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How exposure of high-profile abusers impacts care for children

Charities tackling child abuse report benefits and drawbacks from ‘Jimmy Savile effect’

By Fiona O’Cleirigh | 20 December 2012

“There needs to be a clear route for people to receive support”
Claude Knights, director, Kidscape

Calls to charities that provide support for people who suffer from sexual abuse as children have rocketed because of the “Savile effect”.

That is how professionals in the field have dubbed the phenomenon since news broke in October that Jimmy Savile, the BBC television and radio presenter who died last year aged 84, was a long-time sexual abuser of children.

The effect has been amplified with confirmation from the Metropolitan Police Service last Wednesday that it has set up ‘Operation Fairbank’ to “scope” a wide variety of claims of sexual abuse of children against several political figures.

Exaro revealed on Friday that allegations of sexual abuse of children by former senior Conservative figures and other prominent people at Elm Guest House in Barnes, south-west London are at the core of the operation.

Experts at charities in the field say that the media attention has had benefits and drawbacks.

Exaro understands that the NSPCC, a charity aiming to “prevent cruelty to children”, is preparing to launch an advertising campaign on television next month in the wake of the media attention on the issue.

The TV ads will be part of a campaign started last week to encourage people to report current abuse to its helpline – even if they only have suspicions. Chris Cloke, head of child-protection awareness at the NSPCC, told Exaro: “We are running the campaign to say to people that if you have concerns, do not wait until you are certain.”

The charity wants to make clear that child abuse is not only a historical problem.

Cloke continued: “We know that with the Jimmy Savile cases, people very sadly waited decades before they told anybody. Certainly, we know from the calls that we have been receiving on the NSPCC helpline, people have stayed silent. We obviously do not want that to happen to children and young people who are being abused today.”

In October, calls to the NSPCC helpline about sexual abuse of children doubled after Savile was exposed. Call about child abuse overall rose by 60 per cent.

The helpline assesses whether concerns over a child or someone alleged to be an abuser warrant further action, such as passing details to the police.

Coram Children’s Legal Centre says that it has had an increase in calls from professionals who have become more vigilant about possible child abuse. The charity promotes children’s legal rights in the UK and worldwide.

Catherine Williams, a project manager and solicitor with its helpline for practitioners working with children, said: “If professionals have reasonable cause to believe that a child is at risk of harm, they can make a referral to a local authority. They want to know whether the information that they have gives rise to a ‘reasonable cause to believe.’”

“People have been saying, ‘I have read about Jimmy Savile, and something has been bothering me. Should I be ringing the local authority? Do you think that it meets the threshold?’

“Invariably, I say yes, because it contributes to a cumulative picture.”

Claude Knights, director of Kidscape, a charity dedicated to tackling bullying and sexual abuse of children, believes that there is “a feeling of a listening ear” for those who have survived such attacks in the past.

The emotional suffering that results is complex, she said, as must be the professional remedies. “The delicate operation of child-protection work is best carried out away from sensationalism and hysteria, which clouds the issue for adult survivors.”

Knights stressed the huge progress that has been made in child protection since the early 1970’s.

“If anything must come out of all this,” she said, “there needs to be a clear route for people to receive support, and for zero tolerance for anybody who is actually creating that damage.”

She added: “Perhaps out of this can come a realisation that this must never happen again. It is so easily said but, of course, not so easily lived.”

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By Exaro News

Exaro News investigates matters of public interest and seeks to uncover the truth.