[This post has been updated since first publishing.]
These past few months have been extremely demoralizing for me, not just as a feminist but as a woman in general. Whether it’s “legitimate rape” or “culture of impunity”, the current discourse around sexual violence frightens me. The events that made the news seem to be repeating themselves over and over again, but what’s worse, they have become so normalized, almost acceptable. We have created a culture in which rape is silently condoned and even encouraged and, for the most part, unpunished.
The recent scandal surrounding the deceased BBC TV host and dj Jimmy Savile has clarified two things for me, and no, “rape exists” is not one of them:
1. We live in a culture of willing bystanders and accomplices.
The man may have sexually abused over 300 women and children over a period of decades. He was in the public eye. Yet no one, I repeat: no one, knew anything? Well, that’s not actually true. Turns out quite a few people, including the police, had at least an idea that something was going on. Others even had the evidence right in front of their eyes:
“Bob Langley, a former reporter who covered a charity run in which Mr Savile participated, said he saw girls of “12 or 13, they could have been 14” emerging from Mr. Savile’s trailer at the event. “After they had gone he indicated to me in a nudge, nudge, wink, wink sort of way that he had just had sex with them,” Mr. Langley said.” [NYT]
This man was apparently only sharing a good-natured joke with the celebrity, because naturally there is nothing weird about an old man having (pre)pubescent girls alone in his trailer, otherwise he would have started an inquiry or notified the police or someone, right? Right?
But he didn’t. And I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that there had been many more individuals, BBC staff, acquaintances of Savile etc., who had witnessed similar incidents or whom Savile had confided in.
This reminds me of the mindblowingly reckless cover-ups of the Sandusky scandal and the abuse of children by priests or personnel in orphanages. In all of these cases, crimes were ignored and allowed to continue, backed by institutions and individuals that preferred to look the other way than confront the perpetrators.
There are rapists, and then there are people – colleagues, bosses, friends – who are complicit in their crimes, because they sustain the environment in which the rapists can continue to hurt other people.
2. We have created a system in which a victim seeking justice is punished for it.
The previous quote continues:
“Bob Langley, a former reporter who covered a charity run in which Mr Savile participated, said he saw girls of “12 or 13, they could have been 14” emerging from Mr. Savile’s trailer at the event. “After they had gone he indicated to me in a nudge, nudge, wink, wink sort of way that he had just had sex with them,” Mr. Langley said.
“Supposing I had gone to the police or to the BBC, what would have happened?” Mr. Langley went on. “The answer is nothing would have happened. He would have said it was a joke, can’t you take a joke. And that would have been it.”” [NYT]
Because clearly, a guy joking about such a heinous thing is so much more plausible and common, than the fact that it actually happened. I feel for Mr. Langley, I really do. Because he’s right: most likely the police would not have done anything. After all, they didn’t do anything the first seven times.
That’s right. Seven individuals came forward prior to Savile’s death to accuse him of sexual assault. That’s seven out of ca. 300. That’s how much faith we still have in the justice system when it comes to sexual crimes. I’m not surprised. As the recent verdict in France shows, victims who come forward often have everything to lose and nothing to gain. Meanwhile, the rapists run free or look forward to dying in peace, rest assured that they will never be caught. Like Jimmy Savile.
What he did was despicable, but what’s even more upsetting is that it probably could have been avenged, or at least stopped. It terrifies me to know that there are people among us, who can go through their whole lives abusing others like it was part of a lifestyle.
We need to demand consequences, for those who committed the crimes and for those who stood by. And we need to ensure that victims who report can find justice and closure, instead of more suffering. I’m tired of hearing about more sex abuse scandals; the crimes are not scandalous, the culture that permits them is.