Jimmy Savile, Rape Culture and the Lessons for Us All

photo by james cridland

Graham Phoenix finds the term ‘rape culture’ offensive, but in hearing the British Health Secretary, this week, reporting to the British Parliament on the Savile Affair, he questions whether his being offended is valid any more.

When I was 16 years old, in 1964, a British TV show featuring pop music started. ‘Top of the Pops’ was an iconic show from the BBC. It came from an old church in Manchester that had been turned into a TV studio. I used to pass it by bus on my way to and from school. I can remember seeing the queues of girls hoping to get in and see their favorite ‘pop stars’. It was like nothing that had been presented before and the first presenter was a man destined to become famous—perhaps infamous would be better—and an icon of my generation.

He went on to host the continually popular TV show ‘Jim’ll Fix It’ where he fulfilled the dreams of children, mainly, and wound his way into the imagination of a generation of children and their parents. In Britain the phrase ‘Jim’ll Fix It’ became a by-word for getting your dreams fulfilled.

He was famous for spending his spare time as a hospital porter, looking after children and adults in need. He raised an estimated £40 Million for charity and was knighted by the Queen in 1990. He was a quite extraordinary man.

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This week Jeremy Hunt, the British Health Secretary, spoke to the House of Commons about the revelations contained in a report, published on behalf of Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), about that man, Jimmy Savile. He said,

“I know this House, indeed the whole country, will share a deep sense of revulsion at what they reveal – a litany of disturbing accounts of rape and sexual abuse committed by Savile on vulnerable children and adults over a period of decades.

“At the time, the victims who spoke up were not believed and it is important today that we all publicly recognize the truth of what they have said.

“But it is a profoundly uncomfortable truth.

“As a nation at that time we held Savile in our affection as a somewhat eccentric national treasure with a strong commitment to charitable causes. Today’s reports show that in reality he was a sickening and prolific sexual abuser who repeatedly exploited the trust of a nation for his own vile purposes.”

He went on,

“Mr Speaker, today’s reports will shake this House and our country to the core.

“Savile was a callous, opportunistic, wicked predator who abused and raped individuals, many of them patients and young people, who expected and had a right to expect to be safe. His actions span five decades – from the 1960s to 2010.

“The family favourite loved by millions courted popularity and used it to perpetrate and cover up his own evil acts.”

The issue I want to address is how we should we look at this situation and what lessons we can draw.

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I have recently been involved in a discussion here on GMP about the concept of ‘rape culture’. I disagreed with the idea that this culture is prevalent. I said in a comment,

“I find the concept of ‘Rape Culture’ offensive. To me it is offensive because it lumps men together as being offenders, something that is simply not true. Individual men are offenders but not men in general.”

In looking at the Savile case I have had cause to re-think what I feel and what I see. Let me explain why.

‘Rape culture’ is a concept that links rape and sexual violence to the culture of a society, and one in which prevalent attitudes and practices normalize, excuse, tolerate, and even condone rape. It is a term that was originally coined by the feminist movement but has now moved into common usage. It is believed that the culture starts with a lack of respect by one individual to another, and moves through dominance and control in intimate relationships and in business to people not taking sexual violence or rape seriously. This is seen as a big issue in the US where there are many examples of society appearing to condone such behaviour. The concept takes in everything from ‘micro aggressions’ to the behaviour of a sexual predator.

I have never seen such a prevalent attitude here in Britain, but the fact that Savile was allowed to get away with his behavior for many years in the BBC and the NHS, major British institutions, would appear to suggest that such a culture exists in those institutions and therefore at the highest level in British society. It also suggests that such a culture exists at all levels of society because of the extent to which Savile’s crimes were not reported by ordinary people mainly because they were not believed.

Men are often accused of being controlled by their sexuality. We, reputedly, think about sex all the time and it is only with great difficulty that we are able to control ourselves. In the case of Savile it would seem that he was totally unable to control his sexuality, or perhaps he just chose not to, because he could. It is important to understand that there is nothing wrong with men and their urge for sex, in many ways that is a good thing. The only aspect that is wrong is when that urge results in non-consensual sex. Men, or women, do not need to ‘control’ themselves they just need to accept that consent is a pre-requisite for any sexual act. For Savile there was no sense in which he sought consent, he just assumed that because people were in awe of him they were fair game.

