‘Abused: The Untold Story’ and the Reality of Documentaries

Flickr, Alejandro Arango

Documentaries are my not-so-guilty pleasure. The more scandalous the better. I revel in the anticipation  of some horrific statistic or poorly worded quote to emerge on the screen, as if it was all completely unexpected. So inevitably, when I saw on my Facebook newsfeed that the BBC had done a recent documentary on the victims of abuse at the hands of Jimmy Savile and other entertainers of the same era, I was keen to sit down and ready to be shocked. What I did not expect, however, was to finish this documentary and have a completely changed perception on the genre and how we portray these travesties in the media.

Jimmy Savile’s face was nowhere in sight – a striking contrast to the majority of documentaries on similar issues – this time it was the victims that stepped forward and found their voice. Following two storylines, the first being the victims of Jimmy Savile and various other entertainers through the 70s and 80s, and the second following 30 year-old Katy, who was sexually abused at 9 years old by a 19 year old male, facing her abuser in the trial against him. As the unveiling of the processes of ‘Operation Yewtree’ (Scotland Yard’s investigation into the allegations against Jimmy Savile) and the realities of prosecuting an abuser in court come to light, one problem holds resonant with all the victims: belief.

perhaps this national scandal reveals more about how society is more inclined to glorify an individual than listen to someone who is suffering

The reason many of the victims did not come forward was purely because they feared the public’s response and that no one would believe their abuse. It was their word against their abuser’s and the latter are usually in a position of superiority or influence, as made evident by Jimmy Savile. Savile even told one victim to not bother telling anyone because they wouldn’t believe them. When the allegations first started to develop, the general public appeared to be outraged at the thought of insulting a recently buried national treasure, with some claiming it was ‘disgusting’ to even suggest such a thing, reminding everyone of all the charity work Savile had done. The sheer scale of Savile’s abuse and how he managed to get away with it, is somewhat unbelievable, but perhaps this national scandal reveals more about how society is more inclined to glorify an individual than listen to someone who is suffering. We are all guilty of ‘jumping on the band-wagon’ and as soon as more evidence came through about Savile’s crimes, those voices defending their TV hero had either become silenced or were singing a very different tune. There is this bizarre mob-mentality where we like the scandal and want to be shocked, but we often forget people’s lives have been directly effected; real-life people have been abused.

I now question whether it is moral to enjoy learning about scandalous affairs. Certainly, Jimmy Savile’s legacy has now been tainted by the horrors he had made himself but, for the victims, justice still felt just out of arms reach. He had died thinking he had got away with it. He had an impressive funeral where he was celebrated for his achievements. If only they had got him when he was alive so he could have faced his punishments. If only society could have been open-minded enough to not have been blinded by stardom to have given the much needed hand and say to those victims, and all victims of abuse, that we will listen and we will allow you to be given the opportunity to be believed.