For some years, critics have commented that the trend in ‘reality TV’ will end with someone being killed for public entertainment. Strangely, when it did happen on British TV last Thursday night, nobody commented.
The three-part BBC2 series The Hunt for Britain’s Paedophiles is so ghoulish that even champions of the child-protection industry have avoided comment. The series has regaled the public with barely disguised child pornography with such relish that it is difficult to see the difference between the emotional charge of outrage or titillation the filmmakers are trying to provoke. But they saved the best till last.
Joining a police raid on a sex offender, the BBC was thrilled that ferret-keeper Mark Hansen allowed them to film him in situ while his overstuffed council flat was turned upside down. To the filmmakers’ delight, Hansen spoke frankly about his perverse compulsion and his life of prison terms punctuated by police surveillance.
All parties concerned adopted the cod-psychology of sex-offender treatment, with its central proposition that offenders are not in control of their urges. Hansen admitted what he did was wrong, but claimed that he couldn’t help himself. The police reduced the proposition to cliché: ‘The leopard doesn’t change his spots.’ Only later did one inspector complain that if the offender can’t help himself, are they supposed to provide a paedophile support group?
But is there really a social type called ‘paedophile’, who is driven by irresistible psychological drives to commit sexual offences? Surely it is wrong to speak of ‘a paedophile’, but rather of someone who commits the act of paedophilia. It is an act of moral depravity, no doubt, but the desire to cordon off the paedophile wing of society, just as we have the sex offenders’ wing of the prison, is a way of reaching for moral absolutes in an age where there are few to be found.