It seems that everybody knew about Jimmy Savile. Well not everyone. I didn’t. I used to find him annoying and so did my best to ignore him. When he died I barely registered the fact. And now it has come to light that he was in fact a monster, I am genuinely shocked. I’m shocked by how long it has taken for it to come out and how easily the public was duped. What are the lessons to be drawn?
Well for a start, lets understand what pedophilia is. It has been around as long as we have records good enough to identify it. It affects all classes and races and so must have a strong genetic component. So like homosexuality, the people who suffer from it can’t help it. Unlike homosexuality, it isn’t essentially harmless to the rest of us. We need to do our best to understand and to take whatever steps need to be taken to minimise the risk to children.
One of the positive things that has happened over the last thirty years ago is that the subject is talked about a lot more widely. This has to help in identifying specific cases. What has not been nearly so positive, in fact what has been highly damaging is demonising pedophiles. Their activities are repulsive so it is an easy trap to fall into, but it doesn’t remotely help. But it is understandable that when presented with a specific story our sympathies for the victims spill into a visceral hatred of the perpetrator.
So what can we do about it? Pedophiles aren’t going away, so we need to learn to live with them and if possible stop them offending. This is a very difficult subject best left to professionals in general. But I think there is one thing that would help a lot that is easy to understand and easy to implement. I think we need to overhaul the libel laws.
Jimmy Savile was clearly an intelligent and ruthless man, who used very effective strategies to get away with his crimes. One of these was the law of libel. The newspapers didn’t dare finger him for fear of a lawsuit. Now I am all for preventing press intrusion, but you can hardly say that the current law defends vulnerable individuals.
At the other end of the scale from Savile is Charlotte Church. The Sun ran a countdown in its pages to her sixteenth birthday. (I wonder if someone on the paper’s editorial team at the time might have had some pedophilic issues? But I digress.) As if that were bad enough she was later portrayed as a lush. Again I have to admit to being niave. I bought the whole story at the time, and assumed the Miss Church was an example of the decaying moral fibre of the working classes. The truth is that Charlotte Church was simply a normal girl growing up and much the same as young people have always been. The Sun was simply lying.
So the only justification for the lurid nature of the tabloid press in Britain, that it exposes the misdeeds of the powerful, is in fact the opposite of what actually happened. The misdeeds were covered up, and imaginary misdeeds were printed.
Fortunately the Sun’s influence is declining and there are now a lot more sources of information and opinion. Unfortunately I doubt the people behind it will ever end up behind bars where they belong. I say radically reduce the power of the libel laws. This might let a lot of nonsense into the public domain and cause some real suffering to some individuals. But I don’t see how it can be worse than the current system that allows the weak to be abused with impunity and the powerful to get away with horrible crimes unchallenged.