Friday, 11 July 2014

Normal men and child sexual abuse

Earlier this week I was invited to contribute to a discussion on BBC Radio Newcastle which asked whether men (and to some extent women too) have become so sensitised to the charge of child sexual abuse that they would not help a sick, hurt or distressed child.

The Saville, Harris and Hall cases show how far we have come since the 1970's and 1980's. The legal term 'sexual assault' was not coined until the 1970's and the phrase 'child sexual abuse' became common in the 1980's. Of course that does not mean these things did not happen before then but that was when they began to spoken about publicly.

In the UK it was the Cleveland Child Sexual Abuse Enquiry in 1988 (chaired by Lady Justice Butler-Sloss) that really brought the extent of child sexual abuse to public attention. Since then we have all become much more attuned to the possibility of adult sexual interest in children, for example schools no longer allow parents to take photographs during sports days, swimming galas or school plays.

During the same period fathers have become much more involved in parenting and enjoying caring for their children. For example it is far more common to see men out alone with a baby or toddler and these days almost every male toilet has a baby changing facility. For young men active fatherhood is a welcome and important aspect of their masculinity which they look forward to and relish when the opportunity arrives.

Men must face up to the fact that there is a case to answer. The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women campaign to end violence against women reports that worldwide 50% of all sexual assaults are on women under the age of 16 (New Internationalist, July 2014). But sexual interest in children is abhorrent to all but a tiny minority of men.

David Aaronovitch in an article in The Times earlier this week described how a young girl in primary school was left for hours in soiled clothes after a stomach upset because the teachers would not clean and change her lest they be accused of sexual abuse. How can this possibly be right? It is so obviously wrong not to help a sick, hurt or distressed child.

I was once in a similar situation myself. I asked the child if they would like me to help them and if they would like to be showered down, they agreed so I helped. I found a towel and some clothes and rinsed the soiled ones. Later I explained what had happened to the child's mother, both were very grateful. I am just a normal bloke, I think any other adult would have done the same.

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