As increasingly sickening details emerge about the criminally abusive behaviour of Jimmy Savile and others in prominent performing arts positions, I can’t help thinking about the training “industry” and its potential dangers to children and young people.
Of course the vast majority of people who train under 18s in schools, classes, youth theatres, residentials and so on are – thank goodness – decent, straight-up sort of people who would no more dream of sexually molesting a child than they would of burgling a house or committing bigamy or arson.
But there are tens of thousands of men and women involved in developing performing arts skills in minors. Statistically a handful of these will have instincts and habits which make them totally unsuitable to be anywhere near children.
For some years now everyone working with children has had to be CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) checked. It helps.
But remember that, as a wise local authority child protection adviser once pointed out to me, a CRB check shows only that you have never been caught. It doesn’t show that you don’t have the potential to commit a child protection offence.
There has never been a time when you are more likely to be listened to and taken seriously. No one should get away with child abuse. Ever.
He made that observation in the 1990s, before Ian Huntley was convicted of the murder of two children in Soham, Cambridgeshire in 2002. Huntley was employed as school caretaker and had been CRB checked. But he’d never been found guilty of a child protection offence, so he was clear.
The same adviser told me that in a school the size of the one I was teaching in at the time (about 200 employees) sooner or later there would be a ‘child protection incident’ because these people are out there in every group in society – especially, of course, amongst adults who choose to work with children. Chilling stuff.
Worrying as it is, it applies to performing arts training just as much as to any other form of youth work – arguably even more because some aspects of the training may need more use of touch than if you’re teaching, say, maths or French which rely less on physicality.
Now the last thing I want to do is to start a McCarthy-style witch-hunt – and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is a salutary lesson in what happens when these things get out of hand. No one wants the careers of innocent people destroyed by false, malicious or hysterical accusations.
Nevertheless, I know that, given the numbers involved, there must have been incidents in the past which never came to light. And young people taking part in residential summer schools must be at the most risk – especially some years ago, before child protection was so widely discussed.
So my message – and it’s a sober one – is this: If you took part in a performing arts training event in your youth at which things happened to you which shouldn’t have done, then speak out. Now.
There has never been a time (a tiny silver lining to the horrible Savile cloud?) when you are more likely to be listened to and taken seriously. No one should get away with child abuse. Ever.
If you need or want to talk, these organisations can help you:
- National Association for People Abused in Childhood, www.napac.org.uk
- Kidscape, www.kidscape.org.uk
- ChildLine, www.childline.org.uk
- NSPCC, www.nspcc.org.uk
Meanwhile, what can the rest of us who work in performing arts training do to make sure that every single child in our charge is safe?