Sexual Violence in the news

// 27 June 2008

First off, Jill Saward, campaigner for victims rights and against sexual violence (also the woman who was raped in the Ealing Vicarage rape case but that’s not her sole identity, dammit!) is standing against David Davis in his egotistical by-election. Hurrah says I – where do I sign up to help? Apparently here – who’s up for a visit to the constituency to doorknock? At last a politician I can get behind – not because in her amazingt destruction of Davis’s self-aggrandisement she says “British liberty is about living without fear”! Here, here!

In other news Frank Furedi and his ridiculous report on child protection has my blood boiling (which is his sole intention, he’s an academic who delights in trying to enrage people). Take this as an example:

Said Stuart: “Someone visited my office to talk about mentoring children in a nearby school and I decided to give it a go. I wanted to give something back, to help children – and I also thought it might look good on my CV. So I volunteered. Stuart had a CRB check for any criminal history. Nothing was found. He said: “My job was to talk to kids who might be at risk or have troubles at home. I was supposed to gain their trust and act as a role model. If I thought the child might be in trouble I could offer advice”. But, said Stuart, he encountered what he says was a “suspicious” attitude from staff at the school. “When I started I was told that whenever I was with children, I had to sit in full view of another member of staff at all times. I also wasn’t allowed to go and pick up any children from the classroom for the mentoring sessions. I was told I had to wait in the school library for them to be brought to me.” After seven weeks, Stuart left St Osyth. He said: “I had been fully checked out but the school still made me feel like I was a potential paedophile. My advice to anyone – especially a man – thinking of helping out in a primary school is ‘don’t bother’,” he said.

From BBC News

So where do I start? Well lets start with this scenario, one of Stuart’s mentees has been abused at home. We know children in building up to disclosure may try partial and incomplete disclosures, they may disclose without naming the perpetrator which leads to people trying to find out. If that happens Stuart may well have been glad of the protection that “in full sight” offers, trust me, I’ve been a mentor, working in full view, and I’ve been glad about the useful interventions other adults have made in terms of praising the students work, informing me of something I didn’t know and (very rarely) asking a student to behave properly. It’s a way of supporting volunteers, especially new ones, who don’t know it all and who can be in a vulnerable and unsupported position.

Perhaps Stuart should have thought about two things 1. how these sensible measures help protect and support him (rather than having the strange perspective that he knew it all already) and 2. how it helps the child (an abused child is often confused by lone adult interactions which can be interpreted and presumed to be further abusive situations, for example). Does Stuart also object to being trained in his role and in child protection?

Stuart complains he was treated as a “potential paedophile” – well he is (so am I). The thing is that paedophiles and sex abusers don’t come with handy forehead tattoos proclaiming their intentions. They don’t come with ID cards. Most often they also don’t come with criminal records. So the criminal records checks are just a single part of a wider system to protect children introduced because abusers were seeking out jobs (paid or unpaid) which gave them access to children. To argue that other people shouldn’t be subject to procedures to protect children because they aren’t an abuser is a ridiculous argument. I’d question why it was such a big deal, personally, it’s perfectly possible to have a private conversation in a public space, we do it all the time.

Furedi, who appeared on yesterday’s Radio 4 news, makes some valid points about CRB checks offering a false sense of security (absolutely, because most abusers don’t have criminal records). But he complains adults are thinking twice about hugging a child they don’t know – absolutely they should, a child has a right to not be treated as a piece of “cute baggage” to hug as adults see fit (fully accepting children need hugs, but they don’t need the assumption their bodies are public property!). Furedi claims that “parental intuition” is enough to spot a paedophile – absolute nonsense – parents must be sensible and not leave their children with people they don’t trust but it implies that paedophiles are easy to spot – it presumes they aren’t the charming, plausible people that being a successful abuser demands.

As Esther Rantzen says thousands of people work with and volunteer with children every week without complaint about the procedures. But apparently “Stuart” is worth more than all their experiences. The way I view it – some people aren’t at the right stage to be successful mentors, however they rationalise their failure it doesn’t provide justification for risking the safety of children.

