The recent press coverage of the alleged child abuse carried out by Jimmy Savile has brought to the fore, for me at least, the need for parents and other adults to remember our duty of care to our children. Whilst it has been a field day for writers and journalists to wring their hands over how this could happen my heart deals best with how we could protect our children and learn lessons, some of which still don’t seem to be learnt.
Adults speaking out
Much of the furore surrounding these series of accusations is the amount of adults who until now never spoke out. Those who had worked with Jimmy Savile, and a host of other celebrities who have just been complicit in inappropriate behaviour around minors, who never spoke out and in doing so let our children down. I struggle to understand those who were too scared to sacrifice their careers or reputations by not speaking openly about the predatory behaviour of one of the UK’s celebrated personalities. This whole notion that it was an open secret and people felt it would be best not to talk about it sticks in my craw. Child abuse is a criminal offence. How can one remain silent? As adults what do we teach kids about being able to speak out if we ourselves stay silent?
The fact remains that history shows people are afraid of even suggesting that a celebrity has been behaving incorrectly. Making excuses and willing to defend these celebrities from accusations of sexual impropriety based on some notion of friendship instead of evidence. We only have to check the coterie who have been supporting Julian Assange and his protest against extradition to face rape charges to the infamous Whoopi Goldberg quote that Roman Polanski didn’t commit rape rape when commenting on his charges of unlawful sex with a 14 year old minor. And let’s not forget those who jumped to the defence of Michael Jackson or R Kelly when charges were laid against them. Whilst so many, as in the case of Michael Jackson, were quick to accuse the parents of bad leadership suggesting that they were money hungry or that no parent in their right mind would let them sleep in the house of a stranger, the trend for those supporters or fans to not even consider that someone who they venerated could actually have been inappropriate is somewhat scary. From Gary Glitter to Jonathan King to John Peel history is littered with people to access and fame and minors who abused their position and those who looked up to them.
As someone who has worked with young people for most of my adult life, I don’t care who you are, famous, friend or family if I was aware that you emotionally or sexually had inappropriate relations with a minor I would have no problems protecting that child and being part of the process seeing you removed from children and being incarcerated if found guilty.
Our Duty of Care
As adults with life experience we have a major duty of care to protect children. We are more aware of the boundaries that are neccessary to be put in place. We also have been in that space where as a teen we have had crushes and realise the power of such crushes too. One of the key modules when I used to train and mentor youth workers on was to elaborate that certain lines were very defined and should not be crossed. If you do bring a certain charisma, or listening ear or give even just a little more attention to a minor than they are used to from other adults they can get confused and have crushes, but let’s be clear, they are minors. Kids in your care.
Thinking of my own youth work I made it clear to both young men and women that any guidance would have to be done with the door slightly ajar and another responsible adult close by, by definition a woman for a young lady. Reading the stories of not just Jimmy Savile but other radio celebrities who abused the trust of these young people makes me so angry. How did other adults stand by and allow him to go behind a close door with a minor? Yes of course as adults one comes across minors who don’t look their age and could pass for adults but they are still chidren. Adults (dare I say grown ass men and women) should know better and the law has been in place to protect children since the Sexual Offences Act 1956 and Children and Person’s Act 1933. Sadly, as I wrote in earlier post though there are many adults who think that if they look old enough then it’s no body else’s problem. As the Guardian writer Suzanne Moore put it liking young girls is not a preference, it is a perversion. The same applies to boys.
Teaching our Children
As a parent my wife and I have been quite strict to our kids about acceptable boundaries. For example our daughters could sit on the knee but not on the lap of a male relative we knew of when they were small. Some relatives took offence when we told them that but heck those were our rules and we stuck by them. No kissing on the lips either of adults, family or not, and a certain awareness of where they could hold them on their body. Working alongside other youth workers with teen girls I often had to advise them on how to sit, how to define their boundaries of where or where not they could be touched, why I didn’t want them sitting on a boy lap in our youth club and appropriate language. We also had a lot of work to do with young men about boundaries, language and how to treat a lady. Over the years this extended to having to think not only hetero normatively but being able to adapt the same boundaries for those who were gay or lesbian, with a strong emphasis on whatever sexual preference the teens had about making sure they weren’t abused. For me this was necessary because even with a CRB checks predatory people can slip through the net. I know of youth workers who were spotless for years whose behaviour was eventually recognised, challenged and in many cases ending up getting custodial sentences and can never work with children again.
The other reason it is important to teach our children is so that they can define the boundaries and be aware early. School is one thing were a lot more boundaries are in place, although some drop through the net, but I know of many teens who will do anything to be in the presence of a celebrity. I have both witnessed as a student, and a music promoter and also at live shows that many artists don’t go through a rigorous check to allow groupies/fans backstage. Frank conversations with students in my network about whether they would go backstage if invited by an artist, even if they knew they would be alone, have mostly been answered in the positive. That still scares me.
I bet those of us who didn’t get through to Jim’ll Fix it are probably breathing a sigh of relief. But moreso than having avoided coming across what people are suggesting is a sexual predator, is the need for us to make our children even more aware of what their boundaries are with adults. Hopefully a lot more adults will grow some as well and ensure that inappropriate behaviour by celebrities or any other adult are confronted and addressed early.