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“Won’t somebody, please ….” June 25, 2006

Posted by smiffy in Uncategorized.

Johann Hari had an interesting piece in The Independent earlier this week, admittedly unlikely to win him many friends, entitled “Paedophiles need support, not persecution”.

Given the impossibility, both in the UK and here, of having a rational debate that even touches on the issue of child abuse you have to, at the very least, give him some credit for engaging with the subject (although one suspects that there might be an element of the deliberate contrarian in it).

The points he makes are pretty straightforward, almost banal. He argues that measures like the so-called “Megan’s Law” and more draconian restrictions on released sex-offenders do little to prevent child abuse; indeed, by making these individuals feel persecuted and by driving dangerous offenders underground, they actually serve to heighten the risk of their reoffending.  He also highlights the scandalously low level of therapy and rehabilitation services available to offenders, both in prison and after release.

Contrast this with the front of today’s News of the World (the link will likely only work for the rest of this week) which pictures two allegedly convicted child abusers (I only say ‘allegedly’ because I take nothing that paper says at face value), one awaiting sentence, the other recently released filming young girls feeding ducks in the park. The story purports to show why the UK needs ‘Sarah’s Law’ (a rehash of the Megan’s law), which would ensure that parents knew of any sex offenders residing in their area. Interestingly, though, the story ends with the line:

WE have altered the pictures of the girls in the park to conceal their identities. If you think they are YOUR children contact Surrey Police on 0845 125 2222.

Wouldn’t this imply that the NOTW photographers didn’t actually inform the parents of the children in the park that the two old guys with cameras were actually dangerous paedophiles, and were more interested in getting the big story than with child protection? At the very least, it calls their sincerity in the ‘Sarah’s Law’ campaign into some doubt.

The contrast between the two pieces couldn’t be more stark or, indeed, more depressing. It should be a fairly obvious truism that if you care about the victims of crime, your priority should be to support those policies which lead to the creation of less victims, not more.  However, if any politician actually made the same, fairly reasonable, arguments as Johann Hari’s, they’d be denounced as ‘soft on paedos’ and find themselves trapped in a burning windmill surrounded by enraged villagers wielding pitchforks, burning torches and copies of the News of the World (with some other prurient paedophile story on the front page).

This doesn’t just relate to child abuse, although that’s the issue which people tend to get most heated about. If applies to the wider debate around crime and crime prevention.  There seems to be a fear among ‘the left’ or ‘liberals’ or whatever you want to use to describe people who actually use their brains once in a while to argue against a ‘tough on crime’ policy or even to question whether it actually works. To do so, it seems, is to ignore the victims of crime and to position oneself as a ‘do-gooder’ or a ‘bleeding heart’.  There’s certainly far too great a willingness to concede that being ‘tough on crime’ and being ‘tough on criminals’ are necessarily one and the same. And they aren’t.

The point should be made, and made forcefully, that it’s those who seek, above all, to prevent crime in the first instance by looking at its causes and proposing solutions, and supporting the rehabilitation of criminals who have already entered the penal system who have the interests of victims at heart. The Daily Mail/Evening Herald/News of the World ranters, by contrast, seem rather indifferent to the actual situation of victims provided that they can put them on the front page and call for hashers punishments (regardless of how effective these punishments might be). And if someone is more likely to reoffend after being brutalized by a penal system that provides little or no opportunities for retraining, rehabilitation or integration back into society, well, that just goes to show how evil they were in the first place, doesn’t it?

The next time, though, that the News of the World runs another story about the great Paedo-geddon (hat-tip to Chris Morris) facing society, think back to the two articles from this week and consider which is more serious about preventing the creation of further victims in the future.


1. Wednesday - June 25, 2006

I have to say, Smiffy, that in the six years or so that NOTW has been running its anti-paedophile campaign, it has never once crossed my mind that perhaps they could be doing it out of a genuine concern for the children.


2. WorldbyStorm - June 25, 2006

I’d take a fairly hard line on this as a matter of public safety – but in doing so believe that the media campaigns you mention are entirely counterproductive and worse. In some respects it seems to me that this is an issue beyond the criminal, although heinous criminal acts are involved, and into something approaching the medical, since abusers appear to be difficult to rehabilitate. Those who aren’t able to be rehabilitated should perhaps be moved from the criminal system to secured medical facilities. However where there is a clear possiblity that therapy or rehabilitation can work new controls should be considered and carefully monitored release into the community could be considered. But that calls for funding, therapy and indeed possibly new facilities and so on. Not an easy sell.

Putting aside motivation, or the casual basis for such behaviour, the issue is to be able to identify such behaviour and prevent or preempt it. Most disturbing is the way the media slants the figures so strangers are seen as the main threat, whereas it’s predominantly in the family home, or broader domestic environment that abuse occurs. Yet, interestingly the media is almost never called on that…


3. John Carroll - June 25, 2006

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