Comments From You

Soirore // Posted 27 June 2008 at 1:07 pm

Regarding Stuart the student mentor.

I work with people involved in school volunteering schemes run through universities and the dozens of students who have worked as teaching assistants and mentors have never made similar complaints. Most of them were looking for experience for a future career in teaching and as such perhaps were more familiar with the environment they were going into. Even so it is absurd to expect a school to let you have one-to-ones with children until they trust you.

Some people are just very naive about child protection though. One potential member of staff to an FE college I worked at (which also had groups of under 16s) refused a CRB check as he said it was intrusive. When it was explained that it was compulsory because he may be in contact with children he refused to understand and just complained that he was being policed.

Cara // Posted 27 June 2008 at 1:17 pm

I completely agree re: child protection.

Yeah – exactly – a lot of men do think they know it all. And take having to abide by rules as some kind of personal insult, the same way so many guys cry “but *I’m* not a rapist/ violent” the minute violence against women is mentioned.

“The thing is that paedophiles and sex abusers don’t come with handy forehead tattoos proclaiming their intentions.”

EXACTLY. Next time I fly, I think I’ll huff “How dare you treat me as a potential terrorist or smuggler! Asking me if I packed my bag myself, making me put my hand luggage through X-ray!” Oh and I have to show ID to get into my work building, too – perhaps that’s treating me as a potential terrorist ;-)


And yes, good point that he would have been very relieved he had the protection of not being alone with kids if he was falsely accused or some misunderstanding happened.

“But he complains adults are thinking twice about hugging a child they don’t know – absolutely they should, a child has a right to not be treated as a piece of “cute baggage” to hug as adults see fit (fully accepting children need hugs, but they don’t need the assumption their bodies are public property!).”

YES again. This drove me nuts even when I was a kid! Children are people, not some kind of pet or property. Actually being short, I still get similar kind of attention (although not so much now as when I was younger). People can be very patronising, I get random people coming up to me in pubs etc. and going Aww you’re so CUTE! and hugging or touching me. Urgh.

But I digress. I wouldn’t dream of approaching some random child for no particular reason. I am not the kind of woman to coo over random babies in the street. But if I do see one I think is cute, the most I would do is smile at them / their parent or guardian. Some people do have a sense of entitlement. Oh noes, I can’t hug strange children! Damn PC gone mad! Probably wishes he could pinch random women’s bums, too. :-)

If you see a child that is obviously distressed/ in need of help, e.g. a small child wandering around that has obviously been separated from its parents, then you should step in. I find the excuse that “people might think I was abducting a kid” pathetic, to be honest. Someone who was genuinely not abducting the child would first go up to them and ask if they were lost or whatever, usually the frantic parent/ whoever will turn up pretty quickly. If not, then you might call the police. You wouldn’t take the child off somewhere!

Sarah // Posted 27 June 2008 at 2:04 pm

Presumably the school’s policy applies to all staff, not just men, or just this particular man. If he was being singled out in some way for no good reason, then he might have a point, but it doesn’t seem that way. If the school staff actually thought he was a pedophile, surely they wouldn’t have offered him the position at all! I’m not sure he has the right mindset to be a good mentor anyway – his call to people/men to ‘not bother’ mentoring children unless the rules are changed suggests he feels it’s better for children to go without the help they need, than for him or another man to be very slightly inconvenienced by having to comply with perfectly sensible regulations. That doesn’t sound like someone who genuinely cares about helping children, or is truly committed to his work.

I do think it’s a shame if men are being put off certain careers for fear of negative perceptions, as some men make fantastic carers and teachers and mentors for young children. Not to trivialise their fears, which are probably well-founded in many cases, but maybe this is something they have to tackle themselves. After all women struggled for many years (and still do) to break into male-dominated professions, in many cases suffering a great deal of ridicule and hostility for their efforts. It’s not easy, but going against societal norms never is. But I think it’s possible to get too caught up in anxiety about ‘what people will think’.

I still think the more powerful factor putting men off childcare and early-years teaching is that these roles tend to be low-paid and not considered very prestigious, being ‘women’s work’.

