Wednesday 7 October 2015

When the child abuse campaign becomes tyrannical

Every society goes in an out of periods of insanity where they lock people up merely for being accused of something.  Let me put it more strongly.  There are some crimes considered so loathsome that you only have to be accused of them to be immediately assumed to be guilty.

The last few months have seen the apotheosis of a moral panic about child abuse, which reached a head with the investigation into establishment abuse, leading to murder.

There have been other moments in recent years. The frightening alliance between what you might call the child abuse 'industry' and fundamentalist Christians led to a similar panic about 'satanic abuse'. Children from the Orkneys were taken into custody in the middle of the night. Other families were torn apart before it became clear that satanic abuse wasn't happening anywhere.

I have been wondering why this keeps happening - and rather more so last night when one of the sources of the VIP paedophile ring story said that the names were given "as a joke suggestion to start with".

Because the moral panic, the tabloid coverage, the suicide of abusers, the great smashing of pedestals, doesn't help the victims either. And of course there are victims, and they must be believed - but not uncritically. Not tyrannically. Nor does it help children, in any circumstances, to take them from their beds in the middle of the night or to remove them from loving families, except in extremis.

The loss of John Hemming's Birmingham Yardley seat robbed Westminster of one of the most powerful sceptical voices about the abuse of justice around child custody.

It was a long, courageous campaign and there was hardly a bandwagon for anyone to jump on.  It did the Lib Dems credit that one of their parliamentary party was brave enough to ask those kind of sceptical questions.

Historically, sex allegations have often been a way to challenge the establishment (see for example the consistent campaign along those lines by Irish nationalists in the 1880s). But if we forget about dead politicians - from Leon Brittan to Ted Heath - the real victims in all this are most often poorer families who can't stand up against the officials who get it wrong.

In fact, there was a fascinating article last week in the American political weekly The Nation. This is how it starts:

"O n July 29, 2013, a Latina mother in Illinois named Natasha Felix sent her three sons, ages 11, 9, and 5, out to play with a visiting cousin, a young girl, in a fenced park right next to her apartment building. The oldest boy was charged with keeping an eye on his siblings, while Felix watched them all from the window. While they were outside, a local preschool teacher showed up at the park with her class. She saw the 9-year-old climb a tree. Felix’s youngest son fought with his cousin over a scooter and, at one point, ran with it into the street. Based on this, the teacher called the child-abuse hotline, and Felix received a visit from the Department of Children and Family Services.

"According to legal filings in the case, the investigator, Nancy Rodriguez, found that Felix’s kids “were clothed appropriately, appeared clean [and] well groomed,” and that Felix “appeared to be a good mother.” Felix’s oldest son seemed like a “mature young boy” who “certainly could be allowed to go outside by himself to the park next door.”

"However, when Rodriguez asked Felix if the boys had any special needs, Felix replied that the 11-year-old and the 9-year-old had been diagnosed with ADHD. On the advice of their doctor, they were off their medications for the summer. Rodriguez later wrote that “based on the mother not knowing that the kids were running into the street with the scooter, based on the children having ADHD,” she recommended that Felix be cited for “Inadequate Supervision” under the Illinois Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act. As a result, Felix was placed on the state’s child-abuse registry, which led to her losing her job as a home healthcare aide and ended her dreams of becoming a licensed practical nurse."

Nobody suggests that we should be any less vigilant about protecting children. But this kind of tyranny - by professionals against the poor - is actually another kind of child abuse. We all know it goes on and it does so here as well as across the Atlantic. It leads to over-protected kids, addicted to computer games, who never go out by themselves or dare to climb trees.

It also leads to the most appalling bullying of children. It is professional bullying backed by the force of the mob.

Illinois is an interesting case. I couldn't help noticing that their number of children diagnosed with autism or Asperger's leapt 62,000 per cent in the decade to 2002. A clear sign of professional insanity.

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