If you’re an American, you’ve probably never heard of Jimmy Savile. Savile, who died in 2012, was a British entertainment institution. He was a disc jockey, and hosted Top of the Pops. He was like Dick Clark, only set to eleven. He was friends with celebrities, including Prince Charles and Princess Diana, and beloved by children everywhere. He ran a large charity that was named after him, and for several years had a TV show called Jim’ll Fix It, where he granted the wishes of sick and dying children.
You’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, aren’t you? I can tell. Well, be aware: it’s exactly what you think it is, only way, way worse.
As everyone began to learn back in 2012, only a few days after his death, Savile seems to have been way too fond of children, and not in the correct ways. Evidence and testimony have come forth indicating that he may have raped and/or molested over 450 children. He also may have engaged in sexual behavior with corpses while visiting various hospitals (hospitals where, tellingly, children were warned by nurses to “pretend you’re asleep” if he was on their floor), and apparently spent several days hanging around with his mother’s corpse after she died.
Now it’s quite possible, indeed probable, that some number of these accusations are false. They could be legitimate misinterpretations of innocent acts, they could be people remembering wrong, or they could just be publicity hounds. Some may also be people who were in their early teens at the times, and while they don’t meet the legal standard of being able to consent, might have actually been able to. But let’s say “only” 10% of these cases are legit. That’s still forty-five people of various ages, mostly girls, but including a handful of boys under the age of eight.
So, yeah, thus my headline.
I find this case appalling on every level. But what I find most fascinating is that he was able to get away with this for about forty or more years, especially as it was clearly something of an open secret among certain people (see the note about nurses above). I wonder, how did the people involved justify not doing anything? Did they say, “Well, I must have not seen/heard what I thought I saw/heard”, or “She’s fourteen; she knows what she’s doing”, or “He does bad here, but he does so much good elsewhere, that maybe I can overlook it”, or “If I report it, no one will believe me, and nothing will be done”. That last appears to certainly be the case, as Savile was indeed questioned by the police on at least a couple of occasions, yet he was never arrested or charged with anything.
I don’t think the people who failed to report him, or failed to charge him, were bad people. I don’t think they were even necessarily intimidated by the fact that he was rich, charming, famous, and had powerful friends (something Andrew Sullivan seems to think). No, I suspect what prevented them from acting was pure, simple optimism and, after a fashion, kindness.
Here was a man who was so beloved and so good, and no one, no one, wanted to believe he was a child molester. No one really wants to believe that sort of thing about anyone, much less someone we like. And so they lied to themselves about what they saw, what they knew, or what they thought was going on. They justified away things, both as a means of protecting themselves and as a kindness to this otherwise “wonderful” man. They didn’t want to think he was capable of doing the truly awful things he was accused of.
It’s very sad that no one caught on early, when things were just starting. Perhaps he could have gotten help, and at the very least, been kept away from kids; or at least not been around them by himself. But for whatever reason, that didn’t happen. And now we have consequences of an unbelievable level. All because people wanted to believe the best, and not trust the evidence that was in front of them.