An Phoblacht 2 - 2022 small

24 August 2000 Edition

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Mob rule will not save the children

An Phoblacht's MICK DERRIG addresses The News of the World's controversial `name and shame' campaign against paedophiles in the wake of the killing of English child Sarah Payne. Derrig argues that such an approach is misdirected, misinformed and ignores the real threats to children, which are almost always much closer to home.

There ARE dangers that children face in modern urban societies and all parents should be aware of them. The reality is that the dangers to children highlighted by the News of the World ``campaign'' are among the rarest
There are doors you go through that change you. It is a clear ``before and after'' event. Being a parent is probably one of the most profound of those events. I can only relate to the profound feelings of a father; I can't begin to get my head around what it means being a mother, having that physical connection with your child.

It isn't in nature's plan that you bury your children - they should see you off the planet. The death of a child is every parent's fear. It motivates you from the first minute this inert little human doll is handed to you in the hospital. So small, but they change everything in your life. Watching them grow is the joy that transcends everything.

It is the state of nature, I believe, to worry about your kids, to get panic attacks when you don't know where they are for a second. I believe these ideas aren't socially constructed but are put there by millennia of ruthless evolution. Those early humans who didn't worry about their offspring had their offspring eaten. Evolution is like that.

We are, basically, descended from ancestors who took good care of their kids. That is why the death of a child looms out of the darkness to terrify any parent. I know people in my circle who have lost children to illness. I don't know anyone who has lost their child to murder. For most of you it will be the same. Thankfully, the murder of children in this society is mercifully rare. This is undoubtedly the best time in history to be a wee one, providing you are in the Northern hemisphere, part of ``developed society''.

Child murder is rare; child murder by a stranger is rare to the point of being of the statistical scale of likely dangers that your child will face. Figures available for Britain show that such horrific crimes have fallen in the last 20 years when compared to the previous 20 years.

Had you not known that, you could have thought that there has been an alarming rise in child murders in Britain over the last few years. The violence in Portsmouth that followed the News of the World's ``name and shame'' campaign against paedophiles was, surely, indicative of a massive upsurge in the murder of children. Like most lynch mobs, they are mistaken and misled. Lynch mobs usually get the wrong guy - as was the case in at least one incident in Portsmouth.

The conduct of the News of the World has been shameful, even for its own low standards. To generate an amoral panic over this can only be explained by the need to sell more copies. There are also right wing politicans in Britain who see the benefit of lynch law as an Orwellian distraction.

In terms of protecting children from the few men (almost always it is men who commit stranger murder of children) who would commit this most awful of crimes, then there are a few crimes where people should not be released until there is no doubt remaining that they pose no threat.

Just as the right wing are wrong to invoke lynch law as a tool of child protection, then the liberal cognoscenti are hopelessly wrong in making Myra Hyndley a cause célèbre on the basis of her gender.

One's guideline should always be the Next Door Test. If they are safe to get out, can they move in next door to my kids?

Ms Hyndley BA? Don't think so. No one has ever campaigned on behalf of her co-murdered Ian Brady - he's banged up for the duration.

The men who were ``named and shamed'' were, in the main, men who had been convicted of sexual offences against children. Again, it is entirely human to be repelled and angered by anyone who would violate a child in that way. Again, the facts do not support the tabloid hysteria of a vast prowling army of dirty old men in raincoats in swingparks.

Most children who are sexually abused are abused by a family member - again usually male. The archetypal abuse case is that of the stepfather/boyfriend sexually abusing the pubescent stepchild. The incidents of extra-familial/stranger sexual abuse of children are rare. ``Rare'' does not mean non-existent, but in the scheme of awful things that could befall your child, it way down the list of probabilities.

In Western societies, children live lives that are safer now than at any time in human history. They live lives that are much safer than those of the billions of children who live in brutal poverty in the south of the planet.

There ARE dangers that children face in modern urban societies and all parents should be aware of them. The reality is that the dangers to children highlighted by the News of the World ``campaign'' are among the rarest.

Children who are killed are typically killed by their parents-usually by their mothers. A system for early detection of post-natal depression (a high causative factor in infanticide) would go much further to protect children. But the need for more family centres, more social workers doing preventive work with parents in crisis and children at risk doesn't make the headlines.

It's dull, soul destroying, heartbreaking and necessary work.

The people who have clinical responsibility for child protection usually end up burned out or fatally blamed for the ONE mistake they made in a 20-year career.

Norman Tebbit once said that the only thing wrong with Britain was social workers. The truth is that there aren't enough social workers, just as there aren't enough nurses or paramedics. No one blames paramedics for someone dying of a cardiac arrest because they were rushing to another one at the same time.

There are social policy changes that would enhance a culture of child safety and child welfare in our society.

The News of the World approach does not advance that one iota.

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