Op-Ed Columnist Predators on Pedestals By BILL KELLER October 14, 2012
America has Jerry Sandusky. Britain has Jimmy Savile.
Sandusky you know; the predatory Penn State football coach was sentenced last week to spend his remaining years in prison for raping boys who looked up to him. Savile you may have missed; a venerable British TV personality who died last year, he is now at the center of a posthumous scandal unspooling in London. His appetites ran mostly to adolescent girls, but otherwise the parallels are striking. In both cases, the story is not just one of individual villainy but of the failure of a trusted institution, if not a flaw in the wider culture.
Perhaps you’ve had your fill of these sordid accounts — the celebrity gropers, the pedophile priests, the fondling in the locker room shower, the witnesses who look the other way. But Savile’s case is worth mulling, if only because the institution in which his serial child abuse took place is one of the most respected media organizations in the world, a putative shrine to truth and accountability: the BBC. And in the early days of the scandal the revered broadcaster has faced the same questions of dereliction or outright cover-up that dogged Penn State and the Catholic Church when they experienced their respective outbreaks of infamy.
To appreciate Jimmy Savile’s place in English culture, imagine a combination of Dick Clark of “American Bandstand” and Jerry Lewis, maestro of the muscular dystrophy telethon. Savile was the longest-serving host of the immensely popular BBC music show “Top of the Pops,” and the star of another long-running show called “Jim’ll Fix It,” in which he pulled strings to grant the wishes of supplicants, mostly children. Like Sandusky, he buffed his reputation by throwing himself into charity work. Like Sandusky he seems to have used his philanthropy both to identify vulnerable children for his personal sport and to inoculate himself against suspicion. The good deeds helped earn Savile two knighthoods, one bestowed by the queen, the other by the pope. He was Sir Jimmy, confidant — or at least photo-op accessory — of royals, prime ministers, even Beatles….
The testimony of his accusers describes what Malcolm Gladwell calls, in a shuddersome study of Sandusky’s ilk published in The New Yorker last month, “child-molester tradecraft.” You have “the subtle early maneuvers of victim selection,” the screening out of children who object or who are supervised closely by parents, the testing, ingratiating, “grooming” and “desensitizing the target with an ever-expanding touch,” the escalation of abuse.
Gossip about Savile’s fondling of young teenagers was rife, but never rose to a level deemed newsworthy during his life. But on Oct. 3 the investigative program “Exposure,” on the rival ITV network, aired a damning documentary. It included interviews with five women who described being sexually abused as teenagers and with colleagues who witnessed compromising behavior. After that, the deluge. London police now say they are pursuing more than 300 leads, and that they believe Savile abused girls as young as 13 over the course of four decades — in his BBC dressing room, in hospitals where he was a benefactor, in the back of his white Rolls-Royce.
It turns out that the BBC’s own investigative show, “Newsnight,” had also delved into Savile’s history, but ended up killing the program last December. It would have run a few weeks before a BBC holiday tribute to the memory of Jimmy Savile….
Esther Rantzen: ‘How I long to turn the clock back’
We were all part of a conspiracy of silence – and that’s why it is vital that Savile’s victims come forward to tell their stories
By Esther Rantzen
07 Oct 2012
As I arrived at an NSPCC conference last week, a taxi pulled up, and the driver shouted to me. “Esther!” I walked over. “Jimmy Savile was in my cab some years back, with two very young girls he said were his nieces. But they weren’t. What he got up to with them in the back of the cab was bad, very bad. I knew it was wrong. But what could I say?”
For decades, nobody said anything, at least not publicly, not officially. Everyone knew – that is, everyone in the television and pop music industries knew. The rumours swirled around him, that he sexually abused young girls. A journalist friend told me in the 1970s about a little girl with a heart defect. Jimmy had helped her to have the defect surgically corrected. A newspaper heard about his generosity and contacted the girl’s family to run the story, but the family refused to talk to them because they were sickened by what they knew he had done to her to make her “earn” the operation.
