Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Paedophilia: time for an honest debate

With the on-going furore surrounding the BBC’s handling of the Jimmy Saville(et al) scandal, I had hoped that the focus would by now be firmly on the wider issue of child sexual abuse and what we, as a society, should do about the problem. I’m not about to defend the BBC, and there’s no doubt they have made some serious errors, which should lead to an examination of how the ‘chain of command’ works, as well as other organisational issues.

However, over the past few days I have been wondering how much of the media’s fixation with a BBC ‘in crisis’ isn’t rather a distraction from the main issue. That is children in crisis, right now, as well as the crises faced by adult survivors and by abusers themselves. Perhaps the fact that these are difficult issues to discuss, and perhaps because they are almost impossible problems to find solutions for, we’d rather fixate on whether George Entwhistle was asleep at the wheel when in charge of the BBC.

According to the Survivors’ Network, 1 in 4 children are sexually abused. The NSPCC puts the number at 1 in 5. It has also been reported that up to 90% of sexual abuse isn’t reported, so goodness knows which figure – including that one – is accurate. What we can be sure of is that it happens. It happens behind closed doors in what look from the outside like happy, ‘normal’ families. The notion of the scary man in the woods abusing children or the perverted paedophile loner isn’t completely erroneous – those men do exist – but children are most likely to be abused by someone they know, and possibly trust and love. One can imagine how damaging that must be.

Indeed, statistics show that a high proportion of female prisoners have been sexually abused as children. Runaways are often escaping from such abuse. Some figures have shown that those involved in the sex industry are more likely to have experienced sexual abuse than those in other industries (though actually how many other industries would conduct such a survey? Where’s the stat about how many cleaners, for example, were sexually abused? So I would query that stat).

There are so many questions we should be asking. How can we better protect children who are being sexually abused right now? How can we ensure that when a child comes forward, they are listened to, believed and protected from any further abuse? What about abuse within institutions such as children’s homes? How can such places be better regulated? How can we help survivors of sexual abuse get on with their lives without being permanently scarred by their experiences? How can we prevent those men – and women, let’s not forget – who are tempted to sexually abuse children from offending in the first place?

Can a paedophile, or someone with paedophillic tendencies, be ‘cured’? The Lucy Faithful Foundation, who work with such people, say it is less about a ‘cure’ and more about people understanding the impact of their actions and learning not to act on them.

I have been talking about writing a Green Party policy on this important issue for a couple of years, and have had talks with the Lucy Faithful Foundation. Sexual abuse is a difficult, harrowing topic, but it’s a subject we ignore at our peril. Whilst the media evades the real issues and the other political parties brush the issue under the carpet, I think the Green Party should have something brave, useful and important to say.