endured, regardless of the fact that every kind of rational thought and logic told me that I was truly, entirely innocent of any culpability.
Maybe, just maybe, when the sensational headlines fade away, we can use the Barbering of Savile as a force for good and healing. Though frankly, I wouldn’t put money on it.
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