Social Question

OpryLeigh's avatar

If a person is aware of a crime being comitted against a vulnerable person and doesn't speak up, is that person as bad as the criminal (more details inside)

Asked by OpryLeigh (25251points) October 15th, 2012

The Brits among us will know about the hundreds of claims currently being reported against Sir Jimmy Saville who, for the sake of those who don’t know, was a popular TV personality here in the UK up until his death last year at 84 years old.

Now, a year after his death, a very large number of people are claiming that he sexually abused and even raped them when they were teenagers. What is bothering me the most about this case is that, many people (staff at the BBC, hospital staff at the hospitals he used to fund raise for, his body guard and fellow celebrities of the day) are now coming forward to say that they actually witnessed some of these acts against young girls but none of them reported it to the police. Some say that they did report it to the BBC chiefs but it was “brushed under the carpet as an open secret” but so far, it appears that no one actually went to the police which, in my mind, would be the obvious thing to do.

In my opinion,if these claims are all true, the people that witnessed them but didn’t speak up aided the abuse of these children because, if they had gone to the police, it may have stopped him from abusing the next child.

What are your thoughts on people who keep quiet on something terrible they have witnessed with their own eyes?

Feel free to answer this question based on the Jimmy Saville case but keep in mind that it could be about any crime that someone witnesses but doesn’t report

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24 Answers

ucme's avatar

It’s reported all over the news that back in “those days” the culture was an idle, blameless one which allowed these sick fuckers to thrive in their odious habits.
I mean, what the hell did these vulnerable teens see in him anyway, he resembled a stick insect in a blonde wig.
“How’s about that then?” No Jimmy…....just no!!!

OpryLeigh's avatar

@ucme I get that it was more relaxed in those days but does that excuse the people that kept quiet and didn’t at least try and report it to the police?

ucme's avatar

@Leanne1986 Obviously not, I just put it down as a sad sign of those times, where morons seemed to hold positions of power.
Dinosaurs of a bygone age i’d like to think.

OpryLeigh's avatar

@ucme For some reason it is really bothering me that people are almost bragging that they knew what went on but kept quiet.

wonderingwhy's avatar

If you believe what you’ve witnessed being done is a crime, report it, even anonymously; that’s better than nothing. For those who witnessed what they believe is a crime and don’t report it, unless the safety of their lives and to an extent their livelihood are legitimate concerns, I’d generally consider it as a (not necessarily personal) moral, but not legal, failing that they choose not to report it, that doesn’t always mean to the police.

In this case, based solely on what the OP’s presented – I know nothing about it beyond that, it sounds like a lot of people found their way to scraping the bottom of the morality barrel and did so in a quit self-satisfying manner.

ucme's avatar

@Leanne1986 Yeah, apparently he was close friends with Prince Charles, talk about friends in high places, it’s sickening to hear ever more sordid little secrets come out on a daily basis.

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Coloma's avatar

I agree with @bigfootprint BTW..welcome to Fluther! :-)

Turning a blind eye and a deaf ear upon abuse of any kind makes that person just as sleazy and cowardly as the perpetrators. I’d turn in my own child if need be, there is no excuse for lack of integrity in matters as grave as these.

emilianate's avatar


Of course not. There is a difference between not reporting a murder, or actually going out of your way to help someone murder. One is murder and the other is saving someone. These are not morally equivalent. Both have negative results, accept one is an inaction and the other is an action. You’re trying to say an action is equal to inaction. That simply isn’t true.

Also, in order for your argument to work, it requires an action, and since there is a lack of action you cannot make a proper assessment.

I could say you’re a murderer for every time you don’t donate your last penny to starving kids in Africa. Obviously the moral correctness of an action does not inherently justify it. It requires other forms of justification, i.e self-interest which in this case is lacking.

OpryLeigh's avatar

I kind of understand your point @emilianate but can you see the one I am making that by saying nothing you are enabling the person to continue their crimes?

emilianate's avatar

No, because enabling requires action. It’s like saying if I don’t stop the warlords in Africa from harming innocent people then I’m an enabler. I’d be an enabler only if my actions made it possible for the Warlord to do what he does.

I just didn’t do anything good, doesn’t automatically mean I did bad.

Shippy's avatar

Yes, because if one doesn’t speak up the person continues without retribution. In that way they are enabled to carry on without pause.

Coloma's avatar

Some years ago I spotted an extremely underweight draft horse alone in a field that was clearly starving. No other observing neighbors did a thing about it. I hounded animal control but sadly, one day, a few weeks later the horse was down and dying in the field. I was livid.

How the FUCK does someone ignore a starving horse in the middle of high end “gentlemans ranch estate” properties where everyone lives on a minimum of a half million dollar property?

I have never been so sick at heart in my life. This magnificent animal dead all because people were too fucking lackadaisical to intervene, waiting for someone else to do it.

