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Case Studies

Scars after Savile

A report by the NSPCC, commissioned by HMIC, on the police handling of victims of the disgraced BBC broadcaster Jimmy Savile.

Many of Savile’s victims were ignored or laughed at when they revealed at the time that he had sexually abused them. So says a report by the NSPCC, commissioned by HMIC, on the police handling of victims of the disgraced BBC broadcaster Jimmy Savile. Others were so convinced they wouldn’t be believed, because he was such a powerful and influential character that they stayed silent.

Fifty years on, a significant number of the men and women interviewed for the children’s charity’s report – ‘Would they have actually believed me’ – have still not confided in friends and family about the abuse.

Some of the victims, who were aged between eight and 26 when Savile assaulted them, told hospital staff who dismissed their claims. One of the 26 interviewed by NSPCC counsellors went to the police but no action was taken. The vast majority were children when they were abused but four were adults. Some were even told they were ‘lucky someone like Savile had paid them attention’.

The research, which was commissioned by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and conducted by the NSPCC, highlights the scars the abuse has left, with some turning to drink and drugs to cope. Others have suffered mental illness, poor relationships or contemplated suicide.

And the appalling memories have remained with some able to recall precise details, such as the clothes they were wearing on the day they were assaulted, the smell of Savile or the last words he spoke to them.

A large number of those asked by the NSPCC to take part in the research said they couldn’t because, decades later, they were still suffering from the emotional trauma caused by the abuse.

The report shows that when Savile’s icrimes became public knowledge at the end of 2012 a few of his victims suffered flashbacks and felt physically sick when they saw pictures of him. However the extensive media coverage made them realise they were ‘not alone’ – which if they had known at the time would have encouraged more of them to report the crimes.

Victims felt helpless, ashamed and intimidated

Three quarters of the victims did not even understand as children that they had been sexually abused by the celebrity.

Some of those interviewed said they knew at the time that something ‘wasn’t right’ but felt helpless, ashamed or intimidated by Savile’s fame. And there was a general feeling that these crimes had to be reported by an adult.

“I never thought I could go to the police on my own”, one of them said. “Children’s minds work completely differently don’t they?”

The victims had largely positive experiences when they finally went to police after Scotland Yard launched Operation Yewtree in the wake of the TV expose about Savile. Overall, they found officers to be helpful, supportive and understanding of what they had been through.

But they wanted to see improvements, including new ways to report sexual abuse and additional specialist training for officers receiving and investigating allegations – so they can fully appreciate the long-term emotional impact of these crimes.

They also called for police to go into schools and talk to children about abuse and where they can go for support. Similar work is already being undertaken by the NSPCC’s ChildLine Schools Service, which aims to visit every primary school across the UK. Its Underwear Rule campaign also helps parents and carers have simple conversations to help keep children safe from sexual abuse.

Peter Watt, the NSPCC’s Director of National Services, said:
“The responses these victims received when they first revealed Savile’s sickening crimes makes heart-rending reading. They were ignored, dismissed, not believed, laughed at and astonishingly told in some cases they should feel lucky he had paid them attention.

“Half a century on the world finally discovered just how dreadful his crimes were – something these men and women had known all that time but felt powerless to do anything about. The anger, frustration and sheer helplessness of the situation obviously damaged their lives in various ways. But they showed true courage in coming forward once more to talk about their experiences and hopefully they can now start to put the terrible trauma behind them.

“Huge steps have been made in the way these crimes are handled by police. Victims are more confident that they will be listened to and taken seriously, but they still feel there’s some way to go to make it a less daunting experience. We have moved on. But sadly children are still being shamed, embarrassed or threatened into silence by sex offenders. There is greater awareness now but we all have still a role to play in looking out for the signs of abuse so we can protect children and ensure there is never a repeat of the Savile scandal.”

Her Majesty’s Inspector Drusilla Sharpling said: “I am deeply grateful to the victims who contributed to this powerful and moving report. It vividly portrays the pain and anguish suffered by Savile’s victims, which was often made worse by the way they were treated. Despite the difficulties they have faced, victims have highlighted important ways in which police responses can be improved. We owe it to them to make sure that the police service responds positively and ensures victims are supported, listened to and treated with compassion.

“In our report ‘Mistakes were made’ we made it clear that action must be taken to create a positive environment in which victims feel at ease in coming forward and reporting what has happened to them to the police.

“The NSPCC report adds weight to this recommendation and makes our follow up inspection activity on this area of policing even more relevant.”

National policing lead for child abuse investigation, Chief Constable Simon Bailey, said: “It is saddening to read the experiences of the women and men abused by Savile in this report and the impact it had on their lives. However, it also shows just how much has changed and improved in the way our society responds to child abuse.

“The majority of participants did not disclose the abuse at the time because they felt they wouldn’t be believed. For those who did tell someone no action was taken and many were laughed at or dismissed.

“We know that reporting is always going to be an emotional and difficult for victims of sexual abuse but, partly following the allegations against Jimmy Savile and other high profile child sexual exploitation cases, across society there is a much greater understanding of child abuse and an intolerance of it.

“Police and prosecutors have taken radical steps to transform the way the criminal justice system tackles child sexual abuse. Victim’s can be reassured that if they come forward to report abuse to the police today they will be listened to, taken seriously and a full investigation will take place.

“As media coverage of Jimmy Savile was fundamental in encouraging victims to come forward, ACPO and the College of Policing guidance gives forces the discretion to name someone on arrest if they think it may encourage other victims to come forward. Police, in certain circumstances, can tell someone making an allegation if other people have reported abuse by the same person so they feel less alone.

“The police service is committed to continuing to improve our approach, learning from the experiences of victims.

“There are many ways to report abuse to the police – by phone, at a police station, via a third party, directly or anonymously at the Havens or Crimestoppers – and there are many support services who can provide support and advice so please don’t remain silent.”


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