But that story, like all the others I heard, was hearsay, rumour, gossip. Many a person has been crucified unjustly by rumour. A lie, they say, goes halfway around the world before truth has got its boots on. So for decades the abuse was an open secret, and Jimmy easily rebuffed the rumours when interviewers like Louis Theroux and the psychiatrist Anthony Clare dared to put them to him….
But now the truth is out. More victims are emerging every day, telling stories of the sexual abuse by Sir Jimmy of children as young as nine, on one occasion alongside the convicted paedophile pop star Gary Glitter. They reveal that, like every practised paedophile, he targeted the most vulnerable children, including those in care. Jimmy, for instance, reportedly visited the notorious Jersey children’s home, Haut de la Garenne, several times in the Sixties and Seventies, where seven people have since been prosecuted for child abuse….
Knighted by both the Queen and the Pope, Sir Jimmy hid the private reality that he was also a prolific, predatory paedophile. All of his crimes – the multitude of attacks committed in his famous Rolls-Royce, in his caravan, in schools and children’s homes, in his dressing room and in a London taxi – remained an open secret. In spite of the fact that he flaunted his taste for underage children, police investigations failed, newspaper investigations were never published, a Newsnight film was dropped, and through it all Jimmy’s image remained intact….
But the shock of his callousness, his ruthlessness as described by these women, was so profound that I found myself in tears. I listened to the careful, factual accounts by the women, whose recollections were so vivid and detailed that it was clear they were describing scenes etched on their memories. The helplessness of the children he had preyed upon made me long to turn the clock back, to assure them it was not their fault. It was all true; I had no doubt. Without knowing it, they corroborated each other by describing similar attacks that still caused them pain and shame, even down to the sexually transmitted disease with which he had infected two of the girls. Now they have been further corroborated by the other victims coming forward every day; at the time of writing, more than 40 of them….
Why were they silent for so many years? Because abused children find it difficult to describe the crimes against them. The shame is transferred to them, the guilt rubs off, they feel defiled. They think – because they are often threatened – that nobody will believe them if they do have the courage to ask for help. And in this case they were right. As the documentary shows, Charlotte, one child who did speak up and fight back, was punished for it. Jimmy was a regular visitor to the Duncroft Approved School for Girls, near Staines in Surrey, where Charlotte was a pupil. He invited her to his caravan, told her to sit on his lap and put his hand up her jumper. When she protested, her teachers dragged her away and told her off: “Uncle Jimmy does so much good for the school.” She was taken to the isolation unit for two or three days and told to retract her allegations. “I hated it in there,” she says now. “It was a padded cell, and you were just locked in a room and left.”….
Mystery surrounds graves at boys’ reform school
By Rich Phillips, CNN Mon October 15, 2012
Marianna, Florida (CNN) — This Florida panhandle town is the home of a mystery that has been lost to time.
A small cemetery buried deep into the grounds of a now-defunct boys reform school dates back to the early 1900s. Rusting white steel crosses mark the graves of 31 unidentified former students.
Former students said the deaths were at the hands of abusive administrators, but a 2009 state investigation determined there was no evidence of criminal activity connected with any of the deaths or of abusive treatment.
But the investigation did not clear up the mystery over the fate of 50 other students who died at the school and whose bodies have not been accounted for.
In the wake of that investigation, more former students — who are now senior citizens — have come forward with stories of abuse at the school, including alleged beatings, killings and the disappearance of students, during the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s….
The mystery surrounding the graves first made headlines in 2008 when Florida’s then-governor Charlie Crist ordered an investigation after a group of men, known as “the White House Boys,” came forward with stories of how they were beaten with leather straps by school administrators inside a small, white building on school property.
Robert Straley, who spent about 10 months at the school in the 1960s for allegedly stealing a car, said he was taken to the “white house” on his very first day.
“I came out of there in shock, and when they hit you, you went down a foot into the bed, and so hard, I couldn’t believe. I didn’t know what they were hitting you with,” said Straley.
Former school administrator Troy Tidwell, a one-armed man who was there at the time and who some former students accused of beating them, has said in a deposition that “spankings” took place at the school but denied anyone was ever beaten or killed.