It’s true, 83-year-old men look a little sad and worn. Even the famous ones, like Stuart Hall, who was recently convicted in the UK of historic sexual assaults on a string of girls, one only nine years old. The retired sports and TV announcer was sentenced, however, to a laughable stint: only 15 months for all crimes. That sentence, which brought widespread outrage, is under review.
Poor thing. White hair, an octogenarian, why bin him up with career criminals?
For one thing, because he is a career criminal. What he did was a crime – yes, even in the olden days when Hall’s hair was blond (see photo above) – and he did it more than once. Probably, there are more women who did not want to come forward, women whose memories carry Hall’s hands, his voice, his tongue. Ewww.
Another reason to bang him up with men like him is that for so long, he got away with it. Just like Jimmy Savile, he threatened the girls: no one will believe you, people will hate you, I’m too powerful to be touched. If you tell, I’ll kill you. Pathetic lies, those of a con man, but of course he wasn’t playing on a level field. He coerced children. He got away with his deceptions. The children did not. They have carried fear, shame and trauma for decades. Hall thought he got off scot-free . . . until the allegations began. Then he blustered. His accusers were lying, they wanted money, he was no Jimmy Savile, until suddenly, at trial, he reversed his tack and admitted the now-grown women were telling the truth.
Clearly he felt the evidence against him was overwhelming. He hoped the judge would be lenient. So far Hall has gotten off lightly. But he should not.
His victims, the survivors, kept silence most of their lives. That’s an enormously heavy weight to place on a child. No wonder they had nightmares. They thought they would grow out of it, be able to forget, but trauma can seal memories so they recur at odd moments. The girls were never really free of Hall’s odor, his smarminess, his searching fingers.
Floating out there are ideas for products to “prevent” rape: hairy stockings, a fishhook-supplied gizmo . . . that one guaranteed to earn its wearer a beating from an enraged rapist. The truth is, nothing prevents attack, not the victim’s clothing, not age, not condition or place or habits. Nothing can prevent rape except rapists. Should they choose en masse not to rape, bingo. But absent such a revolution, or a way to alter their brains so that rape – that crime of domination, humiliation, terror and control – becomes repugnant, we as a species are sort of stuck with punishment.
Which is why punishment is important. Just because Stuart Hall made it past his 80th birthday is no reason why he should not be forced to pay back the years of pain he caused. His pain footprint is large enough. He was given years of success, money-making, respect – while the girls he assaulted tried to move past their dread.
We don’t know what it was like when he attacked, but we can imagine. Back then, Hall was no white-haired dodderer. He was a muscled ex-amateur athlete, strong, determined (Crystal Palace FC once offered Hall, then at university, a contract to play). He outweighed each girl by many kilos, was much taller than they.
The intervening years have changed his appearance, yes. They should not be used as an excuse.
We often see defendants when they look a bit pathetic. It is the defense attorney’s job to make clients more sympathetic-looking, someone the judge and jury will feel empathy for, even pity. We rarely see them as they appeared to their victim: reckless, heedless, cruel, conniving, enraged, perhaps drunk. A recent example is George Huguely, convicted of murdering his small-boned on-off girlfriend Yeardley Love. Here is George Huguely as he appeared after his arrest, hours after Love died. Heavyset, just coming off the alcohol that often made him a mean drunk. Here is a photo of the cleaned-up George at trial: he’s lost weight (no alcohol or steroids in jail), his shorter hair is cut in a little-boy fringe, and he wears a Bambi-caught-in the-headlights expression. He doesn’t look like the same man who terrified Love and brutally beat her and left her to die. But he was.
Stuart Hall has been allowed to be carefree and respected for too long. It is his victims who were imprisoned. It’s time to remember what he was like when he was a serial assaulter, how terrifying those assaults and threats must have been, and clap him in prison for much longer than 15 months.