Magazine article The Spectator

Hate, Hypocrisy and Hysteria

Magazine article The Spectator

Hate, Hypocrisy and Hysteria

Article excerpt

When it comes to sex, Britain now seems to be gripped by a dangerous form of schizophrenia.

On the one hand, there is mounting panic over the issue of paedophilia, where a media-driven climate of hysteria means that even the mere allegation of child abuse can be enough to destroy careers and wreck lives. Yet, on the other hand, we have a youth culture that is obsessed with sex. In the relentless promotion of adolescent sexual freedom, all moral boundaries have disappeared, pornography has been brought into the mainstream and the law on the age of consent is derided or ignored.

It is this grotesque double standard which makes the witch hunt against the Education Secretary Ruth Kelly so sickening. In recent days she has faced a barrage of calls for her resignation over claims that, through her incompetence, she has allowed an army of child abusers to be employed in our schools.

'How many more perverts?' howls the Sun, leading the tabloid pack against Kelly.

But, instead of focusing their rage on Kelly, the self-appointed guardians of public morality should examine their own role in helping to build a modern Britain where childhood innocence has vanished, youthful promiscuity is rampant and young women are told that flesh-baring exhibitionism and availability are 'empowering'.

For the downmarket tabloids to pose as the champions of decency is like Robert Maxwell claiming to be the protector of our pensions.

Apart from the hypocrisy, what is equally disturbing is the way that the furore over child abuse has undermined any concept of natural justice. Along with racism, paedophilia has been elevated into one of the most sinister crimes of our age, so that normal rules about the presumption of innocence, judicial fairness or rehabilitation of offenders no longer apply. Genuine physical abuse of children -- such as the appalling recent case in Hertfordshire of the rape of a 12-week-old girl by her babysitter, a porn addict and serial abuser called Alan Webster -- is, of course, a monstrous offence which ruins the lives of victims. But some of the charges in the current furore hardly seem to fit into this category. So Paul Reeve, the Norwich gym teacher at the heart of the Kelly row, is branded as a sick pervert who should never be allowed to work again in a school because he accepted a police caution for having visited a website which shows both adult and child pornography. Reeve has consistently denied that he looked at child porn and no evidence has been produced to show that he did. His acceptance of a police caution might seem like an admission of guilt, but then the alternative was having to go through a criminal trial.

Another teacher named this week in the media as 'a pervert sir' is William Gibson, who was sanctioned by Kelly to work as a supply teacher in Bournemouth despite having a conviction in 1980 for assaulting a 15year-old schoolgirl. But, again, Gibson's crime is not all it seems. The term 'assault' sounds like a predatory attack, but in truth Gibson had embarked on a long relationship with the teenager. Indeed, he soon married her, and their union lasted for 19 years and produced three children. Gibson's behaviour was not edifying, but it hardly amounts to paedophilia.

In the current febrile atmosphere, however, little evidence is needed to damn someone. In our secular age we are fond of sneering at the religious bigotry that led to the Spanish Inquisition and the 17th-century witch trials, but we have our own superstitious intolerance. In the last 20 years there has been a raft of child abuse scandals, from the Orkneys to Rochdale, in which lurid allegations of satanic worship, taken so seriously by social workers, turned out to be unfounded. In his massively researched, compelling recent book The Secret of Bryn Estyn, about the notorious North Wales child abuse scandal, Richard Webster demolishes the belief that there was a vast conspiracy of sexual corruption in Welsh care homes for boys in the 1980s, though undoubtedly there were some individual cases of vicious paedophilia. …

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