Ben Belenus, in a article on Savile in The Good Men Project in 2012, ‘Jim’ll Fux It‘, said,

“If we all celebrated and talked openly about our sexuality, maybe there would be fewer prisoners, men would respect women and we would all respect the earth.”

We do need to be more open about sex and not let our sexuality control us, we need to acknowledge our sexual desires and, at the same time, accept that our desires do not give us the right to prey on other people to fulfill them.

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It is possible to see this situation as just about our ridiculous adoration of celebrities, whether they are movie or TV stars, sportsmen and women or just people ‘in the news’. We give these people control over our lives, we give them our power. Savile was allowed to get away with it because people thought he did so much good for children and the needy. It is power and privilege that allow some people to get away with rape and other sexual offenses. This has nothing to do with being a man and everything to do with the exerting of power and control.

We see this not just with celebrities, but with priests, with coaches and with teachers. It is the celebrities that get the attention, but the predator is often in a trusted position within the community if only because they organize that to get access to their prey, their victims—ordinary men, women and children.

I was involved in a lighting project in a Catholic Church in Ireland. As a part of the refurbishment work within the church, the Vestry, where the choir boys and men changed for services, was being divided to ensure the boys were separated. Glass doors were being put in the confessionals so that whatever happened inside could be seen by anyone. The idea that boys are at risk has, at last, gone deep into the Catholic Church.

Nick Triggle, health correspondent of BBC News said today in an analysis of the report on Savile,

“He enjoyed unsupervised access, particularly at two sites, Leeds General Infirmary and Broadmoor psychiatric hospital, and was able to use his fame to intimidate junior staff. What is more, senior management were too unquestioning.”

Savile was an example of a rampant sexual predator using his fame and influence to pressure people into letting him have free and open access. There are a lot of people who have a great deal of soul searching to do. There are still a lot of questions to be answered but the reaction over the past few years of revelations has been universal. Except that, interestingly, the news is off the front page the next day. We may be horrified but we don’t want to hear too much about it.

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What lessons are there for all of us? We need to be aware of what people are doing with their fame and celebrity. Sexual predators exist everywhere and they will use any means to get what they want. They may be evil criminals who will not be stopped, but they achieve their ends by our consent, which is often expressed as a lack of objection, a lack of reporting or, more importantly, a refusal to believe people when they do report it.

But today, above all, we should remember the victims. They were brave. They have been vindicated. The system failed to act when people spoke up. We must not allow this to happen again.

We need to understand whether there is a difference between people, often men, with twisted minds who think it is alright to abuse, dominate, threaten and rape at will, and a culture of disrespect in society. The problem, for me, with the word ‘rape’ in ‘rape culture’ is that it tends to focus the blame for a culture of disrespect on sex and people’s, often men’s, sexuality. But rape is a problem of control, not sex, and control is, necessarily, linked to general disrespect and dominance, to a general lack of consent even in mild issues of dominance. We need to decide if there is a continuum of disrespect, micro-aggressions, sexual advances, sexual violence, rape and predatory sexual behavior. They are all issues to be talked about and dealt with and until people at large become schooled in the concepts of inclusion, respect, understanding and consent we need to careful of making light of any of it.

The use of the word ‘rape’ in ‘rape culture’ is offensive, but I am beginning to think it is necessary to shock people into understanding what is happening. I never saw this as being a big problem because I have always respected what other other people want or do not want. I have never forced a woman to do what she did not want to do, no matter how much that frustrated me. So I saw respect and consent as normal. Yet even I have to understand the extent to which this approach is alien to many people and to large parts of society. That shocks me, and, perhaps, the lesson of the Savile affair, for me, is that I need to be shocked to accept what is happening, at an institutional level, and, worse, at an ordinary level in society.

I will finish with the final words of Jeremy Hunt in speaking to the House of Commons,

“But today, above all, we should remember the victims of Savile.

“They were brave. They have been vindicated. Savile was a coward. He has been disgraced.

“The system failed to prevent him from abusing. It failed to act when people spoke up. We must not allow this to happen again.”

—Photo‌ James Cridland/Flickr

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If this article made you think, you may want to read some other articles by Graham Reid Phoenix:

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About Graham Reid Phoenix

Graham Reid Phoenix writes about his experience of men and being a man in 'Graham Reid Phoenix'. Through his work he helps men to become strong in themselves and teaches them how to create amazing relationships and how to be successful in business. Graham has a popular radio show called 'Men Alive!' that broadcasts every two weeks for and about men.

