THE BLOG

The End of Innocence

06/06/2014 12:11 BST | Updated 05/08/2014 10:59 BST

'Young Girl get out of mind' sung Gary Puckett. I was instantly transported back to 1968 as I listened to this song on the radio recently. I was 12 years old and still in that phase of life where I hero-worshipped my father who could still get away with playing 'knight in shining armour' to my 'princess'. Happy innocent days.

It was a shiny carefree time where we rushed home from school to watch telly. We could find out how to use sticky back plastic on Blue Peter, watch murals being painted in front of our very eyes and envy the young women wearing hot pants and fake eyelashes dancing to the latest hits. Top of the Pops was a favourite and the music provided the soundtrack to the adolescent fumblings of our emerging sexuality, fueling dreams of dating David Cassidy or, better still, marrying a Monkee.

Little did we know what a dark underbelly of debauchery was going on in the dressing rooms behind the poptastic studios at the BBC. Girls as innocent as me were being taken advantage of and damaged for ever more - now when you look at old footage the joy of those dancing young women seems tainted.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones as I could easily have encountered Jimmy Savile. My grandfather worked at the BBC as a lighting technician in the very studios that played host to TOTP so tickets were often on offer. Fortunately I was too young and never had he inclination to ask Jim to fix anything for me...

Yet I came very close to corruption of the nasty fiddling kind in the safety of my own home. My father had a friend who was an amateur photographer of some repute who had clearly charmed his way into my father's heart so occasionally came to our house socially. I was instinctively wary of this man.

On one memorable occasion my father's friend kept trying to catch my eye all through dinner. The first buds of puberty were changing my body and I was proudly wearing a new dress that showed it off to best effect. After the meal I found this man lounging on the sofa in our living room alone. He beckoned to me sweatily to sit next to him on the sofa, patting the cushion next to him and licking his lips lasciviously.

For one horrible fleeting moment I thought that I should comply because he was my father's friend and I did not want to upset either of them. But instinctively I knew his behaviour was predatory and wrong so made an excuse and left the room. I do not recall seeing this man again and if I did, I kept my distance.

There was another incident when my school friend and I visited the zoo - we were allowed to go on our own as she had befriended a keeper who had agreed to 'look after us' upon arrival! He was in his 60s and a 'professional' so our respective parents had approved the trip and clearly had no sense that we would be put in any danger of the human kind. The keeper had cannily become my friend's 'pen pal' (no internet to groom you in those days) and his frequent and chatty letters to her had no hint of anything more sinister.

We had a fun safe day at the zoo in the company of our keeper 'friend' who bought us drinks, sweets and ice cream. His behaviour to us had been completely decorous and I had not felt threatened in any way.

A few days later my friend took me aside at school to show me his latest letter to her which implied more of a relationship than was acceptable to our adolescent sensibilities. He professed undying love with the first glimmer of what he would like to do to her behind the elephant house!

We knew that we should tell somebody - parents, teacher but did not think we would be believed. We even felt guilty that we had led him on in some way. It became our fault and the letters kept on coming. We destroyed them and kept our secret safe. The shame.

I tell you these stories because the propensity of supposedly respectable men in our society to groom young girls knows no limits. Friends of our parents, a zoo keeper, television personalities... This is going on all around us and has always done so. The arguable point is whether it is worse now than it was before the internet arrived. Has it given free access to the perverts and freaks or does it keep these evil predators at bay with their private stashes of porn?

What is most horrendous to me now is that many of these convicted and suspected paedophiles are fathers of daughters themselves. How did they separate what they did to other men's daughters with the relationships they had with their own? My father's friend knew exactly what he was doing and no doubt got away with it elsewhere.

When I was coming of age in the late 1960s and 1970s there were always slightly older men trying to sleep with girls whose ages were ambiguous. We fantasised about marrying a pop star or somebody on the telly so if a bit of 'hanky panky' was the passport to a celebrity lifestyle then why not? As a fashion editor on a teenage magazine in the mid-1970s I remember a 16 year old model I had employed boasting about sleeping with a 40 year old photographer - was he a paedophile?

The point is that however you cut it, virtually and physically, the act of grooming is wrong. We have to educate our young people to recognise when it is happening and give them the opportunity to name and shame before they strike again.