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Abuse Scandal Legacy Must Count

Posted: 11/01/2013 00:00

Concern is growing that the Jimmy Savile child abuse scandal could be all too easily forgotten and that if changes are not made, such abuses will continue to take place.

Speaking last week on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Baroness Butler-Sloss, a former High Court judge said she is worried that "everybody will be terribly upset for a while and then it will all die down". She also commented on the easy availability of sexualised images of young girls, which has a "lot to answer for".

If the legacy of those who have survived the Savile scandal is worth anything at all, it must lead us to a multi-lateral commitment to bring those responsible for past and current child abuse cases to justice - and to do what we can to prevent them from occurring in the future.

The strand of Operation Yewtree dealing with abuse committed by Savile is due to publish its findings early this year. This will mark an important first step in pooling the findings of the various, ongoing pubic inquiries, which will be imperative if we are to inform change at every level of society and address child abuse head on.

In my role as a claims lawyer for child abuse victims, who is used to confronting such issues every day, even I could not have foreseen the tidal wave of potential cases that have come to light since public awareness of the scandal surrounding the late Jimmy Savile first took hold. In the space of one month, our firm saw approaches from child abuse claimants increase three-fold, and we are not alone. Charities such as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) have been inundated with calls from people who had long since given up believing that their suffering would ever be known or listened to.

As a supporter of the Stop Church Child Abuse campaign, it is good to report that heightened public awareness of child abuse is already having a positive effect. Bringing all the strands of the child abuse agenda together will help to ensure that the actions or inactions of individuals and organisations, past and present, and the suffering caused as a result, create real momentum for change.

To succeed in turning Savile's legacy into a force for good, despite the terrible experiences of the many survivors, society as a whole needs to start listening to some home truths. Much as we may like to view Savile's actions as those of a twisted and peculiar individual who happens to be a paedophile, we must make sure that child abuse is treated as a mainstream issue that needs to be addressed by professionals in all relevant organisations, from those looking after children in care homes to the police force.

It is society's fault if we allow young children to become over-sexualised by dressing them in inappropriate clothing or educating them inappropriately, just as it is society's fault if we allow children in care homes to become a target for abuse by failing to protect them adequately. It is also society's fault if it is subsequently shown that those leading some of our most important and influential organisations were guilty of turning a blind eye to claims of real suffering in order to protect the reputation of those operating within them.

It is vital that lessons from all branches of the investigation are properly recognised and acted upon in order to stamp out child abuse. One of the best places to start is to step up resources for children in care to ensure they are protected from abuse in the future and their needs are met by well-trained, professional staff. We also need to increase training for judges, lawyers, police officers and teachers to ensure they are equipped to handle these sensitive cases appropriately and fairly.

Public awareness is one thing, but Savile's legacy must count for much more than this if we are going to stop child abuse from happening in the future.

 

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