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Castrate this sick debate
Not another British paedophile panic?
|If we are to have a public register of sex offenders, why not of convicted murderers, wife-beaters, racists, drunk drivers, drug offenders or burglars?
|What about the principles of criminal justice that say offenders should be punished for what they have done, not what they might do or fantasise about doing in the future, and that those who serve their sentence have paid their debt to society?
|And leaving aside the contentious issue of whether 'chemical castration' works (and whether giving volunteer offenders a few mood-altering drugs deserves that dramatic description), when did free societies become comfortable with the notion of using medical treatments to 'cure' crime?
As we argued on spiked since the Sarah's Law controversy began seven years ago, these measures are all worse than useless when it comes to protecting us from the biggest danger to our children's freedom: fear.
Seen in this context, it is arguable that the government's compromise on a sort-of-Sarah's-Law will give us the worst of both worlds. It will reinforce the notion that we are besieged by a spectral army of predatory paedophiles and that Something Must Be Done. Yet at the same time, its insistence that most information must be kept secret, and the threat to prosecute single mothers who make public information they are given about a boyfriend's record, can only further feed public fears and paranoia about invisible paedophiles. The Sex Offenders Register itself is perhaps the worst culprit here, a blunt instrument that is widely perceived as a secret list of 30,000-odd dangerous perverts, yet includes not just rapists and violent paedophiles but everybody from flashers and downloaders of illegal internet porn to teenagers who have under-age sex and women teachers who seduce young men.
As the paedophile panic has continued regardless of all these holes in the case for further crackdowns, however, it has become clear that there are wider issues that need to be addressed. It is not a matter of opposing this or that aspect of the campaign. There is a pressing need to question the very basis of this unhealthy obsession, and try to castrate the 'paedo' debate altogether.
What does it really say about the perverse mindset of our society that so many should now want to turn child sexual abuse into such an all-consuming political issue? It looks like a morbid symptom of a culture afflicted by an epidemic of paedophile-phobia - a condition that has been spread from the top echelons of the state downwards.
Of course, as Frank Furedi points out in his latest Really Bad Ideas column, these things are not genuine 'phobias' or mental illnesses (see Really Bad Ideas: Phobias, by Frank Furedi). What we might call paedophile-phobia is more a sign of a cultural and political sickness in a society that has lost its sense of purpose and direction and turned in on itself, always focusing on the darker side of human experience and fantasising about the basest behaviour being the norm. A culture that tends to interpret everything in terms of vulnerability and victimhood inevitably sees children as in need of ever-more protection.
The public obsession with paedophiles is also an expression of how deeply many of us now mistrust each other, and indeed ourselves, in a fragmented society of insecure individuals. The paedophile becomes not just the shadowy stranger out there, but the beast within the community, within the family, maybe even within you. This is the fear the government's latest 'awareness' campaign about abuse at home can only feed. It is already having a destructive impact on not just adult-child but also adult-adult relationships, as men feel wary of volunteering to work with kids and children are 'protected' from unsupervised contact with grown-ups. Stranger danger? There seems little danger of many children even meeting a stranger today (see Who would be a boys' football coach?, by Josie Appleton).
When it comes to spreading these fashionably poisonous prejudices about the human condition, leading voices on the 'other' side of the paedophile debate - such as those in the child protection industry opposed to a fully-fledged Sarah's Law - are at least as bad as its proponents. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), for example, is a semi-state institution dedicated to publicising the alleged threat posed to children by their parents in its multimillion-pound 'Child abuse must stop. Full stop.' PR campaign. The NSPCC has welcomed the new emphasis on raising 'awareness' of familial abuse, and the proposal to limit access to information about paedophiles - because it fears that otherwise dangerous gangs of 'vigilantes' could drive the perpetrators 'underground'.
Here the prevailing view of what people are like is lowered further still, to the point where the paedophiles too become the victims of human passions. These professionals fear 'the mob' (aka the public) even more than they do violent perverts. This is the flipside of misanthropy in the abuse debate: either we are all viewed as potential paedophiles, or as a mob-in-waiting of ignorant bigots eager for an excuse to daub 'paedo' on a paediatrician's door. No doubt some would like to be able to inject people in order to suppress those feelings, too. In any case, the consensus in high places is that one way or another we are not to be trusted and all need to be supervised by the experts, with the help of the police and the thought-police.
The permanent paedophile panic has come to symbolise much that is wrong with the mindset of our society: the degraded state of public and political debate, the self-loathing and mistrust that now shapes influential views of our humanity, and the contempt with which the authorities look down on the public - especially those suspicious parents.
Britain is in danger of becoming known as a nation of paedophile-phobics. Of course paedophile panics are not really a peculiar British characteristic - America has experienced many similar episodes, and the Italians are now caught up in a wild 'Satanic abuse' scare similar to those that took off over here a few years back. But perhaps Britain does lead the field in turning paedophilia into a sordid national and political obsession.
It is as if, amid all the troubled discussion of what 'Britishness' might mean today, some have decided to show the world that we can still get more hysterical about the abuse of children than heartless Johnny Foreigner. Don't it make you proud?
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