How the Jimmy Savile scandal helped victims to speak out
Time and again “I was afraid no one would believe me” was the phrase repeated by victims of Jimmy Savile in Abused: the Untold Story (BBC One). The fear of not being believed was as palpable as the pain his victims buried deep for decades after Savile attacked them. This was a documentary that boiled with fear and pain.
Pauline was a 24-year-old medical secretary at Leeds General Infirmary, when Savile invited her to his mother’s house for a cup of tea and raped her. She couldn’t even bear to call it that through the long years of depression, anorexia and self-loathing that followed. Until encouraged by others coming forward she found the strength to tell the police the truth three decades on. Her sense of sheer release at telling her story and being believed radiated from the screen.
It was a similar story with so many others. Their testimony illustrated the horror and corrosive shame of being abused, more often than not in childhood. The pain held secretly inside, infecting lives and relationships long into adulthood. And the release of sharing that pain and seeking justice.
Along with the direct testimony of victims, Abused: the Untold Story threaded in the story of how the appalling scale of Savile’s crimes came to light in the wake of his death in 2011, and the role television played. The scandal of the Panorama report pulled by the BBC. The ITV documentary The Other Side of Jimmy Savile that exposed his paedophilia for the first time in 2012. How the subsequent media storm and the establishment of Operation Yewtree encouraged thousands of victims to come forward, not only to report Savile’s crimes but many others’ too. This was represented by the painful progress through the courts of another victim, Katy, who came forward and accused her abuser in the wake of the Savile revelations.
All of which made for exceptionally difficult viewing. What was never in doubt was the importance of these victim’s stories being heard. Not only by those whose silence conspired – however unintentionally – to hide Savile’s crimes for decades. But by all of us, and especially anyone who might still have had any lingering doubts as to the devastating and long-lasting effects of sexual abuse.
As Dee Coles, one of the first Savile victims to come forward in 2012, pointed out at the close: “This isn’t just a product of the Seventies, something that happened to hundreds of us back then. It is still happening.”