Thursday, 11 October 2012

How much do you need to know?

    There was a teacher at my secondary school who was - presumably still is - a deeply unpleasant man. His speciality was punishment, and he seemed to derive a vicious pleasure from punishing young teenage boys. We were fortunate not to have been his pupils in the era when teachers used canes. In his case the playground view was that he took just a little too much interest in this aspect of his work, and in the way of young boys of course this took on an angle involving rumours of gay sex. Did any of us have any real knowledge on the subject? I certainly didn't, he never tried anything like that on me, I was bigger than him. And I never walked in on him in the book cupboard with a third-former among the history books or anything like that. But the fact is he was abusing his position and damaging young lives, I still have nightmares about school today because of people like him, and I know I'm not alone in that.
    Could I go to the police? Of course not, much as I wish I could send him into the nastiest jail imaginable. I'm guessing that however much damage he did, he wasn't breaking any laws in what I saw him do, and I can't do so on the basis of playground rumour.
     If you're British, you'll probably have guessed why my teacher is on my mind this morning. The story of the moment is that the late 1960s and 70s TV personality and sanctified charity fundraiser Jimmy Savile has turned out to have had a penchant for sexually assaulting young teenage girls.
     The shock comes of course because it's not really a shock. I first heard rumours about Savile about twenty years ago when I was working at the wilder edge of the media industry. They sounded like idle tittle-tattle, but we're told for those close to the epicentre it was more than just common knowledge. Others have done plenty of outrage at this both faux and otherwise, where I find the worry is at a more personal level. How much do you have to know before you go to the police?
    So in an odd way I understand why Savile survived in a culture of rumours. The people with real evidence - those who walked into the dressing room and found him with a 13-year-old - are unforgivable, but for those who didn't I can see why it would have been very difficult for them to do anything about it. Like my teacher, he was in too unassailable a position.
    I wonder how guilty I'll feel though if an ex-classmate of mine ever comes forward with a more serious tale about our teacher.


  1. A very thought-provoking post. Odd as it may seem to younger folk, we grew up in an era when a lot of abuse was tolerated, particularly by people we were supposed to respect. I guess it's an attitude that lingered on in some professions for a long time, not least at the BBC.

    I recall one of my primary school teachers who used to pick on children from the local Children's Home. One little chap was regularly grabbed by the scruff of the neck and 'danced' around the classroom. As 8 year olds, we all thought it very funny, but of course it was despicable behaviour - not least because the said teacher seemed to enjoy the experience even more than we did.

  2. He used to make my skin crawl enough to not watch TOTP if he was on, now we all know why...

    Bullies rule OK I suppose!

  3. I was never fussy on Jimmy Savile, I always found him a bit weird to say the least. In junior school we had a woodwork teacher who fancied boys. I was about eight years old when he was a form teacher. He would always be putting his arm around one of us and giving us a prolonged hug. He couldn't keep his hands to himself. In senior school we had an art teacher who earned the name 'fruity', not known by us specifically as gay but he certainly was just that and quite effeminate with it. He too would often take young boys into his back room store to by the way, be looking for something. I remember his name but not that of the woodwork teacher.
    I think this sort of thing is quite prevalent even today but there is no excuse for those who know and are able to expose such behaviour.

    Shirley Anne x

  4. This is such a terrible situation - I have known people from both sides. Someone who was abused by someone who should have been a protector, and someone falsely accused - after the accused took his life because of the stigma attached the accusers said they had made it up.

    Both lives, and those around, were irrevocably shattered.

    I just feel so terrible for all those affected.

  5. I think its difficult in these situations because if you're the person being abused then the majority of the time you are powerless to stop the person abusing you. At other times though you might be a willing participant because you have feelings for that person and they take advantage of them.

    Either way things like this do shatter lives and have a long lasting effect.

  6. Never really thought of JS as weird. Tony Blackburn was weird, JS had some naff affectations that were what I found rather repugnantly calculated. My viewing was as for Caroline.
    This reminds me a little of what I was trying to say on your last feminism and the average guy post. Transitioning and finding out about some of the guys in the shop. The one who would text some unpleasantly direct messages, the one who was extremely calculating about giving out certain drugs, the one who habitually went too far, the one who virtually pimped his girlfriend when it suited him, and others who were, in terms of the guy world, pleasant, civilised and not at all weird. In one case, a guy would hand out coke to a girl who was just recovering from a serious breakdown and played on her paranoia about people in the shop hating her, apart, obviously , from him. Still being also to some extent in the guy gossip circuit, I felt strongly enough about this one to mention it there. To be shocked again at the lack of reaction. Maybe because so much of guy gossip is to tell/exaggerate stories about themselves, looking beyond that to see the truth behind someone else's stories might threaten their own, even when they're far more innocent.