Abused: The Untold Story aired on BBC last week. The documentary gave survivors of abuse and their families a voice to tell of their experience of the criminal process, the impact of abuse upon their lives and its impact upon their families.

BBC and media

The programme acknowledges the BBC’s own failings in the abuse perpetrated by Savile. Karin spoke of being interviewed by Meirion Jones of BBC’s Newsnight in 2011, five days after Savile was buried, regarding the abuse she suffered at his hands. Instead of airing the interview, the BBC continued with the two Christmas tribute shows. Her interview was shelved and Newsnight pulled the story.

The BBC has been heavily criticised for the culture that allowed Savile’s abuse to go unnoticed for decades. In the programme, Liz McKean a Newsnight reporter, described how there was a degree of internal knowledge about Savile, how complainants were side-lined, disbelieved and seen as not being credible, as well as blamed for what had happened.

The media response to Savile’s abuse was also discussed and anger expressed about how it seemed as though responsibility was being pushed upon the victims rather than the perpetrators, in headlines describing survivors of abuse as “Star Struck Teenagers”.

Reporting to police, and the criminal justice system

Police have seen a 60% increase in the reporting of abuse in the last four years, since the extent of Savile’s abuse came to light.

Kier Starmer MP, who was Director for Public Prosecutions explained how he had asked Alison Levitt QC to review any allegations made against Savile which had not gone forward. She reviewed four complainants’ allegations, all of whom appeared credible. She described how she found that detectives had told victims that whilst they believed them, if they wanted to pursue the complaint, they needed to be warned that Savile was rich and powerful, that the public would not believe them, that they would be made to look like liars and how their names would be published across newspapers. The first complainant Miss C told to detectives “if it’s just about me, I won’t take it further”. Alison Levitt described how Miss C had clearly not been told that there were other victims, acknowledging this as a failing. When asked recently, all victims confirmed that had they known about each other, they would have proceeded at the time.

Kier Starmer MP described the change in Crown Prosecution Service and police’s approach, having found widespread difficulties and problems in the criminal justice system, and the approach that had been taken. He talked of that being why the Victims Right to Review Scheme was set up – to enable victims to ask the prosecuting team to look again at whether a prosecution could proceed.

If abusers are still alive, reporting to police can mean that police can make safeguarding considerations as to whether they are still a risk to children and others now, and take action.

On the programme, Katy’s case showed how the length of time it can take from reporting to the police to get to a court case; she had reported five years before. The CPS had originally not taken the case forward, however did so after Katy used the Victims Right to Review Scheme. Katy spoke of being cross-examined playing to her biggest fear; disbelief. The physical toll it took her to give evidence, and her distress, was visible.

Impact on survivors

Pauline talked of thinking about whether to come forward for months before eventually deciding to do so as interviews were coming to an end; she saw it as her last chance. For many years, she suffered from depression, anorexia, lack of confidence and very low self-esteem. Her husband described how he didn’t feel he could tell anyone, feeling that it would have been a betrayal to have reported or disclosed. He described how he understood now that the root of her health problems was the abuse she had suffered.

Katy spoke of not wanting to be perceived as weak, or as a victim. After the criminal court case, she described finding ways to cope, having recently started swimming and the empowerment she felt doing so; not being weak and not being vulnerable.

‘Rachel’ had seen her abuser on television, leaving court after pleading not guilty to charges against three other women. She talked of her children being really hurt after she told them what had happened to her and of how it was her daughter who reported the abuse she had suffered. By the time the trial took place, 17 other victims testified against her abuser. After testifying, she felt as though she had gone back in time and the relief made her feel almost as though she could feel that nothing had happened. He was sentenced to 25 years and she described him as just an “old evil broken man”.

Impact on families

‘Dave’ and others spoke of not having come forward sooner because they did not want their families to know that they had not been there to protect them from the abuse, or that they had not been able to see what the survivors felt was an outward, noticeable change in them following or during the abuse; how could something so life changing not been seen on the outside.

Partners expressed how it can be difficult to realise that someone has kept such a huge secret from them for so long.

Pat and Alan, Katy’s parents spoke about how Katy’s abuse has affected their own relationship, and how people on the outside can think that they understand, but you can’t unless you’ve been through it. Alan, having not known what happened at the time described feeling as though he had failed his daughter Katy, because he didn’t protect her.

Some survivors discussed how they did not want their loved ones to know details of the abuse and many of their partners and families did not want to know either. For others, it was being able to talk to their families that made them feel as though they had finally been able to be open about what had happened to them and their families could help them through the repercussions.

Being Believed

All of the survivors spoke of the desperate need to be believed. Many of those interviewed commented that they had not realised that there were other victims and had they realised, they would have come forward. They spoke of the fear of not being believed, particularly when their abusers were, as they usually are, those in positions of power.

A seismic shift occurred in survivors feeling able to report when Commander Peter Spindler confirmed that as far as Operation Yewtree, the enquiry set up by the Metropolitan Police was concerned, Savile had “quite clearly perpetrated four decades of abuse” and that it was vital for victims to have the acknowledgment and support they deserved. He confirmed that “At this stage, it’s quite clear from what women are telling us that Savile was a predatory sex offender”.

After this statement, the NSPCC’s calls to its helpline doubled, tripled, then by end of October 2012, it had 5000 calls.

Positive Change

Survivors spoke of how attitudes have changed in recent times, and how they feel now:

  • “Relief of being believed”
  • “Relief of having not kept it a secret”
  • “Everyone who matters has believed me. That’s the most important thing”
  • “People are really listening now”

What a civil compensation claim can do

In cases in which an abuser is dead, a criminal case cannot be brought against them – however, a report can still be made to the police. Police can conduct initial inquiries and can also keep a record of your complaint, about whom others may have already, or may in the future, report as abusers.

In some circumstances, a civil compensation claim can still be brought if an abuser has died.

A successful civil compensation claim can mean an acknowledgement of belief and whilst no amount of compensation could ever turn back time and change what happened, it can provide survivors with relief that they have been believed and that somebody has listened. It can also provide for therapy and counselling; assistance and tools towards helping to move forward in life.