Kimberley // Posted 27 June 2008 at 2:20 pm

I think it’s a little disingenuous to suggest that you and Stuart are under equal suspicion as possible paedophiles. But he should just deal with that instead of complaining to the media.

I actually wish more people were taught about child safety/privacy in the way volunteers are. I’ve found it helpful in guiding my interactions with children outside of school too. Far from feeling constrained, I feel more confident that I’m treating the children as they should be.

Louise Livesey // Posted 27 June 2008 at 3:03 pm

I am not sure why it’s disingenuous unless you think that all paedophiles and sex abusers are men (which they aren’t) and that women “wouldn’t do that sort of thing” (which they would and do).

(Actually I’ll admit it was slightly disingenuous as I have a PhD in child protection issues and everywhere I work knows that! But that’s not immediately as, like being a sex abuser, it isn’t tattooed on my forehead.).

Jane P // Posted 27 June 2008 at 3:31 pm

My four year old daughter is about to go to school and I want anyone who comes into close contact with her to have a CRB check and if they whine about it being ‘intrusive’ they can fuck off.

But the fact is, statistically she is more likely to be attacked and abused by someone she already knows and in her own home. Because far from there being armies of paedophiles roaming the country, statistically the most dangerous place for a child is their own home with people they trust. Two children a week still die at the hands of the people who are meant to care for them.

Kimberley // Posted 27 June 2008 at 6:50 pm

@Louise, regardless of the stats, men are more likely to fall under suspicion as being potential paedophiles. That’s what I mean when I say that you and Stuart wouldn’t be treated entirely equally — the policy doesn’t discriminate, but people do. But that’s a quibble, for the rest I entirely agree with you.

Sarah // Posted 27 June 2008 at 7:17 pm

I think Kimberly’s point is a fair one – in most people’s minds the stereotypical pedophile is a man, and I can imagine a man in this situation might be subject to more suspicion than a woman. But ‘Stuart’ wasn’t complaining about individual, personal prejudice on the part of staff members or parents, he was upset about the policy, which he seemed to take as a personal insult. However, as you say, the policy doesn’t discriminate, that’s why his reaction was unreasonable.

Torygirl // Posted 27 June 2008 at 8:49 pm

Not speaking at all as an expert here, but my lovely dad has been Santa at several local schools for about 40 years. ‘Santa’ is never alone with a child as there are always ‘elves’ nearby. Last year one school said that children couldn’t sit on his lap, he responded that it’s not his lap but his knee and they said he could hold their hands instead.

It was just one school that made this rule and my dad took it very personally.

Imagining being a child in that situation myself, I think I would probably found holding hands with Santa WAY creepier than sitting on his knee.

There has been a swing towards suspicion toward men helping out with children, and Kimberley’s right that this is a human response not an institutional one, it is fired almost totally by the media. Though it is, of course, important to protect our little ones, the whole shebang seems to totally overlook the fact that, statistically, children are at greater risk of abuse in their own homes.

Having worked with ‘challenging’ teenagers, many of whom were sexually abused as children, not one of those was abused at school. I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen, just that media focus on this detracts from the real issue.

RandomLurker // Posted 27 June 2008 at 9:23 pm

I think I agree with the comment that demanding CRB checks does put people off. People might have a minor criminal record in the past (for shoplifting or something like that) and so they shouldn’t feel put off volunteering for fear that this will be revealed.

Yes, I can see why staff might want to supervise new volunteers and not leave them alone with kids. But, this doesn’t mean they all have to be CRB checked (i.e. as Torygirl mentioned, there is no reason why there can’t be a couple of elves in the grotto as well when Santa is seeing children). And, I do fear that the bureaucratic proceedures imposed do create a sort of “guilty-until-proven-innocent” atmosphere and do poison the way that adults (esp. men) relate to children.

Torygirl // Posted 28 June 2008 at 9:04 pm

I’ve been mulling this one over a bit.

I think there is a tangible climate of suspicion toward men volunteering to work with children which is almost entirely media led. Speak to any of my dad’s old boys and you’ll get the same answer. They won’t go over to a kid who’s hurt in the park if nobody’s around for fear of being called a dirty old man/paedo/etc. Additionally children have also been led to be guarded around men they don’t know having mostly been well versed in stranger-danger.

