The Socialist 18 August 2000
Facing an uncertain future
An outpouring of anger
THE ANTI-paedophile demonstrations in Portsmouth and Hague's plan to make raidcal changes in the law and ensure all 'dangerous' paedophiles serve life sentences have also been accompanied by the hounding of innocent people, the suicide of suspected paedophiles and an angry backlash against establishment politicians.
The News of the World's campaign to 'name and shame' paedophiles has unleashed a wide variety of complex, divisive and potentally dangerous issues in its wake.
One reason for the outpouring of anger of recent weeks is that many people fear that the state is failing to protect children from abuse.
Sarah Payne's murder and the institutionalised sexual abuse in children's homes add to this.
But there is also a general feeling of powerlessness amongst many working-class people in the most deprived estates. Instinctively there has been a need to be seen to be doing something against a 'rotten system'.
A similar movement developed in Belgium a few years ago when the White Marches took place against the Belgian government that had covered up systematic child abuse because of their failure to take proper responsibility and adequate care for vulernable children.
At root in both Belgium and Britain is a wider public anger about how whole sections of society are left vulnerable by establishment politicians always eager to please big business while lecturing to working-class people who have to endure the daily grind of poverty and cutbacks in public services.
However, the News of the World's campaign and Hague's proposals - designed to crudely win votes in the election run-up- means it will now be even more difficult to successfully deal with paedophiles and to ensure that children are adequately protected from sexual abuse, wherever it comes from.
The recent events have thrown up a whole number of complex issues for socialists and the labour movement to deal with, some of which have no straightforward solutions. However, there are some areas which need to be urgently addressed.
Strategies for sex offenders should obviously tackle the isolated numbers of child abductions and murders but they need to concentrate on the issue of child abuse within the family where it mostly occurs.
Also, money needs to be poured into the core agencies, social services etc, which deal with children living in dangerous conditions. But they are facing major cutbacks. So is the probation service.
What's more, the number of treatment programmes in prisons for sex offenders is minimal. There needs to be a huge increase in the treatment programmes in prisons.
Rejection of authority
HAGUE AND Prescott's comments about the Paulsgrove residents' protest in Portsmouth have compounded the anger of people there and the belief that nobody cares for them or will address any of the real problems they face. TIM COOPER, a Socialist Party member in Portsmouth, comments on the complex issues raised by the protests.
PAULSGROVE IS an estate just on the edge of Portsmouth, with a lot of single-parent families and a lot of children. It has a reputation for having a lot of social problems, but contradictorily there is a sense of community.
The city council has been awful at addressing the problems of people there. In meetings with councillors and officials, some women from the estate asked how long would it take before politicians would start to deal with their concerns.
What frightens the local councillors most is the complete rejection of all authority and this vivid display that working-class people have no faith in them to protect them or do their job.
There have been issues of road safety in the area over the years and it has been an accumulation of grievances that have all gelled together at the same time. What the News of the World did was put the spark to the bonfire of fears.
There were anti-poll tax unions and struggle in that area. But the present movement is very disorganised.
On the estate there hasn't been total support for the actions. There have only been about 300 on the demonstrations but nearly 12,000 households come within the vicinity of the estate.
Unfortunately, some innocent people have been caught up in it. There was always the danger as it developed that it would have been very easy for disgruntled neighbours or kids to try and use the allegations of paedophilia against someone as a way of settling other grievances.
That's because there has been no organisation or clear aims to the protests. It shows the need for socialists an working-class organisations to take up genuine grievances and channel them in the right direction, rather than seeing people resorting to lashing out in a frenzy.
Knee-jerk responses are no solution to complex issues
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) estimates that could be 1.1 million sex offenders living in Britain. This represents a huge social problem which needs a co-ordinated response.
At present in Britain 97% of child sex offenders comply with the sex offenders register, compared to 80% in the USA where the register is openly available.
Currently 93% of sex offenders who receive supervisory treatment do not reoffend, now it's even more likely that they will go into hiding and not be monitored or assisted by the relevant support agencies.
Whilst all sex offences may be regarded as unpalatable a distinction needs to be drawn between indecent exposure and predatory child abuse.
At present the emphasis is in dealing with matters on such a case by case basis. The name and shame approach means that all 110,000 convicted sex offenders will be viewed as potential murderers and open to reprisals from an angry community.
Sarah Payne's tragic murder has to be seen as the rare event it is. At this stage there is no evidence that Sarah Payne was murdered by a registered paedophile and all the knee-jerk reponses and proposals so far would not have prevented her murder.
On average, about five children a year are murdered by a stranger. Hundreds of children a month are abused, sexually or physically assaulted by someone in their own family.
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