The British police and the country’s leading child welfare group drew a horrific picture of more than 200 cases of sexual abuse of children as young as 8 by the television host Jimmy Savile in a report released on Friday, and prosecutors admitted for the first time that they could have brought Mr. Savile to trial before his death in 2011 but failed to do so.
The depiction of what Peter Spindler, a police commander, called a “vast, predatory and opportunistic” record of misconduct offered the latest gruesome indictment in a scandal that has plunged the British Broadcasting Corporation, Mr. Savile’s longtime employer, into crisis; drawn in a mounting tally of suspects and victims; and raised questions about the protection of children from predators in supposedly safe institutions.
In the process, Mr. Savile’s public image has been transformed. Once seen as a zany national treasure with a near-saintly commitment to charitable work with children — knighted by Pope John Paul II and Queen Elizabeth II — he is now blamed for one of Britain’s most extensive catalogs of abuse.
“It is clear that Savile cunningly built his entire life into gaining access to vulnerable children,” said Peter Watt, a senior official of the children’s advocacy group, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, speaking at a joint news conference with police officials.
The report said Mr. Savile used his status as a celebrity to “hide in plain sight” as he committed criminal offenses in 28 police jurisdictions over nearly six decades.
Not only as a celebrity, but as an Authority. In the Times recently, Mark Oppenheimer wrote a piece talking about how sexual abuse is not a Catholic thing, but a matter of abusive authority figures taking advantage of their authority to exploit the vulnerable — and to get away with it because they can count on others to look away. For me, the real outrage in the Catholic sex abuse scandal was not so much the abusers themselves, as horrible as they were and are, but all the bishops — who were in a position to do something about it — looking the other way. (And, for that matter, all the laity too, who might have raised hell about it, but who found it easier to keep quiet and blame the victim.). Again, it’s not just a Catholic thing. When maintaining respect for institution or a person is critical to our understanding of how the world works, we have all kinds of psychological reasons for not seeing what is right in front of us. Oppenheimer:
Then there is the fear of bringing shame on the community, particularly prevalent in minority groups. “When I started in 1982,” said Phil Jacobs, the editor of Washington Jewish Week, “there was an 11th commandment — ‘Thou shalt not air thy dirty laundry.’ ” He learned that commandment in Baltimore, writing about the high percentage of Jews in a treatment program for compulsive gambling. “When I started calling people, they said, ‘You’re not going to put this in the paper, are you?’ So I found out Jews didn’t get AIDS, didn’t get divorced, didn’t abuse their wives or children.”
That fear of embarrassment may be why Dr. Lamm — who is still at Yeshiva and declined to be interviewed — stayed quiet about the abusive rabbis at Yeshiva. Perhaps he loathed what they had done, and wept for their victims. But, he also may have thought that people shouldn’t hear bad things about Jews. People shouldn’t know, in other words, that Jews are just like everyone else.
That is everyone else, not just religious people. The Satmar Hasidim may have wanted to protect a beloved member, the Modern Orthodox administrators probably worried about their community’s reputation — and the Penn State loyalists enabled Jerry Sandusky. Somehow, the victims never seem as important as the rabbi, the Zen master, the coach. In the words of a once-revered rabbi, Norman Lamm, may as well let the perpetrators “go quietly.”
Neither Jerry Sandusky nor Jimmy Savile were religious figures. And yet, look. Yesterday on Fresh Air, the writer Barry Lopez talked about how he was sexually abused for years as a child by a fraudulent doctor. The adults in his life who could have saved him knew, or had reason to know, but looked the other way. To admit that what was happening was actually happening was too difficult for them to accept. So they sacrificed a little boy to their own cowardice, and rationalized it.