Time will not protect the guilty in cases of child abuse

An expert from the University of Western Sydney says the arrest of Gary Glitter in London should elicit fear in the minds of child sex offenders.

Dr Michael Salter, from the School of Social Sciences and Psychology at UWS, has completed a PhD and is launching a book on the topic of organised sexual abuse.

He says the instigation of Operation Yewtree and the Gary Glitter arrest shows that authorities are under pressure to take allegations of sexual abuse more seriously.

“Over the years there has been increasing discussion of a ‘paedophile ring’ linking Jimmy Savile to other suspected child sex abusers in the 1960s to 1980s,” says Dr Salter.

“Saville had been suspected of wrongdoing for some time, however he had such a high public profile that his accusers had trouble getting anyone to listen.”

Dr Salter says, at present, there is no commonly accepted definition of complex cases of sexual abuse involving multiple abusers and multiple children.

“Generic terms such as ‘sex ring,’ ‘paedophile ring’ or ‘sexual exploitation’ are unclear, since they tend to imply the abuse of children by predatory strangers. But the relationships between victims and abusers are often more complex than this,” he says.

Dr Salter’s research on organised sexual abuse – in which multiple adults conspire to abuse multiple children – suggests that a culture of abuse can develop within some peer groups, institutions and even families where commonly held views about masculinity, sexuality and power are used to legitimise child sex offending.

In these cases, the abuse of children or women becomes a means of male bonding. It is a form of abuse that is poorly understood by investigators and it is very difficult for victims to be taken seriously.

 “Victims usually present as troubled, mentally ill, disadvantaged or vulnerable– and the accused have often, until that point, been a pillar of the community who is adept at covering their tracks,” says Dr Salter.

“Particularly when the victim’s account contains controversial elements such as high-profile offenders or multiple perpetrators, it can become very tempting for investigators to label the accusations as little more than hearsay.”

Dr Salter says the odds are definitely stacked against the victims and the investigators, but the re-emergence of the case against Jimmy Savile, and the arrest of Gary Glitter, show that allegations of abuse will not rest.

“Jimmy Savile passed away more than a year ago, but the investigations into his actions continue. This shows that old sexual abuse cases can be reopened and, even if decades have passed, your crimes could still come back to haunt you.”

Dr Salter says the Jimmy Savile and Gary Glitter cases are following a well-worn path, in which disinterest and inaction suddenly transforms into fury and a flurry of activity.

“Too often, once the media spotlight moves on, this activity dies down leaving the status quo intact, as the needs of vulnerable children and victimised adults continue to go unmet,” he says.

“It is important that, when cases like this capture the interest of the media, they are used as a tool to increase awareness of the existence of organised abuse – particularly amongst police and professionals working in community and youth industries who are likely to come into contact with victims.”


2 November 2012

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