The NSPCC doesn’t help kids – it harms them

With its ceaseless promotion of fear and suspicion of adults, the NSPCC undermines organic bonds between generations.

Tim Black

Tim Black

Topics Politics

Friday was a good day for all those with a vested interest in ensuring that we routinely suspect other adults – not to mention ourselves – of posing a danger to society’s young. For there it was, proof (of sorts) that there is a large number of adults with an unhealthy interest in children. The headlines said it all: ‘Child sex abuse convictions rise 60 per cent in six years.’

This piece of cheering news came courtesy of a freedom of information request sent to the Ministry of Justice. The MoJ’s response revealed that where in 2005, 1,363 people were sent down for sexual offences against children, in 2010 judges sentenced a record 2,135 people for sexual offences against children – a rise that no doubt left the offices of the assorted child-protection quangos and charities, financially reliant as they are on stoking up paedophile panics, awash with party poppers and ice-cream floats.

Sadly for those all too inclined to see the spectre of paedophilia just about everywhere, the figures say rather more about the increased state focus on child sex abuse over the past decade or so than they do about some sinister increase in the number of people willing to abuse children. It was as if each horrific, media-saturated case of infanticide, beginning with the killing of eight-year-old Sarah Payne in 2000, was little more than an opportunity for child-protection groups to lobby and politicians to posture. Protecting children from the omnipresent adult threat became a New Labour mission. From a raft of vetting legislation, in which all adults who wanted to work with children were suspect, to the establishment in 2006 of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection unit (CEOP), it was a mission writ large in law. So it is hardly surprising that over the past few years, there has been a rise in the number of people convicted of sexual offences against children.

Responding to Friday’s news, Lisa Harker, head of strategy and development at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), admitted as much. ‘It’s difficult to tell if these figures indicate an increase in the number of sex offences being committed against children’, she said. Not that the NSPCC or CEOP or the countless other organisations committed to portraying adults as potential abusers need worry too much about the reason for the rise in convictions. In fact, it wouldn’t really bother them if conviction rates fell. And the reason for that is that these organisations are a priori convinced that there are a lot of adults out there preying on children, evidence or not.

You see, when an organisation just knows, when it just dogmatically assumes that adults pose a threat to children, it really will see what it wants to see. And in this case that means child-protection campaigners don’t just see a couple of thousand people convicted of a wide range of sexual offences – they also see the vast of army of predatory adults getting away with abusing the nation’s kids, too. So Donald Findlater of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation was happy that more adults were being convicted. But he was unhappy that the number was not higher still. And why? Because ‘it’s still the case that most children who are sexually abused do not report it’.

This is the standard refrain of the child-protection industry: just because you can’t see it, that doesn’t mean that child abuse is not happening. For CEOP chief executive Peter Davies, despite the conviction success, child sexual abuse remains an underreported crime. The NSPCC’s Harker was balder still: ‘It’s still a relatively small number of convictions considering child sex abuse is a big problem.’ This trumping of knowledge by assumption is most clear in the child abuse expert’s metaphor-cum-theory of choice: the tip of the iceberg. ‘What we do know’, Claire Lilley from the NSPCC told the BBC, ‘is that these people who have been convicted for these child-abuse crimes – it is only the tip of the iceberg’.

‘It is only the tip of the iceberg.’ This is an incredible but ubiquitous assertion when it comes to child abuse. It asserts that the relatively few cases of which we are aware are but a mere indication of the mass depravity that lies beneath the surface of society. That we cannot see this child abuse, that there is no legally permissible evidence of its existence, does nothing to dent the zeal of the child-protection industry. On the contrary, the absence of evidence, the sheer dearth of knowledge, forms the basis of campaigners’ absolute certainty that child abuse is widespread. Its invisibility – the ‘secret crime’, as ChildLine founder Esther Rantzen called it – is proof of its existence.

It is not surprising that the NSPCC and Co. are determined to see what they want to see. They only exist on the assumption that adults do pose a considerable threat to children. Challenge the assumption and you challenge the point of their existence. And it is because they exist, both vocationally and financially, on this pernicious assumption – that adults are potentially a threat to children – that it is in their interests to assert, regardless of evidence, that child abuse is a problem that is far more prevalent than anyone realises.

Over recent decades, the NSPCC, as Britain’s leading manufacturer of child-abuse suspicion, has never failed to take an opportunity to sow mistrust among adults. Back in 1990, for instance, with allegations of Satanic Ritual Abuse having already ripped a community apart in Cleveland, the NSPCC decided it was time to issue a ‘Satanic Indicators’ pamphlet to various social service departments. So effective was this nasty piece of suspicion-sowing that social workers in the Orkneys and Rochdale claimed it had influenced their decision to take tens of children away from their families.

That there never was any such thing as Satanic Ritual Abuse, as a 1994 government report confirmed, did not dampen the NSPCC’s enthusiasm for casting abuse-laden aspersions where there was no cause. In fact, if anything it has become increasingly emboldened with each campaign, from its long-running ‘Full Stop’ campaign, in which it helpfully urged the public in 2002 to ‘stop parents getting away with murder’, to its 2005 ‘Talk til it stops’-branded attempt to raise awareness of the pervasiveness of abuse. ‘Each of us’, the NSPCC advised, ‘will either know a child we suspect is being abused or know someone who does’. So successful has been the NSPCC’s multi-million-pound, Saatchi-and-Saatchi-produced PR campaigns that it even won a PR Week award in 2003. Selling suspicion and loathing of one’s fellows has clearly been a winning public-relations strategy.

The NSPCC is only the most prominent proponent of such a socially corrosive miasma. CEOP is another example. Where the NSPCC only receives a portion of its £160million funding from the state, CEOP, as a quangocratic outgrowth of the police force, is an entirely state-funded creation. But, like the NSPCC, CEOP is organisationally committed to ramping up a fear of other adults – especially online, a place where every other Facebook user, it is assumed, is a potential internet groomer. Moreover, given the plans to collapse CEOP into the National Crime Agency, CEOP has an added incentive to try to make the most of Friday’s news about conviction rates: it could be the last chance to convince the government of CEOP’s vital importance. There is nothing conspiratorial about the activities of the NSPCC or CEOP; rather, they are institutionalised expressions of the corrosive suspicion of other adults.

And it is precisely because they express and reinforce a suspicion of other adults that we need to get rid of them. Neither CEOP nor the NSPCC protects children. They damage children. They inhibit adults in positions of care and they sow a poisonous mistrust between adults. Surely it is a better society in which we trust other adults to look out for our kids, than a society, guarded by the likes of CEOP and the NSPCC, in which we suspect other adults of abusing our kids.

Tim Black is senior writer at spiked.

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Topics Politics


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