Scouting for controversy: why paedo panic is bad for everyone
Thousands of kids are unable to join the Scouts because well-meaning adults are scared they’ll be accused of paedophilia if they volunteer as helpers. Bear Grylls, who has led the UK’s Scouting movement since 2009, claims that his organisation has a waiting list of 35,000 kids, with hardly any adults signing up to volunteer.
According to the think-tank The Manifesto Club, the reason for this shortage of volunteers is a creeping suspicion created by recent high-profile paedophile scandals. Likewise, campaign group Parents Outloud argues that regulations for would-be helpers have gone ‘overboard’, and that adults signing up to volunteer are ‘getting the finger pointed at them’.
Officials from the Scouting Association contest the claim that their checks are off-putting, and, in their defence, it’s clear that this is not just a problem confined to the Scouts. If you want to help coach your kid’s football team, work in a school, or lead a cadet troop, I hope you enjoy probing and accusatory forms. Because you’ll have plenty to fill out.
While it is important to ensure children are safe from genuine harm, if good people are too scared to help improve children’s lives, we should take that as a sign that the culture of suspicion has gone too far. By viewing samaritans as potential Saviles, we problematise adult-child relationships and dissuade otherwise charitable people from pitching in. What’s more, we’re restricting kids from gaining crucial life skills in the process.
It’s indicative of our society’s endemic paedo panic that a gauntlet of DBS checks and implicit accusations of wrongdoing stand between altruistic adults and the kids they want to help. This warped worldview is damaging for everyone. Children are taught that the world is full of dangerous, malicious people, and adults begin to think that anyone with ostensibly good intentions must be using them to get their hands on their kids.
Volunteers willing to give up their spare time to help run their kid’s Scout group simply don’t deserve to be subjected to these sick suspicions. Who can blame parents for not volunteering when it involves a mountain of paperwork and the assumption that you’re a paedo?
George Harrison is a writer and student.