Why has there been a failure to deal with sexual exploitation, and why are cities, businesses and communities underplaying the possible scale of the problem on their doorstep? Jimmy Savile has had a lifetime of exposure and it seems baffling to many that this has not been dealt with before now.
There are many cases, I am sure, in which child abusers have got away with crimes over many years. Why, for example, have some priests got away with this in spite of belonging to a caring and moral communities? The fact that that they have the opportunity to commit the crimes doesn’t explain why they have been able to cover up the evidence. You can understand why the victim would want to remain silent, they have been exploited and controlled. But what is the responsibility of organisations and communities to speak out about problems on their patch and make sure this doesn’t happen? Perhaps the answer lies in self interest and corporate reputation?
The scenario: a respected organisation or community has at its heart an “evil” monster who is committing terrible crimes. The implication is that the community as a whole is not perfect and that somehow they have allowed this to happen. Furthermore this terrible presence reflects very badly on the image they are trying to reflect to the wider world. In Savile’s case the corporate image and the person where inextricably linked. While a community may not wilfully cover up such crimes, there is a terrible price to pay by exposing them. Subconsciously, individuals may so believe the brand image of an individual, community or organisation and be in denial that anything like this could possibly happen. We believe our own marketing.
The entertainment industry (and perhaps the church in some cases) is built on brand image. Entertainers like Jimmy Savile invent themselves to fit into the expectations of the industry – DJs, TV presenters, chat show hosts to some extent relinquish individuality in order to make their careers. The pressure to conform to these stereotypes is a terrible pressure and it is not surprising that some go off the rails. Savile was uniquely not himself.
I wouldn’t want to claim any special experience, but I have encountered a few high profile entertainers who have seemed very close to the edge. One was an ageing international film star whom I caught with a young woman- but no names. In the entertainment industry there is sometimes a denial of a person’s true identity and individuality which is very sad. There are very powerful public assumptions about who these people are and what they represent. The priests and TV celebrities who committed crimes were trusted figures who were revered and had power over those who follow them. This reverence and power is not without significance.
In Sheffield we are putting the finishing touches to a film which attempts to promote some discussion around the sexual exploitation issue. It’s aimed at teenage boys and is called “Can We Talk About This”. The film discusses the facts and experiences of sexual exploitation, but most importantly addresses the key issue – we are all reluctant to talk about sexual exploitation.
Cities around the UK are competing like mad for a positive brand image. The ideal city is prosperous, clean and great for families; The perfect city provides equal opportunity for all, and public safety is near the top of the list. It’s not surprising therefor that any city would like to avoid a unique association with sexual exploitation or any other public disaster. Rochdale is a fine part of the world but the recent sex trials will undoubtedly be bad for business.
This unwillingness to go anywhere near the problem impedes our ability to deal with it in practical terms. In any city there are areas where young people are routinely picked up by organised groups for sexual exploitation. One solution would be to publicise the danger areas of the city and to explicitly warn the the public, but just imagine the outcry from commercial businesses located in these areas. According to some figures, at any one time there are many thousands of children caught up in sexual exploitation but very few are brought to justice. We must do better.
The protection of our young people requires that we admit that there’s a problem and that those in authority set their own interest aside when dealing with these crimes. They may threaten our strategic brand image, but let’s see if the PR departments are big enough to handle it.
We as a community may only see the world as we want to see it and deny anything which is unpleasant. The challenge is to open our eyes, to be brave enough to acknowledge truth and to deal with realty.