Stranger danger, feeling yes, feeling no, and painfully sad discussions about why my girls should scream blue murder if they ever feel threatened, and not just silently run away because they think that at four and five they are big girls and can run really fast, probably faster than a bad man could chase them, are a part of bringing up children in 2012.
But after the deluge of revelations about Jimmy Savile over the last couple of weeks, I can’t be the only parent wondering if I should be warning my daughters about the danger of famous men who use fame and celebrity to hide in plain sight as they abuse women and girls.
Bill Wyman, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Elvis, Roman Polanski and John Peel all had relationships with underage girls.
Chris Brown, Justin Lee Collins, Paul Gascoigne, Bobby Brown, George Best, Ike Turner, James Brown, Eminem, Evil Knievel and Dappy from N-Dubz have all either been accused or convicted of domestic violence.
Jonathon King, Gary Glitter and Jimmy Savile have all been revealed as predatory paedophiles.
Woody Allen married his adopted daughter.
Sean Connery has been quoted as saying that some women cause confrontation with their husband because ‘they want a smack.’
Mike Tyson was convicted of rape.
OJ Simpson, Michael Jackson, Freddie Starr, R Kelly, Kobe Bryant, Dominic Strauss-Kahn, Julian Assange, John Leslie and Morgan Freeman, to name a few examples, have all been accused of, or have faced persistent rumours about inappropriate, sexual, physical or paedophilic behaviour.
Celebrity seems to provide the perfect storm of access, power and charisma which gives these men ample opportunity to feed their desire for underage girls, paedophilia, domestic violence, rape and in the most extreme case murder – often with impunity. Rich and famous men aren’t paedophiles, ‘they like them young’. They do not have misogynistic attitudes towards women, ‘they are wild and crazy and irresistible to women’. They do not beat and emotionally abuse their partners, ‘they make mistakes’. Repeatedly.
But fame and celebrity is not the problem (or not the only problem) that the Jimmy Savile case and all of the other cases featuring famous men reveal. These cases merely hold up a mirror to our society and show us how we mask the scourge of abuse against women and children. The truth is we still have a great deal of trouble admitting that the men who commit rape, sexually abuse children, use emotional and physical abuse to control their partners and children, are the very same men that are our friends and relatives.
The men who abuse women and children in our society are the men that we see every day on our TVs, listen to on our radios, have dinner with, chat with at the school gates, smile at as they hold open a door. We watch them in films or buy their albums. We listen to them preach sermons on a Sunday morning at our local churches. We vote for them in elections, we leave our children in their care day after day in schools across the country. We have their children over for sleepovers. For some, they are the person who stands smiling next to them in their wedding pictures, or who held their hand on their first day of school.
As a society we seem to cling to the notion that abuse happens elsewhere on the fringes of society, perpetrated by men that we would never have the misfortune to know, to an unnamed group of victims that are also people we don’t know and are not like.
And because we often feel like we know famous people, or even politicians, teachers, priests, doctors and other prominent people in our communities, we find it hard to believe that they are the abusers, right there in front of us.
In fact we seem to find it easier to believe that the victims are lying. Or that they are mistaken. Or that they are complicit in their own abuse, that they wanted it or that they led the men on. We look for reasons why a woman has been raped, and when I say ‘reasons’ what I mean is excuses for the rapist.
The fear of not being believed is what traps many victims of paedophiles and serial domestic abusers into a life of abuse. It’s what silences many victims of rape.
But the fear of not being believed is probably preferable to the actuality of asking for help and then being called a liar. Men who abuse women and children know that a position of power, a good reputation, a few instances where people can put their hand on their heart and talk about what a good guy you are, are a mighty force in the face of a child, or a teenager from a council estate or a children’s home, or a woman who likes drinking and having sex, even your quiet and unassuming wife, accusing you of rape or abuse. It’s almost as though blowing the lid on the conspiracies of silence that lie at the heart of abuse is seen as less socially acceptable than perpetrating the crimes that need to be hidden. And both the recent case in Rochdale and Jimmy Savile show just how powerful our desire is to believe the abusers over the abused.
To volunteer at my daughter’s school you must undergo a police check. Mobile phones are banned in the cloakroom area of my youngest daughter’s nursery because of potential abuse using camera phones. Both nursery and school request that you do not post any pictures taken at school or nursery of your children and their classmates on social media, and both school and nursery have strict guidelines on collecting children from school.
These measures are typical the country over, and have been put in place to keep our children safe and out of the hands of abusers. But they don’t keep the vast majority of children who are abused in the UK safe from harm. Because until they are caught and prosecuted, every man named on this page would pass the police check to work at my daughter’s school. Jimmy Savile would have passed with flying colours. And as long as we continue comforting ourselves with the myth that abusers of women and children are the easily recognisable greasy-haired loner who newspapers leap to accuse during every high profile murder, rape or missing child case, we will continue to unwittingly protect the vast majority of abusers in our midst who do not fit the mould.
The acts committed by famous men against women and children show us that powerful, successful, likeable men are just as capable of abuse as the girlfriendless loner with the creepy face from a bad home. We need the checks and balances used by schools to keep our children safe. Women should always be aware of their own personal safety. But none of this will end rape and abuse until we come to terms with the fact that seemingly ordinary, and indeed extraordinary, men commit abuse too.