What next? After the shattering of our 1970s innocence with the revelations about serial predator Jimmy Saville and the conviction of a groping Rolf Harris plus a line-up of other former celebrity names being investigated by the police, we now hear allegations that during those years of tie dye, glam rock and power cuts (and indeed more recently) those in positions of national responsibility, including Members of Parliament, the police themselves and the judiciary also have questions to answer about their conduct around children.
The Home Secretary was right this week to launch two full investigations into the way that possible warnings about child abuse were dealt with and also whether those organisations tasked with helping vulnerable children took seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse. Why, though, has it come to this? Why has it taken so many years for allegations to be believed and action to be taken? Part of the problem can be traced, in my view, to the ‘chumocracy’ that for too long has been at the heart of the so-called Establishment, consisting of too many people with the same interests and the same out-of-touch sense of entitlement coming together to protect their own. It is this sort of persistent ‘otherness’ that so many of us are determined to change, to make the system more representative, more real and more normal. Some may say we have not succeeded yet but we will keep on trying.
The other, and more worrying part of the problem is the way that the voices of victims were ignored for so long – children told to keep quiet, ridiculed, or threatened – with tragically the most vulnerable of all being more likely to be targeted for abuse. That, to me, is the real scandal and we must do all we can to make sure that when victims speak out they are heard and action is taken. There are not just historic cases to be considered and for many it is the replacement of the ‘known’ worries with those that are less quantifiable in the modern world, like cyber-bullying or online grooming where children are flattered, cajoled and sometimes threatened into meeting predators online or in the real world with serious and damaging consequences.
The new raft of online safety measures and better education of parents and children about cyber dangers will help, but it is a reminder that technology amplifies the threats to children that have existed in the offline world for a very long time.