Addressing historic and ongoing abuse: NSPCC campaign, Savile, and St Ambrose College

On 14 December, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) announced a new advertising campaign that will seek to prevent sexual abuse of children by encouraging people to report child abuse to the NSPCC, even if people are only suspicious or concerned for a child’s welfare without being completely certain that sexual abuse is occurring.  The campaign takes a welcome focus on correcting the misconception that child sexual abuse is a scourge of the past, rather than an ongoing and sadly consistent part of our society.

The timing of the NSPCC’s new push to raise awareness of child sexual abuse as a current problem is apt, given how prominent historic child abuse has been in recent months and weeks.  Last week Commander Peter Spindler, the senior police officer in charge of handling the investigation into the sexual assaults committed by Jimmy Savile, discussed the huge scale now uncovered of Savile’s alleged activities, once again grabbing headlines and turning stomachs.  Savile stands accused of committing 31 rapes against people, the vast majority of them children, in various places across the country.  450 people in total have levelled allegations against him.  And by pulling on the Savile thread, the police have unravelled a sordid network of people who, in one form or another, were tied into abuses, either as enablers or perpetrators themselves.

But recent news of historic abuse does not stop there.  Another breaking story since early December has been the case of serial sexual abuse of young boys at St Ambrose College in Hale Barns, a top Catholic boys’ school.  On 5 December, the Manchester Evening News revealed that police were investigating allegations from five boys who claimed they were molested by teachers at the school.  The allegations covered a period of some 30 years, from the 1960s to the 1980s.   Police began to ask for other victims to come forward; as of last week an additional 20 people, all “Old Boys” of St Ambrose College who are also possible victims and witnesses, have stepped forward.  The ring of alleged abusers has further widened as a result.

Revealing and pursuing cases of historic child sexual abuse is what our firm does.  In fact, it is the only thing that we do.  We think it is vitally important for survivors and for the future protection of children to make sure that all perpetrators and enabling people and institutions are brought to justice for the sexual abuse of children.  But child sexual abuse is a timeless problem.  There is a temptation to consign such abuses to the past, as something that could only happen in the “looser” morals and safeguards of the decades that brought Jimmy Savile to fame and adoration. Adopting the attitude that abuse is no longer a problem, or no longer as big a problem as it once was, only opens the door for these same events to unfold today, tomorrow, or twenty years down the line.

Even as the wounds of Savile’s victims are healed by the pursuit of justice, the entire case should continue to be a call to awareness and vigilance in child protection.  The problem is not a Jimmy Savile problem, or a problem of the past.  It is a problem of making sure that adequate resources, oversight, care, and support are provided to the children of today, and to abuse survivors of all ages.