It seems we can hardly move for news of sex scandals and allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour at the moment. The cases may be in different sectors – the media, politics, the church – but they share two common characteristics. The first is that at the centre is a man who was powerful in his own organisational context. That power may have been a product of formal position. It may have been the product of particular skills and expertise. Or it may have been the product of perceived popularity and broader socio-political connections. The second characteristic is that the alleged behaviours took place some time ago, and may have taken place over an extended period of time.
This leads to a third characteristic – related to the second – that in at least two of the cases there are plausible claims that people within the organisation knew about the issue or had suspicions but these were not treated seriously, reported formally or investigated adequately, and the whole issue was covered up. And, once again, as has been apparent since Watergate, the cover up can do just as much damage – albeit damage of a qualitatively different type – as the original offences.
You could also add a fourth point, which is that once the news story broke the primary focus soon shifted from where it should have been – establishing the nature of the (alleged) behaviours and their impact on the victims – to the organisational implications. The length and breadth of the cover up is of more interest to the media than the consequences of harassment or abuse for those it afflicts. For the BBC and the Liberal Democrats this is explicable because the Savile and Rennard cases offer opponents and critics fresh ammunition with which to carry out a new round of attacks. It may be explicable, but that doesn’t make it right. [Read more...]