Comments

  1. I appreciate your willingness to see the underlying truth – that a “rape culture” has nothing to do with men being bad, but is rooted both in our willingness to permit control where it should not be permitted (this case, the Coach Jerry Sandusky case here in the US) and also in our refusal to SEE it and our desperate need to excuse it.

    When I wrote My Thank You Letter to Mr. Will here on GMP about the statements made in George Will’s column in the Washington Post Dispatch, what I HOPED to do was to put the spotlight on what he refers to as “micro-agressions” – those culturally accepted precursors to invalidating the right of consent by another, and to share my thankfulness that we HAVE progressed, as shown by the uproar following his column.

    The campus culture he called into question isn’t so different, except that instead of respected celebrities, the men being protected are future doctors and lawyers. According to Mr. Will, it would be TRAGIC if one of them lost their ability to get into the program of their choice because of some false accusation by a alcohol infused female. Just as no one wanted to ruin the reputation of Sandusky or Savile. A rape culture exists when we hold the reputation of anyone, make or female (look into the case of author Marion Zimmer Bradley and her husband) above the testimony of their accusers.

    I could understand your taking offense. But, until men like you, who would never even CONSIDER taking a woman’s consent for granted about anything, see how subtle and pervasive the precursors are, we have little hope of shifting the greater global culture. So thank you for keeping the conversation going and bringing this story into it.

    • “A rape culture exists when we hold the reputation of anyone, make or female (look into the case of author Marion Zimmer Bradley and her husband) above the testimony of their accusers. ”

      I’m a lil confused by what you mean. The very basis of law is innocent until proven guilty. A person needs proof to get convicted of a crime so already the reputation and life of the accused is held higher than the accused, unless you mean testimony in court?

      People shouldn’t be harmed by accusations at all, the current mega F-up plaguing universities in the U.S right now is the worst way to handle it. Colleges should not handle rape cases at all, it should only be done by the police as the college system seems to mess it up. No access for the accused to a lawyer, kangaroo courts, plenty of lawsuits over false accusations, it’s a huge stinking mess. I wouldn’t want to goto a college with that system in place until the standards were that of a criminal court….but then you might as well use a criminal court.

      “According to Mr. Will, it would be TRAGIC if one of them lost their ability to get into the program of their choice because of some false accusation by a alcohol infused female.”
      I agree with him then, it IS tragic, and I think it’s criminal to mess with someones life that they suffer ANY detriment to their life. It’s not fair at all to the victim to be kicked out of college because some vindictive person wants to cause harm. False accusers should be punished, they mess things up for legitimate victims and mess up innocent peoples lives, and we shouldn’t have a campus culture that gives them power. I’m all for preventing n prosecuting rape but not in kangaroo courts.

    • Thank you, Dixie. I do need to speak up, precisely because this is not an issue for me. I need to keep the discussion going. I love the comments that are being made about this story. They show the shades of opinion on this difficult subject and how much work is still to be done.

  2. Thank you for moving past your discomfort. That is a powerful step toward ending the very thing that is Rape Culture. I don’t like that phrase either, because it embodies a world in which my children must navigate. And I don’t want them to have to deal with what I have endured.

    Sadly, my oldest child already has.

    At 11, she was sent death threats, which her school and police took seriously, via text messages and Facebook, because she declined a boy’s invitation to be his girlfriend. When she turned 12, the honking and cat calls began; rude, crude words that no girl that age should endure. It’s not okay.

    My son shouldn’t feel pressured to belittle women to “be a man.” Thankfully, he has more integrity than to bend to someone else’s version of who a man is or what a man does. “Man up” and “be a man” are vile and marginalizing phrases others use to manipulate, and normalize egregious behavior.

    There is much to be done. At least, finally, when we talk about it, people are listening and learning what it’s like to be someone they’re not. I believe that’s call empathy, and empathy is something we all need to embrace.

    Regards,
    Jessica Sinclaire

    • Thank you, Jessica. It is simply appalling to realise how much this happens among children, but they do learn it from us, the adults. We must talk about it, we must get it out into the open.

