Savile case: How bullies and predators thrived

Eleanor Donne

The revelations about Jimmy Savile’s serial sexual assaults and rape of children over decades will disgust many from the ‘Jim’ll Fix It’ generation.

As more and more witnesses come forward the scale of his abuse is becoming clear. It is already clear that he was not the only one involved.

Savile’s descent from ‘national treasure’ to predatory sex offender in the national consciousness has been swift.

He will never have to answer personally for his crimes, having died last year with his knighthood and reputation intact.

However, the wider question of how he could use his position as a TV presenter and charity fundraiser to target vulnerable young people is gaining momentum.

Why was Savile a keyholder at Broadmoor, Britain’s most secure psychiatric hospital? Just how was he able to convince managers at Stoke Mandeville Hospital that he needed a private room there? Money talks, it seems.

The fact that Savile used his influence and name to raise millions of pounds for that and other hospitals assured silence.

It appears to have been a fairly open secret at the BBC as far back as the 1970s that Savile, in the words of one ex-colleague, ‘liked ’em young’.

Nevertheless an investigative exposé about the matter by respected BBC journalists was blocked.

Liz McKean, one of the programme’s makers, was appalled at the decision, saying that Savile’s victims collectively deserved to be heard.

To add insult to injury the BBC went ahead with a tribute programme to Savile in December 2011.

The BBC now joins the list of ‘Great British Institutions’ under investigation for immoral and illegal conduct, alongside sleazy politicians, bent coppers and criminal journalists.

The BBC’s media competitors in commercial television of course have their own business agenda and want to see the state broadcasting company broken up and sold off. Is it just coincidence that the investigation into why the Newsnight programme on Savile was dropped is being led by Nick Pollard, former head of Murdoch’s Sky News?

The NSPCC and other support organisations for those who have been abused in childhood report that calls have increased since the revelations about Savile’s actions, and estimate that even today only a third of abused children report their abuse at the time it happens.

There have been some heart-breaking accounts from Savile’s victims, some of whom have felt too ashamed to tell anyone at all until others went public with their stories.

Savile, like many other sex offenders, tried to target children who were marginalised already – suffering mental illness or attending reform schools, in care or physically or mentally disabled.

Not believed

He figured, rightly unfortunately, that they would not be believed. One girl who resisted Savile’s sexual assault and spoke out at the time was even punished by the staff for being rude.

While such regimes are much less common now, children in today’s under-funded and fragmented care system are still very vulnerable to grooming, sexual exploitation and rape, as the Rochdale case shows.

However, while the current media focus is on institutions, the vast majority of child abuse takes place within the family.

A former Court of Appeal Judge is leading an inquiry into the culture of the BBC during the years Savile worked there.

Clearly questions need to be asked in particular about the cult of celebrity, which renders certain individuals ‘untouchable’.

But sexism, serious abuse of power at the top and a complete lack of democracy, accountability or workers’ control is common to all major public bodies and corporations in the current capitalist economy.

Savile’s career holds a mirror up to capitalist society and shows us a world of great inequality where bullies and predators can thrive.

Much has changed since the 1970s, including laws and work practices designed to reduce abuse and keep children safer, and also ‘whistle-blowing’ policies allowing employees to report suspected abuse by colleagues or managers.

However, such measures require decent employment rights and effective union organisation to be really enforceable and the government is attacking both. If it succeeds it will become more, not less, difficult to speak out.