14th November 2012
For the last couple of months, a scandal has been brewing in the United Kingdom – a scandal of titanic proportion which reduces a British national treasure from the highs where only heroes dare to roam to the lowest depths of a villainess terrain. The late Sir Jimmy Savile was not only one of the most loved and respected men in Britain, he was quintessentially an omnipresent and eccentric adornment to British public life.
As a disc jockey, television presenter, media personality and charity fundraiser, Jimmy Saville singlehandedly raised an astounding £40 million for charities and transformed the lives of thousands through his television show “Jim’ll Fix It”. He was a personal friend to Margaret Thatcher, Prince Charles, Lady Diana, Knighted by the Queen, given a Papal Knighthood by Pope John Paul II, amongst so many other honours. However, it was not until after his 2011 death that hundreds of allegations of child abuse and rape became public, leading the police to believe that Savile might have been one of Britain’s most prolific sex offenders.
With these allegations, it came to light that Jimmy Saville may have sexually abused over 300 young boys and girls, including mental patients and critically sick children. The crashing end to a legacy that was Jimmy Saville could not have been worse. Child abuse is not only one of the most horrific crimes imaginable, it is also one of the most damaging on the victim.
One can only fathom the disastrous effect such a crime would have on the poor children that have fallen victim to it. It is really sad to know that, in this day, we live in a world where such monstrosities can take place against such innocent beings. In some of the cases I have personally come across in the past, children as young as 16 months have been raped and abused. One of the most profound and heart-breaking cases was one that I have written about before: a four-year-old girl that was raped consistently by her neighbour and carer. When I came across the case, the little girl was already physically and psychologically damaged and had tragically contracted HIV from her abuser. I tried everything to pursue the case and assist the family but, unfortunately, I was unable to keep in contact with them as they were displaced during one of the past Kaduna riots. Up until now, I am unable to get the devastating image of that little girl’s face out of my mind and I know it will remain with me for the rest of my life.
One cannot imagine why any adult would descend to such a low that they would feel the need to molest children. But I think the truth is that there is no simple explanation as to why some adults sexually abuse children. Although some make excuses for it by saying that paedophiles are mad people, but I think that explanation gives these abusers an easy way out. Unfortunately it may just come down to the basic fact that some people have an unhealthy interest in children and they do not care that sexual contact between adults and children is harmful to the child. In fact, certain molesters create the belief that they are merely showing affection by molesting a child. However, for the vast majority who are aware that their actions are wrong, they go to great lengths to keep their offences secret in order to continue to abuse children.
Unfortunately, there are so many myths and assumptions drummed into our consciousness and built into our society that help to create a safe haven for child molesters. For example, some believe that it is almost always the fault of parents because they neglect their children or that certain classes of people do not molest children. In order to hinder child molesters, these theories must stop so that we can concentrate on the conduct of adults and an atmosphere that empowers perverse adults to molest children. I think that the most frightening aspect of child abuse is that about 75-85% of molested children are molested by relatives or other familiar adults and not strangers, just like in the case of the family I met.
As a parent, I would think that, the most important strategy to protect children is to have good communication with them. It is important to explain to children the difference between good and bad physical contact and to talk to them regularly, listen and observe their behaviour. One must know about their child’s activities and feelings. If, in the unfortunate situation, a child has been abused, they most likely may be too afraid and embarrassed to talk about it. In that situation, it is up to the parent to detect the physical and behavioural signals.
An abused child may lose appetite, regress to infantile behaviour such as bedwetting or excessive crying, fear the dark, have recurrent nightmares or disturbed sleep patterns, unusual interest in or knowledge of sexual matters, expressing affection in ways inappropriate for a child of that age. A parent should notice whether a child has vaginal or rectal bleeding, infections or venereal disease, torn or stained underclothing and other signals such as aggressive or disruptive behaviour, withdrawal, running away or delinquent behaviour, or even unusually failing in school. In a situation where children show adult-like sexual behaviour, it is usually because they have been exposed to it by another child or adult, because children tend to copy and repeat adult behaviours. Most experts agree that boys and girls have an equal chance of being sexually abused, although some children are more likely to become victims than others; children who are easily controlled by adults make easier targets.
The abuse of children, in my opinion, is the worst action against any society. It is a problem of international proportion, especially when children are being trafficked from continent to continent in order to fuel this grotesque, illicit trade. Every time I am confronted with the harrowing facts that many of the children trafficked for sex slavery in Africa end up victims of AIDS or that a proportionally high number of the victims are tempted to commit suicide, my heart breaks. I have never been an advocate for capital punishment, but, in the case of child abusers, I would vigorously campaign for the worst kind.
I met Jimmy Saville as a young girl in 1984 on a TV programme called “Saturday Starship” when members of my class were invited to appear on a programme he was holding. It was the highlight of my life back then to meet this larger than character who was so giving and kind. Jimmy lived up to every expectation we had as he joked, teased and smiled at all of us who participated. Little did we know then that behind the quirky, cheeky smile that Jimmy had lay a dark and sinister secret. Jimmy’s story is a lesson to everyone to be more vigilant when it comes to their children. I hope it will serve as a deterrent to stop other children being abused.
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