The Jimmy Savile allegations are filling plenty of newspaper space at the minute. Many people have commented on the fact that his ‘predilection for young girls’, (why do people always use this phrase when discussing the rape of children?), was an open secret at the BBC. I’m not usually one for conspiracy theories, but in this case there does seem to have been a huge cover-up. Talk of elite paedophile rings has resurfaced and I found an article about links between Savile and the Haut de la Garenne children’s home particularly disturbing.
It’s been interesting to see media reactions to the case and read comments on articles. On the one hand, obviously people are shocked, (or claim to be), but there’s also been some attempt to play things down, to dismiss stories, say it was all a long time ago, or even put some blame on the children involved. I’ve seen comments saying they, (the girls), should have known better, and appalling excuses made about the culture of the sixties and seventies. On the radio yesterday someone commented that those were the days in which people thought Benny Hill was funny, as though Benny Hill was the worst thing light entertainment has visited on women and girls. ‘Ah yes, we had Benny Hill then, so, obviously people thought it was okay to sexually abuse children’.
Hill’s show is actually quaint and innocent compared with today’s media. For once in my life I agree with something Chris Patten has said – that allegations of sexual abuse can not be excused as behaviour from a time when “attitudes were different”. Someone tell me when society stopped being sexist, I must have missed it. Russell Brand epitomises attitudes today, the story about him harassing a wardrobe assistant until she showed him her breasts was reported as having been ‘a bit of fun’, when, if true, he should have been sacked. Attitudes have changed since the seventies yes; in many ways things are worse today.
Revelations by Liz Kershaw and Sandi Toksvig over the weekend have put misogynist culture at the BBC firmly in the spotlight, and other women are beginning to speak up too. Hopefully the culture of silence around abuse is beginning to change. Still, I see women being blamed for not speaking up or reporting incidents to the police, even though the reasons are plentiful; they are not taken seriously, it can cost them their jobs, their reputation, they may be scared into saying nothing etc etc. If every woman reported every instance of harassment to the police the whole of our criminal justice system would come to a standstill.
The word ‘grope’ is an odd one, it gives the impression of something that isn’t serious and minimises an experience that can be scary, humiliating and painful. It’s sexual assault and anyone doubting how common it is need only take a look at Laura Bates’ everyday sexism project, or check out Vagenda Magazine’s twitter feed today; when they asked how followers react when groped they were overwhelmed by the response. Yet, depressingly, if you type ‘groped’ into twitter search the top tweet is by @domjoly who hilariously tweeted that he had never been groped whilst working for the BBC. What was that about women being taken seriously?
With all this going on it’s not surprising that the BBC’s new Director General, George Entwistle, hasn’t found time to get back to Ruth E Dixon. Until recently, Ruth was a presenter at BBC Radio Humberside. She left in order to focus on a career in stand up poetry, but not before sending a strongly worded email to George about the lack of jobs for female presenters in BBC local radio. ‘George, I am a 39 year old local radio presenter and there is no place for female broadcasters like me at the BBC right now’. Sex discrimination at the BBC, or anywhere else, is not something that can be dismissed as belonging to a previous era.