Philobiblon: From hysteria to real concern

Thursday, January 12, 2006

From hysteria to real concern

I'm no defender of Ruth Kelly as an individual - someone so closely associated with an extremist and secretive religious organisation (Opus Dei) in charge of education is hardly ideal - but it does worry me the way female ministers seem to get into trouble much more easily than male.

The David Blunkett saga went on forever,and yet listening to Five Live this morning (and Kelly just making a parliamentary statement) she seems to be in trouble over something that is far more nuanced and complex - certainly not a clearcut mistake.

The issue is over the employment of teachers who may be allowed to continue to work despite being put on the Sex Offenders' Register. At first thought, that sounds horrific, but discussion suggests that people can end up on the register for quite minor, and possibly unclear-if-they-were-offences matters. (Such as someone who was a 16yo was convicted of statutory rape with a 14yo, or perhaps someone who accepted a police caution - which means the evidence is not tried in court - for viewing child porn, perhaps on bad advice, without understanding all of the implications.)

It seems reasonable that in the borderline cases, each should be examined on its merits. A blanket ban might well exclude occasional good teachers who are no risk to their pupils. And like the broader situation - that sees teachers frightened to comfort 5-year-olds who have grazed their knee - excessive regulation and caution can also be harmful to children.

The phone-in this morning asked is there hysteria about paedophiles? The answer is certainly yes. How much risk to children, comparatively, are paedophiles and road
crashes? I wondered how much campaiging on road safety those
complaining about what the government have done?

The fact that children are believed today when they complain about abuse - when 20 or 30 years ago they would have been ignored - is great. But we're now in a period of overshoot, when fear of paedophilia has exploded out of all proportion to the danger.

And the real concern? Iran seems to have a dangerously unbalanced leader. A conundrum for America - he was democratically elected; promoting democracy in the Middle East might have more complex effects than a simplistic Bush Administration take on it would have.


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