It’s not about communication

There have been numerous reports in the news over the past few days acknowledging that the police made dreadful errors in handling allegations of abuse by Jimmy Savile over the years – decades, in fact. The Scotsman, the Grauniad, ITV, the BBC, and Channel 4 are just some of the many news sites reporting on this.

The BBC article says

The allegations uncovered by HMIC include:

  • A missed opportunity to investigate Savile in 1963 when a male victim reported to Cheshire police that he had been raped by Savile. An officer told the victim to “forget about it”. Cheshire Police says it can find no record of the allegation.
  • A man who reported to police in London that his girlfriend had been assaulted at a recording of Top of the Pops and was warned that he “could be arrested for making such allegations” and sent away
  • In 1964 intelligence about Savile was entered into a ledger used by the Met’s paedophile unit. It said the DJ had visited an address used by girls who had absconded from Duncroft Approved School in Surrey. There is no record of any investigation
  • Anonymous allegations sent to the Met in 1998 in a letter that described Savile as a “deeply committed paedophile”
  • In 2003, the Met also compiled a crime report relating to a complaint about a 1970s incident
  • In 2007, Surrey Police compiled a report after complaints from three victims and the following year a Sussex report focused on a complaint from one victim.

It’s clear that several people did find the courage to go to the police about Savile’s abuse and they were turned away. The Channel 4 report is interesting because it’s drawing parallels between the Savile abuses and the Soham murders and suggesting that poor information sharing between forces was part of the reason proper action did not happen when allegations were made.

Perhaps Channel Four are correct. Perhaps if the forces who received allegations of abuse by Savile had been able to record that on a system available to all police forces and see that others had made similar allegations (if such a system was available in the pre-computerised 60s and 70s), perhaps he could have been stopped. Perhaps his victims would have seen him tried, convicted and imprisoned for his crimes.

But look at the situation now. We have DNA evidence. We have sophisticated forensic techniques. We have instant mobile communications systems. We have a much better understanding of victim and abuser behaviour and psychology.But victims still don’t get justice and the reason for that is that they are not believed.

Esther Rantzen was instrumental in setting up Childline. She was very vocal about the need to believe children when they say they are being abused. But in that tv documentary about the Savile investigations, she said quite openly that she hadn’t taken the allegations she heard seriously because she’d only heard it from the victims, and she did not seem to see the irony in that. And look at what happened to the woman raped by Ched Evans – some people decided she was lying, harassed her, named her and continue to bleat about “justice for Ched” regardless of the fact that Ched got justice.

So yeah, talk all you like about communication and technology and liaison, but until you stop disbelieving victims and start accepting that they’re telling the truth, nothing will change. Catholic priests will continue to abuse children, teachers will continue to abuse pupils, men will continue to rape women and children, those with power will continue to assault those without. It won’t stop until the victims are taken seriously. Victims are betrayed by their abuser and betrayed by the organisations supposed to ensure justice is served. Let’s start by believing people and see where that gets us.


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