14 October 2012

On Savile and his heritage

I don't much want to comment on the sordid case of Jimmy Savile, although I too had heard the rumours, years ago. But I have commented on similar issues here and here and elsewhere, trying to understand some of the issues which the promised inquiries will pursue.

Nige of Nigeness has an excellent (if arguable) piece about the basic problem of recognising a "wrong 'un".

I'm more concerned at the moment about the potential consequences. The Soham murders, for example, triggered a disproportionate "safeguarding" apparatus which probably had no positive but many negative consequences (Ian Huntley could apparently have been stopped by the diligent application of measures already in place) while the impact of new regulations may well have discouraged many potential volunteers from getting involved in youth groups, uniformed organisations, and even helping out neighbours...

Whitaker and Lieberman (1964) discuss how, confronted with a "focal conflict" of deep concern to a group, the group can all too readily come to a "knee-jerk" response, which they call a restrictive solution. That effectively puts a plaster on the problem, but at later great cost to the group. In their context (which was psychotherapy) they argue that the critical task is to get beyond such a response to a facilitating solution. The same process seems to occur in the political world, too, particularly when the cry to "do something" is amplified by the tabloid press. It takes great presence of mind to maintain a sort of "negative capability" and not to act. That may be one reason why the immediate reaction of politicians nowadays seems to be to call for an inquiry. It takes time, allows some passions to cool, and distances the events--and it's certainly better than the usual restrictive solutions such as scape-goating or ill-considered legislation (Dangerous Dogs Act, anyone?)

There are some interesting pieces cropping up in today's papers, exploring the argument about whether there was really a "different culture" back in the '70s and '80s; about the assumption of untrustworthiness which pervades the perception of adults; and Minette Marin in the Sunday Times (unfortunately behind a paywall) saying the unsayable, that women and girls should toughen up and not make such a big deal out of the "casual sexism" end of the spectrum.

It's a sad coincidence that yesterday Stuart Bell MP died: he resigned from the opposition front bench in 1987 so as to be free to fight the case of the families caught up in the Cleveland child abuse saga, when 121 children were removed from their parents amid allegations of organised sexual abuse, stemming from the reports of two paediatric consultants, and based on fallacious interpretations of one test. And then there was the Orkney "satanic abuse" case of 1991...

Whatever the casual sexual harassment which pervaded the BBC and other work-places, the evidence of such panic reactions by the authorities testifies to sensitivity to allegations more than twenty years ago. Just not to allegations made directly by victims, against powerful people.

Whitaker, D. S. and Lieberman, M. A. (1964) Psychotherapy through the Group Process.  New York: Atherton Press.

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