First published in Huffington Post
Tis the season of good will. Or twas. I couldn’t help feeling that the sleigh bells rang a little hollower this time around. Not because Santas were getting the sack (ho! ho!) for not being CRB-checked. No, it was that confirmed child abuse paranoia would reach beyond Santa’s grotto.
When I objected in my previous two Huffington Postblogs to the damaging and misleading inflation of child abuse figures, I was told I was mistaken. Still, I maintain the figures routinely collected by children’s social services departments show that the apparent prevalence of abuse is a concoction of the over-active and rather twisted imaginations of lobbyists. My critics, apparently gobsmacked that nothing like 1 in 4 children are even at risk of being ‘abused’, cited a report by the House of Commons Education Committee coincidentally published the same day as my latest piece.
To be fair, they were only citing the report of a committee of our elected representatives who are presumably best placed to give the facts their full and dispassionate consideration. Except it chose to ignore the evidence from those social services departments and instead pursued its own account of ‘abuse’ as something that also includes ‘forced marriage, ritual abuse, female genital mutilation, so-called honour crimes and trafficking’. In a similar vein the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England (OCCE) recently published their interim report . This no less dubious report into child sexual exploitation was at least greeted with criticism from the government to which it reports. Described as ‘hysterical and half-baked’ by an anonymous senior minister, that the government has hardly sought to calm down the hysteria or challenge the half-baked claims of the child abuse lobby to date is a moot point.
The claim that 16,500 children were at risk of sexual exploitation (and 2,409 actually ‘exploited’) – notice the shift away from the comparatively precise term ‘abuse’ – over a period of 14 months was always ludicrous. Especially when they too chose to ignore the already well established and far more reliable figures produced by local authorities e.g. that just 2,370 children were thought to be even at risk of sexual abuse in 2011. Like the Education Committee they too sought to include every bad thing a young person might experience ‘including running away, drug or alcohol misuse and criminality’ as an indicator of sexual exploitation. Indeed if any one child ran away, took drugs and got arrested, they would automatically be deemed to be at high risk of sexual exploitation!
But this is more than an abuse of statistics or a ‘methodological’ problem borne of the incompetence of the researchers at the OCCE. Those MPs didn’t make it up so much as draw on the assumptions of a culture that says all young people are ‘vulnerable’ in one way or another; that every experience no matter how normal – be it bullying or emigrating – is indicative of abuse; and that every relationship they enter into, with each other or with an adult, must necessarily be understood through the prism of abuse. Lobbyists and policy-makers just don’t seem to know where to draw the line any more either in terms of what is and isn’t abuse or in distinguishing what is normal from what is deviant from the norm. The Savile effect has only heightened this tendency.
It has, for instance, led to a 30% increase in calls to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. The Metropolitan Police – with a little help from its £2 million post-Savile Operation Yewtree, staffed by 30 officers – has reported a fourfold increase in allegations. The NSPCC is an organisation whose purpose seems to be to convince us – despite all the evidence to the contrary – that society is riddled with child abuse. So nor is it a surprise to here that it too reported a 200% increase in calls to its helpline following the Savile affair. It too, after all, is living all too enthusiastically off the corpses of dead MPs and entertainers to further its none-too-noble cause. Its new advert, calculated to capitalise on recent historical allegations, will ‘remind people that child abuse remains a widespread problem and children are still abused today’ says the charity.
Certainly it is this obsession with abuse today from the grotesque to the everyday – projected far enough backwards to be frankly pointless – that trivialises the experience of serious abuse. I shouldn’t need to qualify it of course. All abuse is serious isn’t it? Abuse is abuse as paedophile obsessives never tire of telling me. But what is abuse when it is so all encompassing? What good does exaggerating its prevalence do for those who really are being abused? Ironically it is those who abuse the notion of abuse that have a case to answer here. It is the irresponsibly hysterical commentators, lobbyists and policy-makers who see abuse everywhere that are really doing the real victims of abuse the most harm.