Sandusky to Savile: The Need for a Paradigm Shift

Hannah Godfrey

In recent weeks the UK has been rocked by allegations that one of the nation’s best loved entertainers was a serial pedophile. Police are currently dealing with around 300 potential victims spanning a period of 40 years. Jimmy Savile, best known for his television show Jim’ll Fix It, allegedly abused his position of power as a celebrity and his reputation for charity work in order to sexually abuse boys and girls on BBC property and on hospital grounds. This appears to be one of the most horrific cases of child abuse the country has ever seen, made worse by the evident complicity of other people in hiding Savile’s repugnant behavior.

The Savile case has clear parallels to the Penn State scandal here in the United States, where members of the university’s highest leadership colluded to protect Jerry Sandusky, allowing him to continue abusing children. Although the scale of the abuse perpetrated by Sandusky is far less, there is no denying the intense psychological anguish of his victims. Nevertheless, the principal difference in the Sandusky incident is that he has at least now been brought to justice; last month Sandusky was jailed for between 30 and 60 years. For Jimmy Savile’s victims justice will never be served. Savile died last year at the age of 84, so he will never answer for his despicable crimes. Efforts have now been made to erase his memory, with two charities named for him closing, buildings and streets renamed, and statues and pictures of him removed and destroyed.

What was evident in the two cases, and in many other cases of child abuse, such as within the Boy Scouts of America, and the Catholic Church abuses in Ireland and around the world, was the willingness of other adults in positions of authority to hide the abuse of children. 50 years ago, when Savile started his campaign of pedophilia, child abuse was not really discussed as a public issue. However, by the time of Sandusky’s abuses in the early 2000s, the sexual abuse of children had become an important topic in the public realm. While this signifies that times have changed, and more is being done to protect children, the failings in both cases demonstrate the need for the continued evolution of attitudes towards pedophiles and their victims.

This paradigm shift needs to encompass a new respect for children’s voices. Although children are freer to express themselves now than they were 50 years ago, it is clear that in some cases they have not been listened to, and many still fear they will not be believed.  Furthermore, we must remove the aura of respect for adults in positions of authority or celebrity, which allows such predators to use their positions to enact abuse. It is clear that both Savile and Sandusky used their positions to manipulate children and adults alike into hiding their behavior. The tragedy of such cases is that the act of concealing such actions essentially condones it, and allows abusers to continue unchecked. The failure to report such abuse is unforgivable, particularly as children who are victims of abuse often find it difficult to report these crimes. It is clear that our attitudes must change in order for us to stamp out the abuse of children in our society.


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