Ron_C's avatar

We just had a similar issue with Penn State University. One of the assistant coaches was apparently abusing teenage boys for years. The head coach reported him to the board of directors then dropped the subject.

The head coach, Joe Paterno, was and is a personal hero of mine. The assistant coach Mr. Sandusky had been sentenced to what is likely to be in prison for the rest of his life.

Paterno was fired, and subsequently fired for not making enough fuss about the abuse. The whole story is very sad.

OpryLeigh's avatar

@emilianate The difference is I am unable to stop the warlords of Africa but people that don’t speak up about child abuse do have the ability to do something. Choosing not to take action makes it possible for the criminal to continue so I will respectfully agree to disagree with you.

OpryLeigh's avatar

@Ron_C I have heard that story. At least Paterno did report it, the blame should be with the people he reported it to for not taking further action.

emilianate's avatar


Here is another point. As an example, the government welfare foster care system is full of abusive and neglectful homes. You could think you’re doing a good deed in reporting a case of abuse, only to have your action cause even worse abuse or even death to the child in one of these state foster care programs.

Similarly, you may be putting your own life at risk for intervening. Basically, your ignorance could cause more harm than good which means the safer play for you and the victim is not to act. You can look at it as preventing more harm from happening to the victim or to yourself instead of seeing it as enabling.

lightsourcetrickster's avatar

Child abuse is a tricky issue, not because it’s “simply” child abuse, but because of the unfortunate issues that surround the so-called prevention of it.
Our own Social Services have been damned more than a handful of times for severely failing to protect the interests of the children they were supposed to protect. It’s not just wrong that someone should choose to not say something, it’s also wrong that the organisations that society is supposed to be able to rely on seem to fail the people that really matter and worse is the attitude that they seem to have about their duty to those people – which I’m given to believe is one of sheer ignorance.
Ignorance of the law is no excuse in a court of law, it should also be no excuse outside a court of law. Maybe if the people we relied on did their jobs more efficiently….

Still…whilst I can see the point that mentioning a crime being committed may be of detriment, I’m of the opinion that in the majority of cases, a crime does need to be reported.

As for the whole Jimmy Saville thing, I do wonder what Esther Rantzen’s attitude is now that she’s been reported to have allegedly known about his – er…activities… Founder of Childline….not looking too great.

OpryLeigh's avatar

@emilianate I am sure there are cases where saying something does do more harm than good but I also think that these are less common than the times when saying something prevents more wrong doing. If I was ever in any doubt as to whether I should speak up I would have to ask myself, what would I do if it was my child that someone witnessed being hurt in any way. Would I want them to speak up? Fuck, yes I would. Worse still, how would I feel if I found out that someone knew my child was being harmed and didn’t speak up? I would probably commit a crime myself.

wundayatta's avatar

What is the age of consent over there in the UK?

There was a lot of male coercion of women going on in those days all over the place. Probably still is, but nowadays you get sexual harassment training and hopefully more people know it’s not cool to pressure subordinates into sex.

Still, if you think the man and woman are both of legal age, it can be awful hard to know what is going on. On the other hand, if they really are children, then of course people should report it. However, I think when a lot of people are depending on someone for a livelihood, it can be easy to find ways to justify their behavior. Everyone may be looking around to someone else to do the reporting. No one wants to be alone in the process. It’s a very risky position. A lot of people are wimps.

augustlan's avatar

I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say they’re equal to the criminal, but they’re still pretty fucking bad. This played out in my own life, in a very big way. An uncle regularly sexually abused me until I was 13 years old. Nearly everyone in my family knew it, but no one reported him to the police or even kicked him out of the house. Since my uncle was clearly mentally ill, I actually blame my mother more than I blame him. He was, in some way I don’t understand, unable to help himself. She certainly could have helped me (and others he abused), but she didn’t.

OpryLeigh's avatar

@wundayatta The age of consent over here is 16. This man is being accused of messing around with children as young as 12.

@augustlan I’m sorry

jordym84's avatar

@emilianate I have to disagree with you. Although I wouldn’t go as far as saying that failing to report a crime should bear the same weight as committing the crime itself, when it comes to child abuse, if there is ever the slightest bit of doubt, I would say “err on the side of caution.” All too often you hear stories of people being aware of crimes being committed against defenseless children who don’t report it to someone until the issue has come to light some other way and then it’s usually too little too late because the damage’s already been done and repeated more times than it should have. If there’s even the slightest possibility of protecting another child from being harmed by these sick people who’ve already hurt other kids, then, in my mind, the choice here should be clear. I’m a very understanding and reasonable person, but when it comes to stuff like this, there is only one thing to do and that is to report it to the appropriate entities. If it turns out that the person was innocent, great (it’s easier to clean up their reputations than it is to erase abuse from a child’s memory), but unfortunately, more often than not, they turn out to be guilty as charged.

@augustlan I’m sorry you had to go through that =/

augustlan's avatar

Thanks, guys. I’m ok now. :)

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