Anne Houston: Empower children to help battle abuse
HE may have had a predilection for teenage girls and been suspected of abuse but one thing kept Jimmy Savile out of reach – power.
His influence may have been extreme, but it demonstrates that people who harm children use their power to control them. They use threats, inducements or fear to ensure secrecy. Almost without exception children end up blaming themselves. It is, quite simply, never their fault.
Listening to the women in the documentary, and the other alleged victims coming forward, you can see the common threads. Victims were either unable to tell anyone about their ordeal or not believed when they did.
It’s for this reason that we need to talk about sexual abuse. People ask why bring it up now? The man is dead, what’s the point?
We need to send a clear message that the abuse of children and young people is unacceptable – whether the teenage girl is infatuated with her teacher; whether she dresses like she’s 18; whether the alleged abuser is a pillar of the community. It is the adult who has the power – they must act responsibly, no matter the circumstances.
It needs to be easier for people to talk about abuse. They need reassuring that they will be be taken seriously and given space and support. Helplines, such as ParentLine Scotland and ChildLine, are good starting points, and the police an obvious route for those ready to report. But we are sadly lacking, especially in these challenging economic times, in abuse and trauma recovery services for young people and adults.
We also need to be better at prevention, educating children about their rights, their bodies, what sexual harm is, and the importance of talking to someone they trust if something is wrong.
Knowledge is power, in the positive sense, and we have the power to change things for children. It starts with paying attention to children – what they’re saying, thinking, feeling. It starts by valuing them, believing in them, involving them. It’s everybody’s responsibility – and that means you.
• Anne Houston is chief executive of Children 1st. ParentLine Scotland can be contacted on 08000 28 22 33 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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