I haven’t been following the Jimmy Saville scandal too closely, but it is impossible to avoid it completely. It seems an obvious thing to say, but paedophilia is one of the most disturbing crimes that exist, if not the most disturbing. I was raped as an adult, with an adult’s faculties to process what happened, and it has seriously impacted my life. Fucked up is an accurate description. When I try to think how I would have coped with that kind of violation as a child, I am overcome with despair for those that have suffered in that way. Which explains why I haven’t been following it too closely.
What has become clear however, is that Saville was not just a serial offender, or that times were just different ‘back then.’ What has become clear is that the allegations that were made at the time, the rumours that did exist at the time, were all systematically ignored or brushed aside by those in authority, at the BBC, and elsewhere. It was institutionalised rape culture.
This isn’t just because of who Saville was; a top TV personality with a cult following. We are all fooling ourselves if we think this behaviour is limited to Saville, or limited to a problem at the BBC. It is everywhere. When someone is popular, well-liked, no-one wants to believe they can also be evil. The Assange case has illustrated this as well; because he has done good with WikiLeaks, his allies & supporters are too keen to deride and undermine the allegations of rape, insisting it was not rape (bad sexual etiquette), and instead is a conspiracy aimed at destroying WikiLeaks.
We are conditioned to give the benefit of the doubt to the accused. Innocent until proven guilty is the mantra at the heart of our justice system. During the Justin Lee Collins trial I was horrified to see how many people were defending him, casting dispersions on the word of his ex-girlfriend, calling her a liar. This is so common when it comes to sex crimes, when the evidence so often comes down to the only two people present. The MumsNet #IBelieveYou campaign which went viral earlier this year was so important, and it still is. We must must must start to believe the victim first, before the evidence, to give victims a safe environment in which to come forward.
Rape is usually a crime perpetrated by those known to the victim. Circles of friends, or families can be torn apart by accusations, and it is more convenient, easier, to believe the person you liked, or loved, is not also an evil monster. Rapists can be the popular guy, the one who you think could get any girl he wanted, and probably does, most of the time. We have to start being able to believe the worst of people, not the best. We have to believe the accuser. For all his lifetime Jimmy Saville’s crimes went unpunished. We have to start to believe the old adage, no smoke without fire.