I’m saddened, agitated and annoyed by a mindset that seems to prevail in others. It is the mindset of mob mentality, pitchforks at the ready, fire brands held aloft. Their message is: child abusers are everywhere. Of course, when I write about the ‘mindset of others’, I’m not actually saying that everybody has this mindset; I write it this way, deliberately, because it makes it sound like my message is everybody thinks this way.
How ironic. Unfounded accusation is a vicious beast though. Take the recent accusations of racism levelled at football referee Mark Clattenburg, for example. In the past couple of days it’s been reported that he has no case to answer. The accusation, however, threatened his career.
Child protection is, of course, important: that much is unquestioned; it’s built into the fabric of our society. This morning I watched a BBC TV report that highlighted unacceptable adult care standards; an interviewee stated that, if such standards were delivered to children, there would be something akin to national outrage. Perhaps the interviewee was right. However, whilst agreeing about the importance of child protection, I do have concerns about the disproportionate mindset of some, perhaps many, who indulge in the over-protection of children.
I’m not the first to cite this, and in some ways I’m kind of jumping on the bandwagon here. However, where the message is deemed reasonable, it should be spread along all possible avenues of readership. In his book, No Fear (2007), available as a free pdf download from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Tim Gill writes (p.54):
while the vast majority of child abuse takes place in the family, education programmes for children focus overwhelmingly on the threat from strangers.
He also writes (p.48):
The motivation behind the expansion of child protection is understandable. It is, at least in part, the expression of a natural outrage at the repellent behaviour of repeat abusers. Not only are they determined to gain access to children whom they can then abuse, but they persist even after their actions have become known.
Whilst statistics should always be taken with care, Gill does present a compelling case in No Fear, which amounts to the reasoning, I conclude: contrary to popular belief, not everyone is a potential child abuser. He adds:
Precisely because the crime [in this case, child murder] is so rare, it can be stated with near certainty that there are no more predatory child killers at large today than there were in 1990 or 1975. These statistics categorically refute the dominant media message that dangerous, predatory strangers represent a significant or growing threat to children. (p.49)
The vast majority of adults do not intend to harm children they do not know, so strangers are a largely dependable source of help if things go wrong. Safety messages that warn children never to speak to strangers reinforce the view that it is wrong for adults to initiate social contact with children they don’t know. p.53
Despite this thinking (and if you look around the streets of any village, town or city, on any given day, you’ll see children going about their day absolutely unimpeded by adults), there are still moments of the ill-informed mindset arising. Whilst reading a recent article in The Guardian, If children lose contact with nature they won’t fight for it, (Nov 19, 2012) by George Monbiot, I scrolled through the comments to discover this:
Reasons for this collapse [of children’s engagement with nature]: [include] parents’ irrational fear of strangers . . . (Monbiot)
To which, someone has replied:
Don’t forget the ever present risk of child abusers, George.
Finally, and this is — in essence — the start point of my thinking, earlier in the week I was agitated when working in the backroom of this blog. WordPress has a good facility that allows writers to see what recent search terms have been used for people landing on their sites. I won’t repeat here a line that I found, but suffice is to say that there are some sick people out there.
Yes, contrary to what I’ve written in the bulk of this blog, there are sick people amongst us. However, let’s get this in proportion: whilst child abuse does happen, whilst predatory adults are out there, the vast majority of us are not so inclined. We do what we can to protect children, though over-protection is counter-productive. No matter whether we have minimal contact with children, if our usual routes take us by children’s places of play, if we have our own children, or work with them in schools, clubs or community groups, or if we write about our work with children, it’s possible that we could — in some ways — be tarred with a certain brush. This needs to stop. Those of this mindset need to be educated. Perhaps, if all else fails, they need hounding out.