The British government is exploiting the odious Gary Glitter to smash freedom of movement and hector governments in the Third World.
The reckoning is still to come. Having been freed after serving 27 months in a Vietnamese prison for committing obscene acts with two girls then aged 11 and 12, 64-year-old Paul Gadd, otherwise known as ‘pop-star paedo’ Gary Glitter, was due to arrive in the UK this morning. Unfortunately for a media and political elite eager for an easy crusade, Gadd’s heart has been fluttering. As I write he remains holed up in Bangkok, refusing to travel, citing ill-health and a possible heart attack.
Yet that hasn’t stopped the British political elite and sections of the media clamouring for new laws and restrictions to keep the likes of Glitter under their watchful eye. If his case ‘proves’ anything, it is that the paedophile panic, so passionately indulged by our leaders, is a threat to the sanity of society and to civil liberties, too.
Since being found guilty in Britain in 1999 on 54 counts of possessing indecent images of children, Gadd’s stardom has leant itself easily to infamy. After serving his four-month sentence in a British jail, he unsurprisingly left the country. Yet from Spain to Cuba to Cambodia, wherever he went the press followed. Over the past nine years, Gadd has become nothing less than the poster-boy for the paedophile panic; he has been transformed from a convicted sex offender into the strange-looking, pot-bellied symbol of the global paedophile threat that stalks all of our children.
Given the hysteria his return is likely to provoke, his heart-attack ruse in Bangkok is perhaps understandable. Others argue that his reluctance to board the flight has a malicious intent behind it: his real plan, we are told, is to abscond and continue his vile ways across the globe. To think otherwise of this no doubt horrid individual is difficult. From the stencilled arch of the eyebrows, once an innocent Glam-rock style statement, to the strange tufty beard and shaved head, he now looks every inch the demon.
And courtesy of the media’s 10-year obsession with his every move, his is also the face that can launch a thousand illiberal measures. The campaign to paint him as a one-man threat to the world’s children has been so comprehensive that the British government can threaten to introduce severe new international measures on the back of his sordid sex life. Consider the government’s revised Foreign Travel Orders (FTOs), which will potentially ban convicted sex offenders from travelling abroad.
UK home secretary Jacqui Smith felt moved enough by Gadd’s return to make what amounts to a policy statement: ‘We need to control him, and he will be once he returns to this country. It would certainly be my view that with the sort of record that he’s got, he shouldn’t be travelling anywhere in the world.’ (1) Or as the newspaper columnist Deborah Orr put it, this is an opportunity not to be missed: ‘Glitter’s case is a perfect opportunity for Britain to start practising what it has recently been preaching.’ (2)
What has Britain been ‘preaching’? The possibility of banning convicted sex offenders from travelling abroad was originally part of the New Labour government’s 2003 Sex Offences Bill. This meant that police, providing they could gather evidence that a particular individual with sex offence convictions intended to travel abroad with the intention of committing further offences, could apply for six-month travel prohibitions. Yet as a recent report by End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT) informs us, only two FTOs were applied for between 2003 and 2006.
ECPAT’s Christine Beddoe argues: ‘At the moment the Foreign Travel Orders that we have in place are not being used very much; the police say they’re a bit unwieldy, there’s too much administration.’ (3) And one way to make it easier to use them – as both ECPAT and the Home Office have proposed – is to remove the need to prove intent to commit offences overseas. In short, the fact that someone has been convicted in the past of a sex offence ought to be evidence enough to prevent him from travelling abroad.
The ability to ride roughshod over such quaint notions as rehabilitation and ‘doing one’s time’ – the idea that once someone has been released from prison he is free and equal again – rests on the presumed exceptionality of the paedophile. The motto of contemporary society is: ‘Once a child abuser, always a child abuser.’ These are not deemed criminals, but slaves to uncontrollable passions, individuals forever in thrall to a sexual demiurge. And on the back of keeping these monsters on a leash, the authorities have been rewriting important aspects of the criminal justice system and seeking to undermine free movement.
