The long shadow of Operation Yewtree
From Brother Ivo:
In recent months we have seen a procession of elderly men publicly shamed for things they may or may not have done in the days of their youth 50 or 60 years ago.
In the heady days when everyone was urged 'if it feels good, do it', young and not-so-young men complied with the zeitgeist, and women too behaved significantly differently from their parental forebears, liberated by the contraceptive pill. Everyone was both encouraged and assumed to be 'up for it', and where that culture was most prevalent it is no wonder that all young women were regarded as fair game and compliant if not persuadable.
We have since learnt that unrestrained liberty rarely comes cost-free on all manner of levels, and the zeitgeist, too, changes. What once passed for consent is no longer accepted: political correctness has a more puritanical streak than the radicalism of the 60s which brought us Lolita, Candy and countless musicians and entertainers' recollections of groupies of indeterminate age. The tabloid 'up-skirt' photo was surely pioneered by 'Top of the Pops'.
Plainly few institutions were more progressive and permissive than the BBC, whose institutional failings to protect the young and preserve a comfortable working environment for many women are now plainly apparent. No sooner does an accusation arise than media-respected figures like Esther Rantzen come forward to confess suspicions at the time which were either unvoiced or unheeded. Big litigation, based upon such a widespread culture of institutional carelessness, will surely follow. Lord Reith must be turning in his grave.
We should always be cautious in the case of long-past events and recollections. Often we are delving into a culture of such multiple casual attractions that there may well be some truth in the defence that the accused cannot remember what happened 50 years ago. Some accusers could be suffering a degree of 'buyer's regret' for the follies of youth, though the greater part will be genuine in reporting crime.
Historic cases pose a serious problem for those concerned with justice. The assertion 'all children lie' was once routinely allowed to pass unchallenged as part of the defence case: that was an outrageous generalisation. Yet is not the presumption that all accusers must be believed also fraught with danger?
Nobody should doubt the trauma suffered by victims of sexual crime who have to re-tell their stories in a court environment, as the latest case of subsequent suicide tragically confirms. As the consequences of convictions are also serious and may perhaps harden, it remains proper to ensure that the trial is fair to all. Allegation must be carefully but sensitively challenged. It is not always well done.
The more objective forensic help available to narrow the issues before the courts, the better. In all such cases, some preliminary questions are routinely to be asked, foremost of which is whether any sexual activity occurred at all.
In one sector of these cases, there is today an opportunity to settle such a question early.
The abortion statistics show that 15% of all abortions are within the under-18 age group. Over 3000 of these relate to girls under 16. Put simply (and readers need not be in doubt as to Brother Ivo's distress at such loss of life) each under-16 abortion yields 'forensic material' with reliable proof of crime, and each under-18 abortion yields evidence of fact, should the woman undergoing the abortion subsequently raise a criminal accusation.
We also have a growing DNA police database upon which many of the perpetrators of crime leading to abortion may feature in later life.We may in time be able to make effective DNA comparisons swiftly, cheaply and accurately.
Why are we not routinely securing the DNA evidence of these crimes for future use? Are we only interested in such cases if they are historic and involve the famous?
Operation Yewtree has been a protracted and expensive enquiry. Our society has decided that it is a worthwhile exercise to investigate the allegations that are made. Some have questioned the value, but the victims of Stuart Hall appear to have benefited from justice being done even though it is much delayed.
Brother Ivo suggests that this may be a good time to revisit the question of the continuing indifference of our society to the many acts of sexual crime against children whom we appear to have endowed with rights to privacy in preference to the right to protection. Both through the provision of abortion and under-age contraception (often secretly), we turn a blind eye to crime in the same way that the BBC (and some parts of the Church) did all those years ago.
Simply by collecting and storing this evidence, we would be sending out a powerful message to all those thinking of abusing young children that the shadow of the Yewtree is wide and enduring.
Operation Yewtree investigates historic crime: that is not wrong. Yet, Brother Ivo cannot escape an uneasy sense that we are undertaking it mainly to enjoy the bringing down of the elderly famous. We condemn the laxities of the past whilst daily missing the beam in our own eyes when it comes to the sexual protection of our under-age children.