Unlike Neil Lyndon I was too young to experience the legendary decadence of the 1970s. I did, however, party my way through the chemical kaleidoscope of the late 80s and 90s, a time which bore many similarities. Hedonism was at a premium, good judgment and self-restraint were in scarce supply and, as one of Lyndon’s friends recalled of the previous era, at times it almost seemed like “everybody was fucking everybody”.
In his piece in the Telegraph, Lyndon asks whether people should be worried about how they behaved in his youth. Back then, he says, “the difference between horribly predatory and exploitative criminal acts such as Jimmy Savile’s and our own behaviour was blurred, confused, muddled. We had lost sight of the essential distinction between everybody having a good time together and some people having their abominable idea of a good time at the expense of individuals who couldn’t exercise free, adult choice in the matter.”
He is not the first to tie historic child abuse to the permissive mores of the era, but rarely has the point been put so crassly. To be blunt, I simply don’t buy it. I remember once how my (three male) housemates and I stumbled out of a club pie-eyed in the small hours and, while waiting for the night bus, got chatting to some similarly mashed girls. They asked us if we had any weed, and pretty much invited themselves back to our place.
At some point a kind of collective ripple of realisation ran between us to acknowledge that these really were girls, not women. We let them toke gently on a couple of joints to ease them down from whatever they had taken earlier, then sent them grumbling back to their mums and dads. I never did find out their ages but a few days later they turned up at our door in their school uniforms at lunchtime. I was out, but my horrified mate reported that in the cold light of day they looked 15 at most.
I recount this very mundane story to make a very mundane point. Not having sex with children isn’t really that difficult, if you are any kind of decent human being. Even when they are dolled up in party gear and makeup, you can tell. Even when you’re flying on the finest pharmaceuticals Manchester has to offer, you can still tell. Had any one of us grown men taken one of those girls to our bedrooms – even with her apparent consent – we would have known exactly what we were doing.
So I have little sympathy for any of Lyndon’s acquaintances if any of them are waking in a cold sweat, fearing a knock on the door from Operation Yewtree. Just because someone thought they could get away with it at the time doesn’t mean it was right at the time. Justice delayed is still justice.
However, there is another point on which Lyndon’s article is deeply, grotesquely ill-conceived. I have not seen a single shred of evidence that any of the known victims of Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris, Stuart Hall and others were enthusiastic groupies who threw themselves at their heroes in pursuit of an intimate connection. Of course in the 1970s, just like today, there were hormone-crazed teenage girls, either side of the age of consent, who actively pursued sexual contact with adult crushes, whether pop stars, DJs or their teachers. While it is absolutely the responsibility of the adult to ensure they do not abuse children, this is irrelevant in the cases under discussion because the victims were not carefree libertines inspired by Erica Jong’s notion of the zipless fuck. They were vulnerable victims of abuse, assault and rape.
There must be thousands of women, now in their 50s and 60s, who had teenage encounters with pop stars and celebrities through the 1960s, 70s and 80s. I do not doubt that many were under the age of legal consent at the time. I have personally known several girls and women who would willingly own up to those kinds of experiences. I am not excusing the men who took advantage of them when I note that these women are not now phoning the police to report themselves as victims of historic sex crimes.
Lyndon, and all those making similar points, should go back and read again the testimony of the victims in the trials of Stuart Hall and Rolf Harris, or the inquiry into the crimes of Jimmy Savile. Read about the sick children in hospital beds; the 13-year-olds; the nine-year-old. The notion that this behaviour needs to be understood against a context in which adult women were feeling liberated by Erica Jong is profoundly flawed and offensive.
What we have in Lyndon’s piece is an extended exercise in literal victim blaming. By conflating the victims of serial sexual predators with enthusiastic participants in “a heaving carnival of orgiastic sex”, he is implying that the victims of these criminals were actively complicit in their own abuse. This is a gross slander on the victims themselves, and an appalling misrepresentation of history.
A version of this article first appeared on Ally Fogg’s personal blog