This is likely to be the background to Stuart’s story. The CRB check and open door policy are standard, there is a possibility of an extra layer of human discrimination in the school itself, but in the current climate, Stuart could have misinterpreted the standard measures as discriminatory.

That’s not a point I like making because women have long been wrongly accused of ‘misinterpreting’ so-called standard measures as discriminatory.

Jess // Posted 29 June 2008 at 11:11 am

Whilst I agree that Jill Sawards stand against David Davis is an admirable one (mainly because I would like to see his overinflated ego reduced somewhat), I can not agree with her with regards to the arguments of her case (CCTV, DNA data base). Like others have mentioned abuse of all kinds is FAR more likely to occur in a person’s own home, and is often far more insidious and discrete than an actual rape inself. Attacks and rapes by complete strangers are, thankfully, rare, although I am sure this is small comfort to the people who bare the brunt of this themselves. I feel that our energies and money would be better spent challenging misogynistic and violent attitudes in our society, rather than further perpetuating the victim/aggressor attitude. Particularly the mentallity within our society that *all* women and children are victims that need protection and that *all *men can’t be trusted.

Cara // Posted 29 June 2008 at 6:08 pm

I agree that men are generally under more suspicion of child abuse. PHMT, and all that.

But – “They won’t go over to a kid who’s hurt in the park if nobody’s around for fear of being called a dirty old man/paedo/etc”

I don’t understand this kind of attitude among men.

Yeah being called those kind of names is not pleasant, but has anyone really not been called some nasty things in their life?

If he has not done anything wrong and explains that he was trying to help, nothing will happen. As with rape cases, often people have some imaginary cabal in their head that will convict them purely on the say-so of an accuser, which is so far from the truth.

Torygirl // Posted 29 June 2008 at 9:51 pm

Hmmm, I think there’s a big difference between randomly verbally abused and being in a situation where suspicion is cast on many (including respectable community elders) based on the actions of a few. It’s not a matter of not being listened to when explaining. Surely, you heard the reports of neighbourhoods taking it into their own hands to sort out suspected paedophiles? On occasion this has been based on almost nothing.

With that cultural background, older men understandably prefer to keep their distance these days, even when that sort of behaviour would have been seen as peculiar when they were kids.

I think that the answers can only be found in those working in (say) primary schools to closely examine the ways they respond to staff and volunteers of all genders and apply proceedure properly for everyone.

Cara // Posted 30 June 2008 at 8:14 pm

Torygirl – oh yes I have heard those reports. Paediatricians being misread as paedophiles (honestly, how dumb are these people?) and mistaken identity. It hadn’t occurred to me that men might fear such vigilante action, so point taken. I guess privelege cuts both ways, and in this case, as a woman, I wouldn’t be under such suspicion if I went to help a kid.

It depends on the situation, as you say. I once found a lost kid (about 2-3) on Brighton beach, it was *packed* but no-one was helping the child. I just can’t imagine not helping a lost and distressed kid. In that instance everyone could see I was helping. All I did was talk to the kid, luckily frantic parents appeared soon after. That is different to a case where vigilante mobs are a possibility, but you were talking about lost kids in the park, so that is what I was thinking.

And can I just point out: as with rape, false accusations of child abuse are *very* rare (I mean from kids, obviously paranoid adults can misconstrue things)

and respected community elders can definitely be capable of child abuse, just as respectable seeming men can be rapists. They don’t have “Evil” tattooed on their foreheads.

I do agree that an overly suspicious climate doesn’t help anyone.

But the school *was* “applying procedure properly for everyone”. I think Stuart did take policy that is followed for anyone working with kids in that role way too personally. Yes, I can see that was in the context of men being more under suspicion of child abuse than women, and I don’t agree that should be the case. I am all for more men working with kids. I don’t think all men who want to do so should be viewed as likely paedophiles. But they’ll have to put up with CRB checks and so on, as women do – and not take it as a personal insult. (And as an aside, petty crimes such as shoplifting would not necessarily be a bar to employment, or even show up, after a certain time has elapsed since the crime).

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