Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Why we need to say hands off to those lechers like Savile

I call it Savile Lite. Look at the photograph of 14-year-old Coleen Nolan being ‘embraced' by Jimmy Savile on Top of the Pops in 1979 and you'll see what I mean.

He couldn't hold her any tighter against himself, his arm clasped around her in a grip that ends with a hand that bit too far up the ribcage for comfort.

She's trapped — not just physically, but by politeness, respect for what she sees as her elders-and-betters and social convention.

What's ostensibly an enthusiastic, awkwardly-positioned, friendly ‘arm-around' is, in reality, a paedophile groping a kid on live TV in front of millions, knowing that no one will dare stop or reprimand him.

Luckily for Nolan, she was one of the ones who subsequently got away.

Savile Lite is minor in the context of the hideous abuse committed by the BBC presenter but it's everywhere.

In as much as everyone knew there was something fishy about old Jim, most of us have been ‘Savile-lited' at least once.

Savile Liters bestow ‘friendly hugs' that disguise an accidental grope.

They spread their legs too wide on the bus or train, trapping the person beside them, facilitating a squeeze-past in order for both participants to get off.

Savile Lite is conversational breast-brushing, thigh-clasping, ribcage-squeezing, goosing. Women do it too — they're the nightclub straddlers, the bottom-pinchers, the uninvited lap-dancers, the ‘give-us-a-kissers'.

Savile Lite is the horrible invasion of the most personal of spaces done in such an insidious way that it makes challenge nigh on impossible.

If you tell a Savile Liter to stop, you're told to ‘lighten up', accused of frigidity or laughed at with a ‘you wish'.

What's the big fuss? It was only a bit of fun.

Their mates stand up for them, or the regulars in the pub where the barstool groper has a reputation of a ‘bit of a laugh' or is ‘a character'.

Jimmy Savile was ‘a character'. Yet he ruthlessly destroyed countless lives. And got away with it because of a culture of zipped lips and fear.

While having a sneaky grope of someone's bum on the train isn't anywhere near the heinous rape of a child in a dressing room, it's still an assault.

It makes the person on the receiving end of what can be a split-second, yet unforgettable, humiliation out to be the one at fault. It creates a victim.

But contrary to the accusations of these opportunistic lechers — these victims do have a sense of humour.

They're not frigid and uptight. Just because a person doesn't like the fact that they've been inappropriately touched doesn't mean that they're a man-hating feminist.

But it's not funny to invade someone's body, no matter how briefly or sneakily it's done, and it's also not funny to find it amusing. It's sexual harassment.

It's demeaning. And it's frightening. After all, the victim doesn't know if it will stop there, do they?

So let the outrage and condemnation of Savile's discovery and the culture in which he thrived, be a shot across the bow to all those with what they think are merely of a tactile disposition.

Tolerance for that sort of thing is wearing very thin.

In Washington DC, for example, there are signs on public transport offering a phone number that women can call if they're subjected to ‘a bit of a laugh'.

And no, passing a lewd and degrading comment or attempting to shove someone's hand into a lap against their will doesn't make a person a rapist.

But it doesn't make it tolerable either.

How's about that, then.

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