Celebrities are so powerful in society they have free rein for sex abuse, claims Manchester university academic

A Manchester academic has suggested that celebrity status may offer protection for breaking the law – even in horrific instances like those of paedophile Jimmy Savile.

With reference to Savile, students at Manchester Metropolitan University have been discussing whether having celebrity status confers a higher level of protection.

The question was posed to students by programme leader for BA (Hons) Abuse Studies, DR Lisa Oakley, who discussed the wider social context of celebrity status.

Dr Oakley said:  “DOES celebrity status confer a level of protection for people who want to break the law? Even if those crimes are as horrific as those of Jimmy Savile?

“This is the question I have been asking my students to think about.

“The Jimmy Savile case has raised a number of issues about sexual abuse and disclosure. Often as a society we focus on the individual who is responsible for the abuse.”

Oakley argues we live in an individualistic society, and says we constantly feel the need to ask the question ‘who is to blame?’.

“Our assumption is that the blame for any bad or evil behaviour is squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrator,” Dr Oakley said.

“While we have to acknowledge this is true, that individuals are responsible for their own behaviour, and that any individual who abuses another must be held to account for this, we also need to understand that all behaviour takes place within a cultural context.”

Dr Oakley cites the Stanford University psychologist Philip Zimbardo as part of her argument.

“Zimbardo uses the analogy of the bad apple and the barrel,” she said. “We focus on the one bad apple but fail to examine the barrel in which the apple resides. If we look at the case of Jimmy Savile there are clear parallels here.

“Of course his decision to abuse is his choice and we should never ignore that in a broader examination. However, we have structured society in such a way that individuals with celebrity status are in a particular position of power.”

Dr Oakley argues that celebrities by their very nature hold a position of power, which in turn makes it difficult for victims to reveal their abuse.

She said: “Wyatt and Peters, who have done some important research into child sexual abuse, suggest that abuse is about power. In our culture, celebrities have a lot of power, which makes it difficult to speak out when abuse has occurred.

“Many individuals may feel they will not be believed if they do. They occupy a lower power position and this makes abuse possible and disclosure unlikely.

“If you put celebrity power status together with societal rules about the position of children, you see a situation in which the abuse by Jimmy Savile can occur, and disclosure does not happen until after his death. This is a ‘safe’ time when stories of abuse can be told.”

The comments come after the NSPCC revealed victims of Savile were ‘dismissed, ignored and ridiculed’, when they revealed their abuse to friends and relatives.

The NSPCC helpline received 40 calls by over the last five days following claims of sexual abuse committed by Savile, with over half of them being referred to the police or other agencies.

According to the charity’s report, numerous men and women interviewed have still not confided in family or friends about their experiences.

Incredibly, some were told they were lucky someone like Savile had paid them attention.

The NSPCC report also said there were cases where participants also remembered feeling conflicted and wondering if they should feel flattered or grateful that he had ‘chosen them’.

“This led to feelings of hopelessness and inferiority in his victims, who felt there was no way that their word would have been believed over his,” the report said.

“It is vital for all victims of sexual abuse to come forward to offer information or seek help, no matter when the offence was committed or who the offender was.”

Born in Leeds, Savile has a number of ties to the city of Manchester.

The former Top of the Pops presenter was assistant manager at the Plaza Dance Hall on Oxford road in 1960s.

Back then Savile was one of Manchester’s most prevalent faces on the night club scene, and Savile went on to organise day-time discos for young office workers to attend on their lunch break.

It wasn’t long before school pupils were truanting to see the cigar-smoking Savile.

A year after his death, at the age of 84, Savile’s crimes were revealed to the world after a chilling TV documentary in 2012.

Many of the children and young people who were targeted by the celebrity were simply too young to comprehend the full knock-on effects of what had happened to them.

Decades later some victims have turned to drink and drugs to cope, while others have suffered mental illness.

Peter Watt, the NSPCC’s director of national services, said: “The case of Jimmy Savile has caught the attention of the entire country.

“And whilst we have seen a wave of calls relating to abuse by the late celebrity, as well as calls from other adults who were abused in childhood, we have also seen a very welcome surge of calls relating to children suffering abuse right now.

“It is important we recognise the brave step victims have taken in coming forward and we urge any other victims to do the same.”

Image courtesy of Chris Barker, via YouTube, with thanks.

Related Articles