Devils in our midst? The Savile scandal and our culture of mistrust

Saturday 20 October, 5.15pm until 6.30pm, Hammerson Room

Since the first accusations of child abuse were made against the late Sir Jimmy Savile at the start of the month, the scandal has dominated media coverage and public debate. But while allegations continue to emerge against this one specific celebrity, the scandal seems to have expanded into a full scale national hunt for other ‘blood-curdling child catchers’. And the finger-pointing is not confined to alleged abusers themselves. Others have been condemned, such as those who had suspicions or heard rumours but said nothing (such as Esther Rantzen), or those who didn’t know what was happening but should have done (such as the charities Savile worked closely with). The BBC and NHS hospitals stand accused of complicity by failing to act. Various internal inquiries have been set up, but the bandwagon is still gathering pace, with demands from Labour for one big public inquiry. Beyond that, there are calls to purge a perceived culture of groping and sexist behaviour in the workplace, with page 3 pin-ups and uncouth sexual mores seemingly left over from the 1970s.

Are we witnessing the emergence of a a climate of hysteria that has little to do with the actual facts? Is justice served when the dead are dubbed guilty regardless of the fact they cannot be tried? Will the legacy of Savile be a heightened culture of mistrust and anxiety? When one broadsheet proclaims Savile was ‘the devil who tries, and succeeds, in passing himself off as a saint’, is there a danger that we assume there are devils everywhere, and anyone interested in charity work with children or the vulnerable is really just grooming potential victims?  How do we retain a sense of proportion without trivialising serious instances of sexual exploitation of the young?

Professor Frank Furedi
sociologist and social commentator; author, What's Happened to the University?, Power of Reading: from Socrates to Twitter, On Tolerance and Authority: a sociological history

Dr Ellie Lee
reader in social policy, University of Kent, Canterbury; director, Centre for Parenting Culture Studies

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