  3. It is clear from the comments made by Jeremy Hunt that they are trying to paint Saville as a lone rampant evil but thank you for seeing that it could not have happened had it not been allowed to happen by many blind eyes and adoring hearts. We can’t assume all were aparty or complicit but they at least did not do enough to protect the victims, which also would have protected Jim from himself.

    • He is rampant evil, but I don’t believe he is alone. Until we stop this adoration of celebrities and those in power, until we demand that those in authority do more to protect victims, I believe it will continue.

  4. “The predator is often in a trusted position within the community….”

    My ex-abuser took advantage of his position just like Savile…he was very slippery…even when confronted he always tried to deny or minimize his acts of abuse…today he is still in a position of trust and respect in his community…this time, I felt I had to tell the people close to him the truth…

  5. “But rape is a problem of control, not sex, and control is, necessarily, linked to general disrespect and dominance, to a general lack of consent even in mild issues of dominance. We need to decide if there is a continuum of disrespect, micro-aggressions, sexual advances, sexual violence, rape and predatory sexual behavior.” Yes Graham, our definition of rape needs to be expanded to include a wide variety of human disrespect and transgressions. That feminists have Shanghaied the term to give women a elevated sense of victimization shows a lack of compassion and respect for all those who have been forced to submit to dominance and shame. No, this is not a simple case of male aggression against females, but a broader spectrum of power and control of an elite over the disenfranchised. As you point out in the Jimmy Savile case, a celebrity (rich and famous) can do the most horrendous things to others without condemnation by society and even peers. This is a case of class privilege that has raged for millennia where the rich can force their power over the less fortunate and there is no retribution. This is not merely a sexual issue, but class warfare where rape and humiliation is the weapon to keep the oppressed in their place. Yes, you do right in broadening the term, rape, to include the many who are shamed and humiliated beyond sexual assault.

    • Thank you, John, that is a very interesting perspective. It is about oppression by those in power. But remember we put them in that place. We put Savile on a pedestal, we gave him the power to do what he wanted. So while I agree that it is about control of the elite, just think how much the disenfranchised put the elite in that position. We are all involved in this.

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    One cannot “allow” something to happen if one is unaware it is happening. Entirely wrong word and concept.
    Savile was, accurately said, allowed great access.
    Deeper accounts of his crimes put the allowing, in the writer’s sense, among the upper crust of the BBC, and various other groups whose commitment to the liberal views of human rights is unassailable because they say it’s unassailable. Savile’s dead and can conveniently be slammed without fear of him pointing fingers at his enablers.
    “We” did not have a rape culture allowing this. “We”, if you’re Brit or Belgian, had a culture of unaccountable political and cultural power among the self-appointed elites. The Belgian case had dead or disappeared children and has resulted in no findings against the perps. None of whom would be considered “we” by the citizens of Belgium.

    • Richard, I understand what you are saying, and to an extent you are right. The fact is that Savile continued to get away with it because people just did not believe this who did speak up. ‘Our’ belief in him as a ‘good guy’ suppressed revelations until after his death. Whilst there should be heads roll at the top of the BBC and the NHS, it is the general culture of idolising celebrities that allowed it to continue. So I do believe that, collectively, we all have some blame here.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    Graham,
    Some caveats: See Marc Dutroux in Belgium. No celebrities there. The stunning incompetence of the justice system led to suspicions that his customers, so to speak, were in the highest offices and spiking the investigations. But, except for Dutroux, none have been found responsible. Except for a colleague he killed who mght have been found guilty in a reasonably competent system.
    Sandusky was not a celebrity as, say, Saville was, and there were very few indications of his offenses until it all blew up at the end.
    I believe Mark Steyn has more on Saville.
    There’s a pot bubbling in Hollywood about such things, but the perps are apparently not celebrities, instead the folks behind the cameras or desks.
    Roman Polanski is given much slack by his type–the Hollywood crowd–but would be lynched if he showed up in any venue containing normal people.
    I was going to say something about sun not shining wrt your “collectively” thing. But, since many of us have no time for celebrities or celebrity, let me just say it would be considerably more accurate it you pared it down some. Maybe address it to the folks who can tell the Kardashian sisters apart, or who know how many there are.
    Nobody else.
    And when writers on one issue or another speak casually of one person or another as if the rest of us know who they are or why they’re relevant, said writers should know a lot of us would be going “huh?” except we’re probably not even that interested.

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