I have some observations to make, and a couple of conclusions. I do not intend to make this post unsafe for work, but it might be a little uncomfortable.
Firstly, I should say I’m a child of the early 1980s. I can remember the Berlin Wall coming down when I was in Junior school, and the first Gulf War just before I went to Secondary school.
When I was 13 a child called Jamie Bulger was taken from a shopping centre in Bootle, abused and murdered by two children younger than me. I remember the reaction in the press. Seven years later, I was 20 when we started to hear about Victoria Climbie and the terrible fate that had befallen her. By this time I was working as a volunteer in a Youth Club where the leader had secured information from me which he could use to check my fitness to supervise young people. Two years later, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were murdered by Ian Huntley.
The Criminal Records Bureau checks began when I was in my early twenties, I’m not sure when. Every Child Matters was a policy that came into force following the Climbie case and the review of those agencies which had responsibilities to check on and protect her.
Yet the cases continue to surface. Furthermore, a greater number of historic cases of abuse are coming to light and being investigated. A Jersey children’s home; guests of the BBC on flagship children’s shows; children in the care of the state in Wales; boys and girls serving in their local Roman Catholic churches and some in Church of England dioceses.
Beyond the actual cases of neglect and abuse, two further things I have seen in all this sicken me.
Firstly, that there are people arguing (with apparent forethought) that because a case was before a certain date that blame can’t be apportioned in the same way it would be now or that somehow the moral standards apparently made law in recent years didn’t apply then.
Balderdash. If the care of children is important now, it was so then. Standards and opinions may change, we may have banned corporal punishment in schools, we may have banned smacking, but the principles underlying the protection of children have not changed. Children are precious. Do not abuse them. I do not understand how there could be any confusion about this one. If somebody knew and did nothing then, they should be treated in the same way as somebody who knows and yet does nothing now.
Secondly, if the abuse happened in the eighties, the victims are about my age, and the perpetrators at least ten to twenty years older. Something that happened in the seventies will have been committed by somebody who is now approaching retirement or maybe long retired. Like the last few to be chased down by Nazi hunters in recent years, the abusers of that period are all getting on a bit and frankly this stereotype is becoming clear in the press.
I worry that anybody over 50 is now going to look suspicious. When somebody older works with kids, there’s a risk they’ll automatically be tarred with the “old pervert” brush to an extent simply because they’re older. I fear the spectre of Savile, and all who stand with him in the popular dock of Fleet Street will join the pall hanging over childcare in the coming years. I work with people who are excellent childcare professionals in their own right, principled and well trained. They don’t need that kind of stupidity to deal with just because they’re of a generation which is now becoming associated in the papers with those who have been exposed for sweeping child abuse under the carpet.
It’s not as though we have necessarily done any better, but probably that the utter bastards of my generation are yet to be fully exposed. Sorry, but there it is.
So, my conclusion is this – don’t get overwrought about what we see in the news. get mad and do something positive. Give money to help the excellent work of national and local charities who support children and try to prevent abuse. There will be no decisive victory in the war against child abuse because you’re not fighting a well defined enemy. Keep your eyes open and look out for children in your immediate social circle. If you work with kids, keep within the letter of the law and adhere strictly to the spirit which forged it. Protect the ones in your care. And above all, be ready. Be ready for the day you suspect something and it’s a valid suspicion. Because if the recent news is anything to go by that day will come, and no amount of public wringing of hands then or now will help the private tragedies which will have come to pass.