WITH inquiries into Jimmy Savile “and others” continuing, it may seem the wrong time to say that the world is not actually packed to the gunwales with predatory paedophiles.
There is, admittedly, more of it about than possibly any of us 20 or 30 years ago would have expected. We also now know more about the effects of this ruinous perversion on victims who go on bearing the mental and emotional, if not physical, scars for the rest of their lives. But the fact is that the vast majority of children grow up unmolested.
We still have a serious problem in persuading child victims to come forward and speak out, and in reassuring them that they shouldn’t be terrified into silence by anyone abusing them.
Meanwhile, though, we are creating a society that is petrified and crippled by the fear of paedophiles around every corner. Schools have to have policies about parents photographing or filming nativity plays. Most grown men would think two or three times before going to the aid of a distressed little girl on her own who needed help. Children who were once quite properly encouraged to build independence and make their own way to and from school are still being chauffeured or escorted aged ten or 12.
Now Meadowbank Sports Centre has fitted opaque glass to prevent anyone in the viewing gallery watching a youngsters’ gym class because, according to one mum who wasn’t happy about being blocked out, “there had been reports of someone taking photographs”. Possibly her, for all she knows.
No doubt some of the children will be asking mummy or daddy: “Did you see me do this/that?” and the parent will be tasked with explaining why no-one is allowed to watch, far less take pictures, and even why that might pose a risk to children. Indeed, I’m not sure I fully understand it myself.
The problem is that amid all this health and safety-type regulation and caution, everyone interprets “risk” in different ways.
The It’s Your News pages in the Evening News, for example, often run pictures of high-achieving schoolchildren winning awards or doing something positive. Precisely because they are community pages, we name them and mums, dads, grans et al love to see their child’s picture and name in the paper. Woe betide us if we were to leave one out.
Some schools have parents sign a consent form for this sort of thing when they enrol. Even so, some insist on asking parents again and again for every event. Some don’t have parents sign anything at all. Some head-teachers, while wishing their school to be credited, don’t mind giving the first name of the child, the class they are in (and therefore their age and time of day when they leave school) and using the child’s image. Yet they have the quaint idea that giving the child’s surname would somehow put the child “at risk”. Of course, it’s the surname that mum and dad want in the paper!
There are simply too many people, from headteachers to sports centre managers and everyone in between, making up their own rules about which measures are appropriate, which are hysterical and paranoic, what constitutes “risk” and from whom. We need clarity. One set of sensible rules rather than maverick over-reaction.
Any parent who had become separated from their child in a busy shopping mall would panic. But remember, James Bulger wasn’t taken by an adult. Most mothers and fathers would be horrified if they thought people would just walk past, ignoring their sobbing, frightened, lost child. Yet even amiable grandpas and other mothers are wary, feeling that comforting a strange child might be inappropriate and look suspicious.
Of course we have to be protective towards children, vigilant and alert to anyone who would harm them, and take reasonable safety precautions.
But we have allowed fear of abductors or paedophiles to change our society and our community. We have allowed it to stifle the development and freedom of children and inhibit the innocent, caring and helpful responses of well-meaning adults. In that respect the perverts have won.
DOMESTIC goddess Nigella Lawson has gone off the boil with her latest cookbook, Nigellisima: Instant Italian Inspiration, failing to reach number 20 in the festive charts while Jamie Oliver’s 15 Minute Meals soars to number one. So far she’s made £50 million from her books so she shouldn’t worry.
Fear not if you have bought Nigella’s offering as a Christmas present. Men watch her on TV because she is sexy and voluptuous. Women like her because she makes easy things, she has twinkly fairy lights in her kitchen, a casual approach to catering for 30 on Boxing Day, believes in self-indulgence, and raids the fridge at midnight.
According to Italian chefs her recipes are “an insult”. But then her TV show isn’t really about cuisine, it’s about Nigella. And like her, the book will look aspirational lying on your coffee table. You don’t have to use it.