One doesn’t have to be a friend of the paedophiles or a supporter of the odious Glitter to be concerned by these latest moves. It is worth bearing in mind that there are currently 29,000 individuals on Britain’s Sex Offenders’ Register, and their crimes range wildly from a thirtysomething teacher having an inappropriate fling with a 15-year-old student to far more serious sex offences. Under the current rules, police must suspect a considerable risk of reoffending overseas before imposing a Foreign Travel Order. Yet if the FTOs were to be freed from the need to prove intent, any one of these 29,000 people could be effectively jailed within Britain’s borders on the whim of the authorities, despite being ostensibly ‘free citizens’ who have served their sentences.
Some will say, ‘So what, they’re only paedophiles’ – even though the vast majority are not paedophiles. But that is to miss the point. Smith’s proposals represent an assault on important ideas of justice and on the culture of liberty itself. The argument that we must monitor, put on a register and restrict the movement of everyone who has committed a certain kind of offence undermines the idea that convicts must be allowed to re-enter society upon serving their time. And if the government creates for itself the power to impose FTOs on one-time offenders whom it does not like, who will be next? Football fans can already have their passports confiscated if it’s suspected they will get up to no good overseas. What about the tens of thousands of young Britons who travel to Pakistan every year? Best keep them at home too. Increasing the power of the state to determine who can and cannot leave the country takes us into Soviet-style politics.
Just as the pursuit of nightmarish paedophiles gives shameless politicians a chance to fight the ‘good fight’ domestically, so the campaign against so-called sex tourism represents its transfer to the international sphere. Indeed, be it terrorism, or now child abuse, the politics of fear is one export that Western governments have a monopoly in producing.
So alongside travel bans on convicted offenders, ECPAT is also keen for the authorities to enforce measures to monitor unconvicted British nationals abroad, lest they be tempted to indulge in some sex criminality. It is encouraging closer cooperation between anti-abuse non-governmental organisations and the UK government, and is calling for the presence of British police in certain sex tourist hotspots (Australia already posts police forces in some Far East countries). Think of it as Child Abuse Colonialism. As ECPAT puts it, if sex tourism is to be tackled, the British government needs to ‘reverse the ideology that if abuse happens overseas then we should simply let the governments “over there” deal with it’ (4).
Underpinning such an assumption is that other countries, in particular Thailand and Vietnam, are incapable of maintaining their own rule of law. Whether it’s due to their being too ‘corrupt’ or simply a result of their poverty, as an ECPAT report argues, apparently Britain needs to intervene at some level to help clean up the paedophile problem in these unwieldy nations.
This is dangerous stuff. Activists and officials seem keen to use the politics of fear to meddle in other, apparently untrustworthy states. Internationalised, the paedophile panic paints other countries as cesspits of abuse and slavery, and it permits the massive simplification of genuine problems of child exploitation. The ECPAT report notes the case of a British national called ‘Martin’ who bought a 12-year-old girl for $800 in 1991, yet it does not interrogate the level of economic underdevelopment that underpins such an exchange between a wealthy Westerner and an impoverished Easterner. This is not to diminish the moral abhorrence of Martin’s act; rather it is to refuse to reduce it to morality alone. Under the newly globalised paedophile panic, complex social and economic problems are simply reduced to a good versus evil battle, where it’s the British authorities versus the paedophile, the British state versus untrustworthy legal systems ‘over there’.
As the media’s eyes focus on Gary Glitter and what he will do next, those of us concerned about justice, freedom and social sanity might do better to keep an eye on the Glitter-obsessed Home Office.
Tim Black is senior writer at spiked.
Rob Lyons said it’s time to tear up the Sex Offenders Register. Tim Black discussed the return of the paedophile panic. Barbara Hewson show how looking at child porn was being equated with rape. Mick Hume railed against the need for a ‘Sarah’s Law’. Or read more at spiked issue: Crime and the law.
(1) GLitter evades deportation by refusing to board flight, Guardian, 20 August 2008
(2) Gary Glitter’s back – but what about all the others, Indpendent, 20 August 2008
(3) ‘Heart attack’ halts Glitter trip, BBC News, 20 August 2008
(4) See Return to Sender: British sex offenders abroad – why more must be done, ECPAT, August 2008
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