Children Should Be Seen and Not Heard

29/10/2012 18:19 GMT | Updated 28/12/2012 10:12 GMT

Before we go much further, we should say that neither of us was brought up under this antiquated guideline. From time to time our parents would comment that they were and when we were chattering on and on would attempt to invoke this ancient idea: none too successfully, it has to be said. (Who would ever have guessed that we were both chatterers?!)

Thankfully, this Victorian saying is rarely heard at all today.

In the Savile case, we've heard much about 'how things were different' a few decades ago. Perhaps; though child molestation certainly was not tolerated and our parents were aware of possible threats to our safety. Country lanes and parks were forbidden on our own. As we entered our teens we were advised how to behave when we went to the local village hall or church hall disco.

So would parents have allowed their children to go into a dressing room alone with a man they didn't know, but trusted him because he was famous - or weren't they even aware this was happening? Were things arranged so that it 'just happened'? Were our children even then so bedazzled by celebrity status that they would forget everything they'd been taught about how to stay safe? And in today's culture of celebrity are stars even more blindly trusted?

If a child's safety is challenged they must feel able to speak about it. So frightened have the abused been to speak about Savile's behaviour, they have waited until he died to do so. Alongside these fears, they have spoken about the burden of guilt they have carried for years. Because yes, sadly, the victims of sexual abuse often feel guilty.

A lesson to be learned from these revelations is that we must listen to our children. They must feel able to share - knowing they will be listened to and believed. They must be told to ignore threats no matter how terrible the threats appear. 'Children should be seen but not heard' really should remain in the history books.

The continuing failure to listen to those suffering abuse was starkly revealed in the coverage of the Newsnight expose of Savile that was binned by the BBC. And it's at this point that the failure to listen to children takes on the tones of a sexist culture. Peter Rippon, editor of Newsnight, flippantly dismissed the evidence secured by the production team as 'just the women' giving anonymous but on-the-record testimonies about Savile.

'Just the women'?

No wonder Liz MacKean left the BBC. Had she been listened to perhaps the BBC wouldn't be facing its deepest crisis in fifty years. Importantly, had 'the women' been able to share their experiences at the time the abuse was occurring, perhaps the truth about Savile would have been revealed far earlier. And this raises far-reaching questions about the failure of British society and institutions to be truly representative. Equality is not a whim. It's about inclusivity in decision-making at all levels and in all areas - within the workplace and within our communities and our homes. None of this is helped by the fact that our government is far from representative: Cameron's cabinet reshuffle has pushed Britain further down the international gender-equality league.

In a culture that excludes the voices of women and the needs of children, it is hardly surprising that such abuses should take place.

As we write, Tom Watson MP has raised further questions. If, as seems to be the case, Savile was not a solitary predator but part of a broader ring, whether within this context or not, we need to turn an eye to the kind of institutions and attitudes that made such systematic abuse possible.

We can no longer turn a blind eye. This happened, this is happening, and it's real.

If we are to challenge a culture of abuse, we must listen to our children. We must also create a society where all are listened to, regardless of gender, class or race. Only then might such systematic abuses become a thing of the past.