...Believe me, I know what I'm talking about.
01 Nov 2012James Rhodes is a concert pianist and has made television programmes for the BBC and Sky Arts. He tours extensively and has recorded three albums for Signum and Warner Brothers. His website is www.jamesrhodes.tv and he is on YouTube at www.youtube.com/jamesrhodepianist.Yet another bloody article about Jimmy Savile. We read more and more about the horrors that went on and the now incontestable fact that others knew it was happening, and we get all shouty and indignant. It reveals the irksome, irritating side of Twitter, the tabloid press, self-published blogs and the loud, chatty guy in the pub. The moral high ground. The furious bleating and self-righteousness of the whiter-than-white populace.
The outcry will not do any good at all. How many times since "Never again" has it happened again? Using words like "molest" and "abuse" runs utterly counter to the horror of child rape. As do the prison sentences handed down upon conviction. You can serve longer in prison for saying "I'm going to kill you" (maximum sentence 10 years) than you can for having sex with your three-year-old daughter (maximum sentence seven years). Newspapers happily show pictures of 14-year-old girls sunbathing and use sexual language to describe them while at the same time appearing indignant and appalled at the crimes of Savile, Glitter et al.
The culture of celebrity has the same shroud of secrecy, power and authority as the Church. Why on earth should we be surprised at sexual abuse going on in those circles? The only thing that surprises me is that people actually seem surprised. In any environment where there is power, there will be an abuse of that power.
When I was at school I was sexually abused. Let me clarify: I was serially raped when I was a child, between the ages of five and 10. At least one other teacher knew it was happening and even after voicing their concerns to the relevant authorities within the school, nothing was done and the horrors continued. (Over two decades later, and only after a statement from both me and another teacher, did the police arrest and charge the rapist with 10 counts of buggery – at the time of arrest he was a part-time boxing coach for boys under 10.)
We read about things like this and we think "how awful" and then get on with eating our cornflakes, but no one really wants to look beneath the surface. The physical act of rape is just the beginning – each time it happened I seemed to leave a little bit of myself behind with him until it felt like there was pretty much nothing left of me that was real. And those bits do not seem to come back over time. What goes too often unreported and unexamined and unacknowledged is the legacy that is left with the victim.
Self-harm. Depression. Drug and alcohol abuse. Reparative surgery. OCD. Dissociation. Inability to maintain functional relationships. Marital breakdowns. Being forcefully institutionalised. Hallucinations (auditory and visual). Hypervigilance. PTSD. Sexual shame and confusion. Anorexia and other eating disorders. These are just a few of my symptoms (for want of a better word) of chronic sexual abuse. They have all been a part of my life in the very recent past and the abuse I went through was 30 years ago. I am not saying that these things are the inevitable result of my experience; I imagine that some people can go through similar experiences and emerge largely unscathed. What I am saying is that if living life is the equivalent of running a marathon, then sexual abuse in childhood has the net effect of removing one of your legs and adding a backpack of bricks on the starting line.
I don't want to be writing about things like this. I don't want to deal with the inevitable feelings of shame and exposure that will come from it. And I don't want to deal with the accusations of using my back story to flog albums, being full of self-pity, attention-seeking or whatever other madness will no doubt end up in the comments below. But neither do I want to have to keep quiet, or even worse, feel as if I should keep quiet, when there is so much about our culture (which is in many ways so incredibly evolved) that allows, endorses, encourages and revels in the sexual abuse of children. Paedophilia has acquired a grim, vaguely titillating, car-crash fascination that the press have jumped all over.
We simply cannot on the one hand have sexualised images of children on billboards and magazines, underwear for six-year-olds with pictures of cherries on them, "school disco" themed nights at bars and community service sentences for downloading "indecent" images (indecent? Saying "shit" in church is indecent – this is abominable), and on the other hand regard the Savile story with abject horror. It just does not equate. This is not about censoring what the press can write (typical example from one tabloid: "She’s still only 15, but Chloë Moretz … The strawberry blonde stepped out with a male friend in a cute Fifties-style powder blue sleeveless collared shirt which she tied at her waist – revealing just a hint of her midriff"). or what pictures they can publish. It is about protecting minors who do not have a voice, who are not capable of understanding certain matters and who cannot protect themselves.
This has all been said before. And nothing has really changed. We forget (who would want to remember this stuff?), we think shouting loudly will absolve our collective guilt and change things for the better, we point fingers and form lynch mobs. We paint "paedo scum" on convicted (or suspected) paedophiles' homes. And yet what we need to do is open our eyes fully and simply not tolerate this, rather like we've done and continue to do so effectively with homophobia and racism. We need to look at providing more visible therapy for both victims, perpetrators and those who have urges that threaten to make them perpetrators. We need to overhaul sentencing guidelines and start tackling the issues with more clarity and integrity. Whatever it takes for as long as it takes needs to be the guiding principle here, because otherwise we will, to use a well-worn but apposite phrase, simply continue the cycle of abuse.