Yesterday six people were convicted of sexually abusing a large number of women and young girls in Rotherham over a period of many many years. The crimes include rape, indecent assault, forced prostitution and forced imprisonment. On the very same day Dame Janet Smith presented her report on the extreme levels of sexual abuse of women, girls and boys within the BBC over many decades.
Some people will judge that the culture was different in the 1970s, but they forget that the abuse and the cover up continued right on into the twenty-first century. Some people will judge that this is a problem of race or religion, but they forget that these crimes were perpetrated by both white and non-white, Christian and non-Christian individuals against males and females, young and old, rich and poor, brave and timid.
Dame Janet Smith uses some strident language about the heinous crimes and the nasty, but very clever and sneaky, perpetrators of these crimes. She firmly declares her report is not a white-wash, though some survivors, journalists and others feel it is. The more clever and sneaky the perpetrators are judged to be the more it seems to let those who failed to curtail their activities off the hook. In fact, the criminals had little need to be ‘clever and sneaky’. They acted as if they owned the place, as if they believed that they could do whatever they wanted without fear of any recourse. This is as true of Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall as it is of the Rotherham six.
Dame Janet Smith speaks very empathically about the victims, thanking them for their bravery in coming forward, but no amount of emoting like this changes that fact that the powerful people, running powerful businesses, earning powerful salaries, did nothing whatsoever to ensure that the corporation was being properly run, if by ‘properly run’ you mean more than just making money. Disreputable outcomes, of whatever nature, surely have to be the responsibility of the senior managers whether of the BBC, the council or the police force. Part of what we pay people to do is to run their business in a humane and law-abiding way.
Even now the establishment continues to come up with reasons to keep information that might be relevant to these cases and others, hidden behind closed doors. A Sheffield lawyer, representing 65 survivors continuing to press to the local council and to threaten to sue the South Yorkshire Police in order to allowed to gain full access to information that might be relevant to the crimes and the cover-up in Rotherham. Rotherham is not an isolated example. Rochdale , Oxford and Derby raise similar concerns. There are more investigations and convictions to come out, involving the Church of England, the Catholic Church, other local authorities, including Westminster, the police services and numerous other institutions.
All this concerns powerful people abusing, or tolerating the abuse of, less powerful people. This is about more than just sexual abuse. It is about making sure that senior managers, rather than making it their top priority to protect the reputation of the institutions they govern by covering up indiscretions, put abiding by the law and protecting the rights of individuals to the forefront of their operations.