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Times were different, as was the culture

Bizarrely, for a fair whack of my 20s, I was what they called the showbiz reporter on a Scottish tabloid.

It meant schmoozing some interesting folks, spending a chunk of each month in London, interviewing the "stars" and going to a raft of parties thrown by TV and record companies and film studios. A tough gig but someone's got to and so on.

Yet here's a thing. For a woman of that tenderish age, most of these social occasions involved slapping down or fighting off the serial gropers, propositioners, and assorted showbusiness "gentlemen" who assumed that any female guest under 30 was there for their personal delight and delectation.

One-to-one interviews posed particular problems. I still recall a scary encounter with a high-profile star of a hit sitcom who insisted on the interview in his hotel suite being conducted in the bedroom and shouting unrepeatable abuse at his advances being spurned. (And graphically detailing what he would do to me the next time.)

I remember too, as I fled the premises, his male minders exchanging amused glances. This, I concluded, was not an isolated incident.

So, fast forward to this week; in fact to these past few weeks and months, when a procession of ageing male celebrities have appeared in court accused of sexual assaults of varying gravity.

Bill Roache, Dave Lee Travis, Rolf Harris, are on or facing trial. Time and the judicial process will determine their guilt or innocence, while Stuart Hall is already serving a sentence.

What they have in common, outside their unexpected notoriety, is the fact that, in their 60s 70s and 80s, alleged events of half a century ago have come back to haunt them.

It's difficult for a lifelong feminist to say out loud, but I wonder at the merit of these long-delayed legal proceedings; not at the merit of pursuing the details of Jimmy Savile's horrendous career as an apparent serial sexual predator, or anyone similarly inclined. And certainly not of investigating instances of underage, non-consensual sex. Serious crimes are serious crimes.

But the matter of indecency is inevitably infused with the cultural mores of the period when alleged offences were committed. Of course, it is unacceptable for any older men to use and abuse their position. Of course, those guilty were totally out of order and often betraying the trust of wives and families as well as vulnerable young women.

But, in truth, the men you encountered at glitzy parties in those days were little different from the men you met in your own office or wider social circle. What the TV, film and record industry high honchos had, which other men didn't, was more access to temptation and more opportunity. It doesn't excuse them; it does put their attitudes in context. Men behaving very badly was far from being a novelty in those days. And women felt significantly less empowered to call them out.

Yet the damaged adult women I've encountered have not for the most part been those who've had a nasty but transient episode with the famous, but rather ones who've silently suffered systematic abuse from an adult male, most usually a male relative or male companion of their mother.

Theirs is the lifelong damage to self esteem and sexual happiness. Theirs are the nightmares which still haunt their adult lives and impair adult relationships. These are the historic victims who will rarely have their day in court.

So I wonder. I wonder at the impact of these cases on equally elderly spouses and grown-up families. I wonder if our efforts and energies might be more profitably employed throwing slender resources at those who help victims of contemporary sexual abuse.

If it might make more sense to pursue the less glamorous but more ubiquitous, anonymous and currently dangerous men who are destroying homes and families with sexual exploitation of the young.

I have met and interviewed some of those offenders. They are daunting in their ordinariness. Theirs is not a world of glamorous parties and free-flowing drink. They prey on children at school gates, and in family bedrooms. Or groom online victims. And they are rarely octogenarians.

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