Wednesday, October 24, 2012

On dirty old men and a sense of proportion

When I reached early puberty and my breasts began to sprout, I was groped by a Sunday school teacher when he gave me a lift home in his car. As an adult, a close male relative attempted a clumsy French kiss and, later, someone I knew tried to rape me. He was a little man, the worse for drink, so I didn't have much difficulty fighting him off, but I did end up with a bloody nose and black eye, inflicted when I threw him out. These events didn't traumatise me. I haven't been waiting years for someone to refer me to a helpline. Like many other people, I shrugged off these encounters and forgot about them.

With all this fuss about Jimmy Saville, a dirty old man like thousands of others, I wonder how many of the people who've claimed to have been abused by him were any more traumatised than I was. I can understand people being deeply affected by persistent abuse, such as the sort perpetrated by relatives and family friends, or by rape, but groping? Does this really count? Should it make victims of anyone?

With the benefit of hindsight, all the self-righteous are now baying for BBC blood over Saville, but he wasn't that unusual; the main difference between him and thousands of others was his celebrity, and how he took advantage of it. I knew there was no point telling my parents about my Sunday school teacher; they'd have been embarrassed, and may not have believed it. Until the last couple of decades, when paedophile paranoia developed, most people pretended it wasn't happening. It was because of this culture of denial that priests, celebrity lechers and over-familiar relatives got away with it.

It's good that people are more aware of what is or isn't appropriate behaviour, and it's good that abusers are caught and prosecuted, but it's not good that so many seem to have been encouraged to imagine that their experience will ruin their lives. It needn't. No one should let it.

As for Jimmy Saville and the BBC; I agree with Simon Jenkin:
It is hard to see what real benefit will come from any of this. The case is awash in malice, vilification, exaggeration and litigation. After today's grilling, the BBC might well decide never again to let a child near a male studio presenter. Hospitals will be advised to recruit chaperones for males in children's wards. MPs would apparently deplore anyone permitting children near adult strangers.
Get a grip.


Susansweaters said...

Unless a situation is significantly traumatic, I think that you can choose whether to be traumatized or not. I had a few unwanted encounters years ago, they bothered me some at the time, but I chose to just go on. I'm the wiser now and can avoid these situations easier.

Margaret Nelson said...

I suppose that choosing how to react partly depends on your personality type and expectations. Some people don't choose; they just react.