Category Archives: Jimmy Saville

My Fault, Your Fault, Our Fault

Ever since the breaking news of Jimmy Saviles alleged offences I have been reflecting with sadness. I worked in Stoke Mandeville Hospital and other local health services for a short period in the 70s and 80s while he lived there – in the nurses sick bay, for goodness sake –  and was one of those who “knew” and did nothing.  I can barely describe how appalling that makes me feel – although we did not “know” anything at all, we simply knew he was someone who made us uncomfortable and witnessed some odd behaviours like an unusually high interest in the younger and more vulnerable nurses and dreadful social skills with anyone other than the vulnerable or the star struck. I never saw this man do anything other than be odd, but I am left wondering why I did not put the facts together.

Back then, being touched up in the pub, wolf whistled in the street, and having leering men make unfunny jokes about sex or bosoms at parties was par for the course. It was expected, unchallenged and if we made a fuss we were lesbians. I was a feminist, still am a feminist, and make no apology for that even though my interpretation of feminism has developed over the years and bears little resemblance to my 70s feminism – but if I am claiming the political and moral high ground how can I explain not twigging some behaviours that were, if what we hear is true, going on in front of me? And now it is all breaking, it is so obvious that I am stunned by my own stupidity.

It was an era when children, especially disadvantaged children, were routinely dismissed as liars  or simply ignored, women were routinely patronised and abused, and the disabled were still called cripples and expected to stay indoors. The culture of celebrity was in the ascendence and the Telly was King. People were beginning to seriously worship the famous average and the famous odd. Throw some serious money from fund raising into the mix and we begin to see the shape of this picture.

This man was courted by people because he could get them dosh. He solved money problems for institutions and they grovelled for that. The institutions and the people running them dissolved the usual failsafes, ignored the usual safety measures, fell at the feet of that potent sludge of money and fame. The rest of us were too busy working to pay much more attention than t0 notice the guys odd manner and feel repulsed. This begins to look even less satisfactory the more I reflect.

We are a little complacent now – we see the paralympics and marvel at how “the disabled” now have the same opportunities to compete and win as “the able bodied” – we don’t really question whether that impacts on disabled people who just want to live an ordinary life, we just stand open mouthed at crip power. We reel back in horror at some of the “antique” words that were commonplace a few years ago, like “nigger”, “dyke” (although that has now been wonderfully reclaimed!), “spastic”, “dolly bird” (a personal pet hate), and we turn our noses up at “black coffee”, the term of endearment from strangers such as “love” or “dear”, and find new forms of offence to be taken every week, new words and phrases with which to struggle and stammer over. No offence.

But have we moved on that much? We worshipped a rich-girl-made-good when Diana died – she never had the opportunity or perhaps even the desire to just be a woman. I used to wish she would break wind savagely when she got out of a car in one of those  fab dresses just to break the spell.  We follow the slebs lives slavishly, young women have surgery and starve themselves to be like the famous average and people line up to be humiliated on national TV in the hope of being famous for a while. We profess horror when a footballer says “black” to a black man but still have room for the BNP leader to tweet an incitement to harass a gay couple for winning a court case. Young women are still less likely to follow a career in Physics than their male colleagues. Charmless rich men still trot about with tall totty with boob jobs and bleach jobs, wide smiles and silent acceptance.

I think what I am saying is that the revelations about the alleged offences committed by some famous men over the past few years – probably decades – has caused me to take a long hard look at how we have all been living. Perhaps doing that can help to make sure we reduce the risks of abuses happening in the future. Abuse isn’t just about force, or about sex, or even about  violence. It is about violation and lack of respect. It is about reducing people to objects, or to things that we can make use of – the vulnerable, the young, the minorities, the poor. People with little or no voice. People who have been in prison, people with mental health issues, the homeless, people with learning disabilities, many many more – a long list of groups and individuals who have been – are – abused without consequence. When was the last time you were enraged when you heard about a homeless person being beaten up? Properly enraged?

Until we  take the time and the effort to see people as people, human beings, with worth and value, abuses will be a risk, and we will open the papers again soon to find ourselves shocked about another story of inhumanity, perhaps a story about human trafficking, about an “honour” killing, about something dramatic enough to excite the papers. We will not see the wifebeater next door, the abusive Father and his submissive daughter, the homeless guy in the shop doorway, the celebrity with his own set of keys to a place that offers asylum to some of the  most dysfunctional and voiceless people in the UK.

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