Complaint Ignored for Decades Is Heard at Last in BBC Abuse
At least six former students have told the British news media that Mr. Savile assaulted them in places that included his Rolls-Royce and the school’s dormitories, and in London on school-approved “treats.” ‘If he gets the chance, he’ll touch you up. He’ll put his hand up your skirt, his hand up your shirt, he’ll pinch your bum, he’ll stick his tongue down your throat.’ ” Finally, the day before ITV, a British television network, broadcast the documentary that exposed the allegations against Mr. Savile, The Sun went ahead with an article about Ms. Cogger. But she is still haunted by what happened, and by the years of having to bear it alone. “They pimped us out,” she said of the teachers at Duncroft. “He was a big, powerful man with a big voice, and we had no voices.”
LONDON — No one listened to Deborah Cogger’s story. Not her teachers, who dismissed it as no big deal. Not her social worker, who accused her of making it up. Not the newspapers she called decades later, which said it was too explosive to publish. Deborah Cogger was a teenager in reform school where, she says, Jimmy Savile molested her and others.
It was not until this fall, nearly 40 years after she left a reform school in Surrey, England, that Ms. Cogger finally got anyone to believe her account of how she and other girls there were routinely molested by one of Britain’s most powerful celebrities, the eccentric, cigar-chomping television host Jimmy Savile.
“If you moaned about it, you were told not to say those awful things about Jimmy — ‘Oh, that’s just Jimmy, that’s his way; he loves you girls,’ ” said Ms. Cogger, 52. If you said he had touched your breasts, she added, “they’d say, ‘Don’t be wicked, he would never do that.’ ”
The revelation last month that Mr. Savile, who died last year, was most likely a child sex abuser with perhaps hundreds of victims has profoundly shocked a country that now acknowledges that all the signs were there, if anyone had cared to see them.
The disclosures have spurred a broad criminal inquiry involving numerous police departments and caused institutions, including schools, hospitals and the BBC, to investigate their ties to Mr. Savile. The disclosures have also provoked a crisis of management and responsibility inside the BBC and forced Prime Minister David Cameron to order two new inquiries into the handling of a sexual abuse scandal in Wales several years ago.
Hundreds of people have reported their own experiences to abuse hot lines. In addition, profound senses of discomfort and guilt were felt among those who knew, hired, admired, watched, welcomed, solicited charity from or cheerfully put young people in the path of Mr. Savile. And on Saturday, the chief executive of the BBC, George Entwistle, became the latest casualty, resigning after an uproar over a BBC program on the Wales scandal that wrongly implicated a former Conservative Party politician.
The disclosures have also highlighted how much Britain’s attitude toward sexual abuse has changed since Mr. Savile’s heyday, in the 1970s and ’80s, a time when it was not uncommon for women to be groped and harassed at work, and when show business celebrities openly leered at, if not preyed on, the teenage girls who idolized them.
“There was a massive cultural difference then,” said Donald Findlater, director of Stop It Now, which works to prevent child sex abuse. “We hadn’t really properly discovered child abuse yet.”
But, along with increasingly strict legislation, attitudes have swung drastically in the other direction — to a fault, some believe. In Britain, police background checks are now required of anyone working with children, including parents who volunteer in schools. Teachers are advised not to be alone with students and to be wary of touching them.
Some playgrounds refuse admission to adults without children. Some schools forbid parents to photograph sports events or plays, lest the pictures end up in the wrong places. In 2000, a tabloid antipedophile campaign led to vigilante attacks in which, at one point, a crowd confused the words pedophile and pediatrician and vandalized the home of an innocent doctor.
Given the current climate, it is hard to believe that Mr. Savile could have gotten away with so much for so long, even in a society burdened by collective, willful blindness. But the account of Ms. Cogger shows how for victims, the abuse was compounded by the realization that anyone who complained would be ignored, scoffed at or punished.
Ms. Cogger is not the only one from the reform school, the Duncroft Approved School for Girls, to have come forward with a tale of what Mr. Savile did and how he got away with it. At least six former students have told the British news media that Mr. Savile assaulted them in places that included his Rolls-Royce and the school’s dormitories, and in London on school-approved “treats.”
“Jimmy treated Duncroft like a pedophile sweet shop,” one former student, Toni Townsend, told The Daily Mirror.
In 2007, the Surrey police investigated Mr. Savile’s conduct at Duncroft, even detaining and questioning him. But he was never charged.
Duncroft, which closed in the 1980s — it is now a luxury apartment complex — was a privately run boarding school, operating under state control, for academically promising but unruly girls. Ms. Cogger was sent there in 1974, when she was 14.
Her childhood was chaotic. When she was 12, she explained in several telephone interviews, she overheard a shocking family secret: the woman she thought was her mother was actually her aunt. Ms. Cogger’s real mother, one of 13 children at home, had given birth at 15 and relinquished the baby to her older sister.
The disclosure sent her into a dark period. “I just kept running away,” Ms. Cogger said. “They put me in Duncroft because no one wanted me.....”
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