How Jimmy Savile managed to hide in plain sight

Sir Jimmy Savile pictured in 1981 Photo: PA Wire

It would be quite wrong to suggest that sexual abuse of children is less of a problem than it used to be, but reasonable to argue that the workplace is now a safer place for children and young women.

This is due to several factors:

First, the introduction of child protection laws and a change in attitudes.

We listen more to our children now, arguably sometimes too much, and they speak out more.

A school friend of mine who was “very upset” by an encounter with Jimmy Savile in the mid-70s confided in me about it in the school lunch hour.

But neither of us thought of telling a teacher or our parents.

I doubt either of us knew what a paedophile was. We simply dismissed him as a “dirty old man” and quietly warned others volunteering at the local hospital to keep away from him.

That would not be the same today. Most schoolgirls now would be hollering for help and justice before breakfast.

They would certainly know what had happened to them was wrong.

Veteran Radio 1 DJ Pete Murray Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Archive/Press Association Images

The rise of information distribution would also make it impossible for a person in authority to abuse without fear of exposure.

The former radio 1 DJ Pete Murray, now a sprightly 83-year-old, told me that he knew of several journalists who had tried to investigate Savile during his lifetime but were silenced by fear of libel.

Today, he argued, the rumours “which absolutely everybody knew about” would have surfaced on the internet and Twitter and gathered strength.

People would have joined the dots.

Young people in the workplace have changed too.

I can’t walk from one end of our newsroom to the other without encountering a young person new to the company - or even here on work experience - who thinks they can run the place better than us Old Timers.

Youth and arrogance have always walked hand in hand. What is different about today’s youth is what they regard as their right to question established authority without fear. Many of us didn’t dare.

Finally, employment laws have made it illegal to discriminate against, or sexually exploit, women at work. Whilst this would not have protected the children Jimmy Savile abused directly, it would have significantly changed the mood music in the workplace which helped him to conceal his crimes.

Any woman who worked in 1970s and 80s - particularly those in the creative industries I suspect - can attest to the progress that has been made on this front. Younger woman have us for to thank for what we put up with and helped to change.

All of this is progress, but more needs to be done. Older people, sadly they are often men, do not 'get it'.

Just this weekend Derek Chinnery, the former BBC Radio 1 controller from 1978 to 1985, likened his questioning of Jimmy Savile about his activities to asking Tony Blackburn about his divorce.

Forgive me, but I thought divorce was legal.

Childline founder Esther Rantzen Credit: Ian West/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Those of us over 50 often repeatedly talk about “victims” whilst those around them carefully say “survivors”.

Even Esther Rantzen admits her attitude, like those of plenty of others, appears to have been part of the problem before she set up a charity to help child victims of abuse.

Those of us over 45 who grew up without the internet, child protection and sex discrimination laws - and with a deeply-ingrained fear of authority - can better understand the Jimmy Savile tragedy because we were all part of the culture he so criminally exploited to conceal his abuse.

We now need to work especially hard to make sure we are part of the solution.

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