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Our fears fuel outrage and double standards over child sex abuse
by Graeme J. Davidson,
1 September 2007

Has our fear of child sex predators grown into widespread hysteria fuelled by self-righteous indignation based on a few high-profile cases?

....When I take a walk these days, I try to avoid passing the local primary school when the kids arrive and leave. If I forget, I fix my gaze straight ahead. That’s so caregivers picking up their little ones don’t judge me a loitering paedophile - with the onus on me to prove my innocence. Any male has to have courage to be a primary teacher nowadays and the massive publicity surrounding clergy child abuse now means my “all sinners welcome” church pays for routine police checks for its workers.
....The fear is understandable. We want to protect our kids and, as a parent, I know how my hackles rose when two middle-aged male European tourists in Thailand showed an overly keen interest in my young son.
.... I also remember how when I was six, a man said he would give me sweets if I would ride in his car. Fortunately, my parents had taught me to say no to such enticements and to notice details of strangers who offered them. I rushed home and told my mother and the police quickly apprehended the offender. Yes, we do need to teach our kids about such dangers.
....But has our fear of child sex predators grown into widespread hysteria fuelled by self-righteous indignation based on a few high-profile cases? The Ministry of Justice reports that in 2001, nearly 1300 under 16-year-olds were the victims of a sex crime. Two-thirds of offenders are men over 30. Only one percent are women.
.... Maybe women do offend only rarely but I doubt it. Because we have been brought up to view women as primary caregivers who need to undress, bath and help young children go to the toilet, we naturally assume they’re less liable to commit an offence. And, anyway, boys are more likely to consider a woman’s advances as an honour and not speak out, even if they feel violated.
When I worked as a prison psychologist a number of years ago, I interviewed nearly all convicted child sex offenders in New Zealand. Because they didn’t want their victims to face a court ordeal, most pleaded guilty to the charges laid against them. But several months into their sentence, many felt that the charges were an exaggeration based more on the anger of the parents and the community than what actually happened. Most had fondled and molested; very few had raped an under 12-year-old. Many were upset and suicidal because they had abused a child. Those who were Christian where very aware of how Jesus had said that if anyone harm a child it would be better if “a millstone were hanged about his neck and he were cast into the sea”. One who offered half his fortune as a token of his remorse for his victim had his gift spurned by her parents, who wanted him castrated. Ironically, they were church leaders who preached forgiveness.
....The brigade who want to castrate, lock-em-up, throw away the key and stick offenders details on a website have been well represented in a spate of recent letters to The Dominion Post. They’re the majority view. But how ethically consistent are they? Leonardo de Vinci, William Shakespeare, Noel Coward, Charlie Chaplin and John F Kennedy had underage sex partners. By the same reasoning, these “child sex abusers” would have been candidates for a website register, prison and Depo-Provera (chemical castration) to lower their libido.
....And what about drunk drivers who injure and kill kids? They don’t intend to hurt anyone but they know what the consequences of drinking and driving can be. When are their details going to appear on a website so that they too can be ostracised along with paedophiles?
.... And what about dads who back over kids in the driveway because they didn’t check first? That’s clearly an accident and we feel sympathy for them. Yet, it raises the question of how we draw the line to avoid a double standard over those who harm kids.
....Studies suggest that sex abuse is under-reported across all age groups and that well over 20 percent of under 16-year-olds are victims – mainly girls. The offenders are mostly relatives or close friends, not strangers loitering around schools.
.... Perhaps part of our outrage at paedophiles is because we project onto them what lurks in the dark corners of our own family lives.






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