An age-old problem

19th October 2012 at 01:00

That hollow, clanking noise you have been hearing over the past few weeks is the sound of the nation's moral outrage being wheeled out of the garden shed. Its wheels may be rusty but a few splashes of media oil soon get it humming like new. Few things get us going like revelations of paedophilia. And when these monstrous crimes are committed by a prime-time celebrity we're quick to hit full throttle.

I expect we'll soon witness some kind of witch-hunt, a form of trial by association, where anyone who has been within five miles of Jimmy Savile will be subjected to prolonged media scrutiny and wide-eyed suspicion. Pity his poor victims, but also spare a thought for those poor sods who went to his funeral with "Jim fixed it for me" badges hanging around their necks; they may as well have had "I (heart) paedophiles" picked out in a large red font.

Savile was by all accounts a reprehensible specimen; a parasitic old lecher who allegedly abused vulnerable underage girls. If it were down to me I'd be riding to Scarborough with a lynch mob, digging up his golden coffin and hanging his scrawny skeleton in the window of the nearest amusement arcade, with an invitation to "Pin the panatella on the paedophile and win a toffee apple".

The agonising frustration for his victims must be that his crimes have, so far, gone unpunished. But trying to apportion blame on those still living may prove problematic.

The spores of guilt spread everywhere: to the TV minions who looked away, the hacks who ignored the rumours and to our own front doors. In celebrity cases such as this we all unconsciously shared in the grooming: Mum, Dad and Granny all had their role to play.

Take Gary Glitter, for example. Our parents drove us to his concerts knowing full well that he would be thrusting his diamante-spangled 30-year-old crotch into our faces and saying: "Do you wanna touch me there?" And there wasn't a 13-year-old alive who didn't scream out "Yeah". So while Glitter has justifiably been branded a parasitic monster, we have to acknowledge that he is in some ways the Adam of our own creation.

We have sat back and eaten popcorn while old men having sex with young girls has become an acceptable cultural narrative. Think of such films as American Beauty, An Education and just about anything made in France. And thanks to novels - from Jane Eyre to Fifty Shades of Grey - it has become a social norm. Ever since Bill Wyman dipped his wick into Mandy Smith when she was still a fetus, leather-faced lotharios have been dating younger and younger girls. Tragically, as soon as they hit sweet 16 the law sees them as fair game.

Earlier this year, when 71-year-old Peter Stringfellow announced his plans to father a child with a woman young enough to be his granddaughter, we should have expressed moral indignation not marvelled admiration over him bragging about the lead in his old pencil. Because it's this shrugged indifference to the age gap that makes the world a dangerous place.

We hand down from generation to generation the myth of the glamorous older man. It's a seductive narrative that makes it easy for a 15-year-old to fall in love with her teacher, and easier for that teacher to justify his crime. Jeremy Forrest and Jimmy Savile may seem poles apart but they are on the same continuum. And when it comes to apportioning blame we are all complicit in the crime.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England. @AnnethropeMs.

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