In the eyes of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), there is always some new species of child abuse that apparently requires the attention of government officials and the criminal-justice system.
The NSPCC’s latest media campaign, launched today, targets emotional abuse. The NSPCC wants a new ‘Cinderella Law’ that would criminalise certain forms of emotional abuse. One of its spokesmen, John Cameron, said this morning that ‘we must recognise extreme emotional abuse for what it is - a crime - and those who carry it out should be prosecuted’. This campaign represents a new phase in the NSPCC’s attempt to extend the scrutiny of officialdom and experts over family life. For some time now, the child-protection industry has been trying to establish itself as the sole authority on what constitutes emotional correctness in family life. Its scaremongering about a rising tide of emotional abuse is an attempt to create a climate in which the behaviour of what it deems to be ‘emotionally abusive’ mums and dads can be criminalised.
The term ‘emotional abuse’ is really a metaphor used to pathologise any form of parental behaviour that contradicts the NSPCC’s strictures. The concepts of emotional cruelty or emotional abuse can be applied to virtually any kind of ambiguous, emotionally charged encounter within the family unit. Campaigners who are devoted to policing parental behaviour have consciously defined emotional abuse in an amorphous and expansive way. I know of no parent that could honestly state that they have never violated any of the misdeeds that fall under the banner of this new pseudo-crime.
The NSPCC has opted for a definition of emotional abuse that includes some very real and unambiguous acts of harm, such as ‘conveying to a child that they are worthless or unloved’, but also forms of behaviour which, depending on the context, may not be harmful to a child. For example, the NSPCC includes in its definition of emotional abuse ‘making fun’ of what a child says or how he or she communicates with others. I am not sure what universe the NSPCC inhabits, but in the real one making fun of one another is the stuff of family life. When parents and children interact, they are likely to make jokes at each other’s expense. Where does good-natured banter end and destructive verbal joking begin? We can be certain of one thing: the answer to such a question will not be found in a criminal code of law.
The NSPCC covers all bases with its definition of emotional abuse. It condemns parents who don’t take their children seriously or who wilfully or otherwise neglect their kids; but if you take your child too seriously, and become obsessed with their welfare or achievements, you also risk being accused of emotional abuse.