From time to time there is a flurry of messages on social media, some angry, some confused, some saddened, because news has come out that yet another child has been beaten or abused or tortured – or even killed. ‘This is terrible,’ people say. ‘It’s got to be stopped.’ The angry ones deplore the loss of the death penalty and say things like, ‘They should lock them up and throw away the key.’ The confused admit that they can’t understand why anyone would behave the way these monsters do. The sad ones ache with pity for the children who’ve been hurt and wonder what will happen to them in the rest of their lives. But the 64,000 dollar question remains. What makes anyone want to hurt a child? Or any animals unlucky enough to belong to them? Or an old person? Or people who are mentally ill? I’ve often thought that the answer could well be that they chose their victims because they are all people or creatures who can’t fight back. There are other reasons too, of course, but that seemed a possible place to start.
And then along came Liam Neeson with his now infamous remarks at a press junket, when he suddenly went off script and instead of pushing his new film, ‘Cold Pursuit’, the way he was expected to do, he told the story of how he once went prowling the streets with a cosh in his pocket, looking for a black man to – as he put it, ‘… um… kill.‘ He explained that a friend of his had been raped by a black man, and he was furiously angry about it and looking for revenge. The story caused a storm, with lots of journalists saying that he was a racist, which he obviously didn’t expect or want. He did what he could to put it right, appearing on ‘Good Morning’ as soon as he could, to declare that he wasn’t a racist, explaining, by way of justification, that if the rapist had been a Syrian or something else, he’d have gone after one of those, and completely sidestepping the point that the man he was after was unknown to him and yet he was prepared to kill him simply because he was black. And if that’s not racist I don’t know what is. But he couldn’t and wouldn’t face it. And this all set me thinking again.
Liam Neeson is an actor. He earns his living by getting inside the heads of the characters he plays. Or to put it another way, by putting on an act, and becoming someone else. Do rapists and abusers do the same thing, I wonder, inhabiting another totally false persona to put investigators off the scent, and to avoid having to face up to the terrible things they are doing? I grew up with an abuser (as those of you who have read ‘A Family at War’ will know) and she certainly did. Could this, perhaps, be one way to deal with them. To make sure that their false image is revealed and smashed, so that they have to face the people they really are. It would be a dreadfully difficult job. I know from experience how dangerous it is to tell an abuser the truth about themselves. And what if it isn’t just the abuser who refuses to believe what you are saying? What if nobody will believe you?
Which brings me to another man from show business, and one who is much, much worse than our sad Liam Neeson, whose only real fault was to talk about an ugly moment in his early life too publicly. This other man was evil.
He was Jimmy Saville, paedophile and self-promoter, with his dyed blond hair, his trademark cigar, his odious bonhomie, his ‘Guys an’ gels’. And if we consider him, it leads us into facing some most uncomfortable facts. For he was a monstrous
creature, who assaulted literally hundreds of young women and little girls and boys, some of them extremely young, over several decades, leaving a trail of pain and distress wherever he went, and he went freely all over the place, to TV studios, hospitals and approved schools, ‘hiding in plain sight’. And he was never found out. It wasn’t until he’d been dead for nearly a year that the truth finally began to emerge and then it caused a scandal that involved all sorts of people in very high places including the NHS and the BBC.
Eventually there were so many people coming forward to complain about the way Saville had treated them that Scotland Yard launched a criminal investigation. Its remit spanned six decades and caused a scandal of terrible proportions, for the facts it revealed were horrendous. 450 people had made complaints about Jimmy Saville and been ignored. Among the 450, there were 28 children under 10, ten of whom were boys, some as young as eight. 214 criminal offences were recorded during the investigation, among them 34 cases of rape. Information was gathered from 28 police forces. And as a result of all that, it had been decided that there would be an enquiry into the BBC and the NHS because it was plain that Saville had had some very powerful friends in very high places who had kept everything sweet for him, ensuring that the women and children who complained about him were not believed and had to keep quiet. There were people at the BBC who had heard rumours about Saville’s behaviour but they too had been persuaded to ignore them, partly because the ‘culture’ demanded it and partly because they were afraid they would get into trouble if they spoke out. It was corruption on a massive scale and the revelations about it caused an enormous stir.
To put all this in another way, it became clear during that investigation that anyone endeavouring to deal with a child abuser could be up against formidable odds. It saddens me to write this but it is true nevertheless. And the 64,000 dollar question or questions still remain. How can we put child abusers into a position where they have to accepchange their minds and their ways? And how can we deal with a corrupt culture that supports them and hides what they are doing?
Any thoughts? I’d be interested to hear them.