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Past present and future: learning lessons about child sexual abuse and exploitation from the Savile and Hall enquiries

Prof HarrisonThe report is published today of Dame Janet Smith’s enquiry about the nature and impact of sexual abuse perpetrated within the BBC by Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall. With it emerge more graphic details of the abuse, including for example, that a total of 74 adult women, girls and young women, boys and young men were sexually abused from the 1960s onwards.

As if this is not shocking enough, we now know the extent to which Savile was able to use the organisation of the BBC, through his celebrity status, the atmosphere of fear that was generated by ‘the talent’ and an entrenched culture of sexism and collusion to evade apprehension and prosecution. Within the BBC, as elsewhere, Saville and Hall were able to sexually abuse and exploit with impunity as a result of the power they held within the organisation. Savile thought he could get away with it and indeed, he did get away with it. Savile and Hall were the offenders, but the BBC as a public service organisation systematically failed victims and exposed them to serious harm with lifelong implications.

When Dame Janet says that ‘an atmosphere of fear still exists today in the BBC’ she also issues a serious caution about consigning the offences perpetrated by Savile and Hall to the category of ‘historical abuse’. Savile was a prolific sexual offender, but his case reminds us of many aspects of sexual abuse and violence that we need to recognise as they are happening now. Men who sexually exploit children and young people are often well organised and audacious offenders who make sure that they target young women and men who are vulnerable and alienated from active adult support. Like Savile, they establish power within their immediate networks (including sometimes in the law enforcement arena) and they are confident this will stand them in good stead if they are accused of sexual offences. They adopt a range of strategies (including threats, bribes and physical violence) to ensure children and young people will not tell anyone, or will not be believed if they do. The Rotherham court case, also held this week, reinforces many of the points made in the Smith enquiry report.

We need to pay close attention to the Smith report because it reminds why 7 out of 8 children who have been sexually abused or exploited still do not tell anyone at the time why and over 30% have not told anyone by adulthood.

Further Information

Kelly Parkes-Harrison,


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