What can we learn from last night’s harrowing documentary on ITV alleging that Jimmy Savile was a serial sexual abuser of children?
1. We must always listen to and believe children, and make it safe for them to speak out if they are being abused. And it’s everybody’s responsibility to do so. If you’re concerned about a child, there are some simple things you can do. Children 1st has ten top tips to protect children free to download from the website to give children the space they need to trust and to tell you. And then you must act. You must report it to the police.
2. No matter who the abuser is, no matter what you think the circumstances are, it is not for us to excuse away what a child tells us. It is for the authorities to decide if further action needs to be taken. Scotland now has a child protection website which links to all local authority child protection teams and links to all the national helplines, including ParentLine and ChildLine. If a child discloses and we do nothing, what message does that send?
3. It is never acceptable for any adult to abuse children. There are no grey areas. Adults are the ones with the power, and abusers rely on that power to silence children through threats, rewards and other methods. We are the ones who are responsible here and we must not allow our responsibility to keep children safe to transfer on to children.
4. There are many reasons why people do not disclose abuse when it happens and there can be many triggers for someone making an historic allegation of abuse. Often children don’t tell at the time because they don’t feel able to. That must change. With Jimmy Savile, as some of those who witnessed him abusing young girls also said, it was because he was such an influential and powerful media figure, no one would believe them. The women he abused also said that and in fact, one woman who did tell was accused of lying and was punished for it. Is it little wonder that they waited until he was dead before coming forward?
5. Jimmy Savile abused more young girls than the ones we now know about. What these women disclosed – separately and unrelatedly - was a pattern of consistent abusive behaviour which given the amount of access he had, and which he created, means it is highly probable that there are more victims. Given that he spent a lot of time in Scotland and indeed, had a house in Glencoe it is possible there are Scottish victims too. It’s important that we encourage them all to come forward, tell their stories and receive the therapeutic help and support they need to recover. NAPAC, the National Association for People abused in Childhood, has a helpline and a website which can help.
6. The BBC needs to step up here. It is not enough for them to say they will investigate any claims made and report them to the police. It must set up an inquiry and invite women to come forward. It must also review its child protection procedures to ensure that what was allowed to go on, in full sight of everyone who worked with Jimmy Savile, can never happen again. After all, even though rumours were rife about his behaviour among BBC staff, the broadcaster went on to give him shows which provided potential access to an endless supply of young girls. For that alone, the BBC must apologise.
7. Esther Rantzen, who has done so much to champion the needs of children who have been abused, not least by setting up ChildLine, was clearly devastated on the programme by the realisation that she had got this man wrong. And looking back she can see that there might have been things that she and others could have done to protect children. Would he get away with it now? I’m not so sure. Attitudes have changed and so has society, but we should all take a moment today to think about the children we know and the adults they spend time with and satisfy ourselves that we can be sure they are safe and that we are doing all we can for them to be safe.
8. We must always listen to, and believe children who disclose sexual, physical and emotional abuse. We cannot hope that someone else will act, we must not pretend we did not hear, we should do all we can to give children a safe space in which to disclose. Or else abusers like Jimmy Savile will continue to get away with it, harming children and destroying lives.
It’s everybody’s responsibility to protect children and we must all put children first. Always.
If you’re concerned that a child you know has experienced or is suffering sexual abuse and want to talk to someone confidentially about your concerns and what to do next, call ParentLine Scotland free on 08000 28 22 33 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. All calltakers are trained on child protection issues and can provide emotional and practical support. The helpline is open every week day until 10pm and at weekends 12 noon to 8pm.
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