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Friday, January 11, 2013

Jimmy Savile and Jerry Sandusky - Hiding in Plain View

Social workers and others who work with children around the world, have much to learn from these two high profile sexual abuse case. The material published in the UK today about the breadth and extent of the sexual abuse committed by Savile farnkly boggles the mind. As the CBC reports today:

Detectives said the scale of Savile's sex abuse was "unprecedented in the U.K." They have recorded 214 offences allegedly committed by Savile between 1955 and 2009, including 34 rapes, on victims aged 8 to 47. In all, 450 people have come forward with information about abuse by the late TV presenter.
Jimmy Savile

The details that are coming out show that the range of sexual behaviors and the settings in which Savile committed his alleged crimes includes children who were pre pubescent and teenagers. He did it under the cover of his fame and charity work. As one police officer has noted, he hid in plain view. The Guardian newspaper in the UK offers insight not only into the staggering size of Savile's crimes but also the utter failing of a system that refused to believe, deal with, or collate the data that was available from victims who had come forward. The system failed those who were willing to seek justice - a system that the report clearly shows bent badly in the wind that blew from the magnitude of Savile's deemed importance.

Like Savile, Sandusky had a huge public reputation which appears to have allowed him to hide as well. The power that both men possessed made coming forward with the allegations incredibly challenging. It would be a brave victim indeed who could challenge the reputation of these powerful men. Bear in mind that sexual abusers have an uncanny capacity to choose victims who are weak, vulnerable and desperate for the attention of the powerful.

These two cases are not unique but rather help us to see, yet again, the role that power plays. We have seen hundreds of victims in the cases of priests in various churches and also in such revered organizations as the Boy Scouts.

Sexual abusers take full advantage of the power of role - Savile as the music industry icon; Sandusky as the winning coach; the priest as the sacred leader; the Boy Scout leader as the person to be trusted as a guide in life. These are all very socially supported and revered positions.

Social workers need to be very mindful of the ability of the predator to use position. The sexual abuser does it time and again. When the social worker hears the stories, we need to be open to the telling. Sexual abusers in these positions count on their reputation and the notion that those speaking against them won't be believed.

The rate of false allegations is small.

I like some key points from Dr. D.L. Reed:

* A substantial proportion of sexually abused children are quite reluctant to disclose their abuse; many are ambivalent about disclosing; many delay disclosingDisclosure of sexual abuse is typically a dynamic process not a one-time event. Consequently, confirmed victims often make inconsistent statementsWhen CSA victims are interviewed only once, they often minimize the extent of their abuse; and some deny it altogetherWhen childrens abuse allegations include fantasy elements, this does not necessarily mean that they werent abused 

 The point is that disclosure occurs in a variety of ways, over time and often with a great deal of shame and guilt (the victim may well think that the abuse is their fault). Victims may let slip little details by accident at the start or as a way to test how people will react. We have a need to just listen and not judge.

There are many more perpetrators out there that have yet to be discovered. Social workers are key in hearing these stories as are parents, teachers, police officers and many others with whom a child has contact. A child alleging it occurred with someone powerful should not deter us hearing them.

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