The paedophile panic: a product of elite hysteria
The government’s sex offenders disclosure scheme should remind us that it isn’t ‘the mob’ who are obsessed with paedos.
And so the British authorities’ sick obsession with child sex abuse continues.
After a year-long pilot in Warwickshire, Stockton-on-Tees and parts of Cambridgeshire, the UK Home Office’s sex offender disclosure scheme is set to go nationwide. What this means is that parents will be able to get information from the police about anyone who has access to their children. In short, they can check whether that person is a threat to their child – that is, whether they are a paeodophile. A kindly neighbour offering sweets, the guy who plays football with the kids at the local park, the woman at the nearby newsagents… it’s official: all can now be legitimately viewed as potential threats to YOUR children.
For deathly-looking home secretary Alan Johnson the rolling out of the sex offender disclosure scheme was akin to the launch of a new fleet of luxury, ocean-going ships: ‘The UK already has one of the most robust systems in the world for the management of sex offenders’, he announced yesterday, with barely concealed pride. ‘We’ve already seen that children are better protected and sex offenders more effectively managed because of this scheme, which is why it is rolling out nationwide.’
Yet despite the rhetorical appeal to ‘protection’ or ‘safety’, these kinds of measures do not reassure people. In fact, they do precisely the opposite: they encourage fear and foster suspicion. They suggest that if people aren’t worried about the lolly-pop man, or the neighbour offering to run the kids to school, they ought to be. To not fear, to not suspect other adults, is subtly transformed from being a recognition of commonality and basic human solidarity into an abrogation of parental responsibility.
Not that we should be surprised by the Home Office’s willingness to inculcate and institutionalise fear and suspicion. The paedophile panic, right from its emergence in its current form during the 1980s, was always an elite panic, a hysteria endorsed and exacerbated by – in no particular order – government officials, police officers, social workers, left-wing activists, children’s charities and both the broadsheet and tabloid press. The obsession with child sex abuse was not, as we are sometimes led to believe, a popular phenomenon: it did not arise in the depths of the social world, it trickled down from the top.
After all, as Brendan O’Neill wrote four years ago, it wasn’t the mob who, in the 1980s, rounded up adults in Cleveland, believing them to be practising ritual Satanic abuse of children. That was the act of social workers. And it wasn’t a paedo-suspecting mass who spent time churning out verbiage on the supposed existence of Satanic and witchcraft sects. That was the work of Marxism Today.
During the 1990s the same pattern of elite-sponsored fear and the subsequent issuing of false accusations was all too apparent. And again, it wasn’t local communities coming together to unmask the paedophiles at nearby children’s homes, such as Bryn Estyn in North Wales – it was an unholy alliance of purpose-seekers, from the police to left-leaning journalists. Dave Jones, then the manager of Southampton Football Club, was only the most famous casualty of these witch-hunts; the lives of many more innocent, well-intentioned care workers were also tainted with the nasty, grubby suspicions of officials and journalists.
However, these wrong-headed, pernicious pursuits of fantasy child sex abusers did nothing to dampen the ardour of the paedophile-obsessed. In the UK, we now have that unwieldy testament to elite suspicion, the Sex Offenders Register, a document that defies both natural justice, inasmuch as punishment is lifelong, and common sense, given the sheer range of offenders listed. And since 2006, any adult who works with children, anywhere from schools to youth clubs, now has to be vetted. Thanks to the Home Office, and the army of campaign groups such as the NSPCC, suspecting another adult of being a paedophile is not exceptional – it is routine.
The fact that even the popular face of the campaign behind the sex offender disclosure scheme, Sara Payne (the mother of Sarah Payne, the young girl killed in 2001 by a convicted paedophile), was chosen by the government as its official Victim Champion, illustrates the elite origins of this sorry fascination with child sex abuse. It must be galling for the Home Office, then, that despite the formalisation of suspicion and fear, despite the almost-weekly press releases by those scaremongers-in-chief at the NSPCC, so few people actually bothered to take advantage of the sex offender disclosure scheme during its trial. In fact, there were only 315 applications over a whole year, a figure so low that even the Home Office wondered whether the scheme was worth it.
The Home Office, campaign groups, charities, tabloids and broadsheets seem oblivious to the fact that their attempts to ‘protect children’ not only have a limited effect – they also corrode adult relationships. One does not just suspect the dodgy-looking fella at the park; one is encouraged to suspect neighbours and even friends. These measures undermine trust. Trusting another adult, whether the neighbour with the sweets or the guy at the park, is not something that can be guaranteed by an official intermediary, police or otherwise. It relies, rather, on assuming that other adults are like oneself and will behave likewise. And given that almost all of us are not interested in sexually abusing children, why should we constantly suspect others?
Tim Black is senior writer at spiked.