The scale of Jimmy Savile’s alleged abuse has left the nation in complete shock – not least because it has become apparent, for instance through the recent Panorama programme, that many people suspected he was up to no good – but turned a blind eye.
But just how is it possible to have that mindset?
And why did the victims not come forward sooner and in greater numbers?
According to Dr Elena Martellozzo, senior lecturer in Criminology at Middlesex University and adviser to the Metropolitan Police paedophile unit, society was, to some extent, simply blinded by his personality and celebrity status.
She told Huffington Post UK: “I think we need to remember that Jimmy Savile was an astute sex offender. He ticks every single box, in the sense that not only did he groom those children that he abused eventually, but he groomed everybody - the whole of society.
“He was a hero to children. He was a hero to society because he was raising thousands of pounds for charities. He was doing incredible work.
“So there’s an element of denial there.
“The way he behaved was of a typical preferential sex offender who creates opportunities to get close to the victims.
“People who worked closely with him perhaps could see that there was something odd in his behaviour. But they probably struggled to believe that he was doing something wrong, due to the fact that he was doing all this great work – and also because children loved him.”
When the abuse took place was also important, according to Dr Martellozzo.
She said: “If it happened recently people would have spoken and people would have done something about it.
“So I think it relates very much to the time in which Jimmy Savile abused his victims. And we need to remember that there was, and there still is, in a way, a lot of ignorance and innocence around the whole issue of abuse.
“Sexual education wasn’t something that was a part of the curriculum in schools. So I think that’s something that has a massive impact… The fact that people thought ‘well, it’s a bit odd, it’s a bit of a strange behaviour’, but who knows, maybe yes, maybe not – they weren’t quite sure.”
Dr Martellozzo explained that the silence on the part of the victims was held in place partly because Savile’s force of personality drew them into a cycle of participation that resulted in enormous feelings of guilt, while some might not even have been aware they were abused.
She said: “Sadly, I work with a lot of victims and sex offenders and I come across a lot of indecent images of children who’ve been sexually abused, raped, and I hate to say this – those children are smiling in the pictures.
“It doesn’t mean that they are enjoying it and it doesn’t necessarily mean that they know what’s happening, but they’ve been blinded and groomed in a way and are completely unaware that what they’re going through is abuse.
“And later, when they grow up, they know there’s something wrong there. They know that what happened to them is not right. But it’s hard for them to justify or explain what’s happening.
“Sometimes it’s to do with the fact that they feel guilty themselves because they’ve been participating in that abuse.”
Where Savile was so clever is that he drew people into his world with presents and promises - of appearing on his TV show, for instance.
Dr Martellozzo said: “By accepting those gifts they [the victims] felt that they’d participated in the cycle of abuse. And felt responsible for having fallen into the trap. Therefore the silence, therefore the fear, therefore the smiles, therefore the going back to the abuser.”
The criminologist hopes that the Savile case will encourage other victims to come forward.
She added: "It's important they know that there are people willing to listen and willing to do something about it."
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