Saturday, 29 September 2007

Internet Responsibility

I was thinking about the role of the Internet in certain sections of today's society.

When I was a child, our infants school backed onto some woods and there were tales of a nudist camp and of a man who used to lurk and peer out of the trees through the mesh fence at the children. Then, we just used to treat the idea of him as some kind of bogeyman - a bit like the Cybermen or other baddies from Dr Who. Nowadays, of course, the word paedophile would raise is ugly head at the very second a strange man looking at children was mentioned.

In those days, people who were arrested and sentenced for child abduction and molestation were very few and far between. I don't know if that's because it just wasn't reported in the same hysterical way it is today or if it really was a less frequent problem. Then, we were warned about not talking to strangers, not accepting sweets from strangers and not getting into cars with strangers. We had so much more freedom. I was walking home from school with my sister and our friends with no adult from the time I was in Junior School - that's year 3 in today's money. School was a mile from our house and we thought nothing of it. In the holidays, aged 10 or 11, we would cycle down to the park opposite our school, leave our bikes unpadlocked near the edge of the field (and still expect them to be there when we returned several hours later), cross the stream and go and chase each other through the cornfield behind. Playing Kisschase and Spin the Bottle and Postman's Knock. Climbing trees, jumping the stream, hide and seek. Staying out from breakfast til teatime with no sign of a responsible adult.

By the time my teen was 11, I was quite surprised to learn that kisschase was actually banned in their playground and that their birthday parties were all trips to the cinema, bowling, team laser shooting, discos, that sort of thing. No one had birthday parties at home with jam sandwiches and fondant fancies, nor did they played Postman's knock, or Spin the Bottle any more.

These days, just the whiff of what might be considered an unnatural interest in children is punishable by trial by neighbourhood gossip and vigilante action. A complaint can be registered seemingly without there being any actual physical evidence with untold damage done to reputations, both personal and professional.

Because of the recent highly publicised cases, we seem to live in a climate of fear today. All school assistants, both paid and voluntary have to have CRB checks - even if it is only to help out on a school trip by making up the required number of adults to children. Carers in nursery school or primary school - even female ones - are not allowed to take individual children to the toilet on their own. Men have to think very carefully about helping out in any capacity at events involving children. I can remember my own dad piling about ten of us (aged between four and eleven) into his car on a Sunday morning, no seat belts, to take us all swimming at the local pool. Over the course of two or three years, he taught at least five of those young friends, both boys and girls, to swim by letting them rest their bellies on his arm and getting them to kick and swim with their arms. As their confidence grew, he gradually let the air out of their armbands and removed the support of his arm. Today, people would look askance at such behaviour.

Whilst I believe that these new measures to protect our children in both school and afterschool activities are positive steps to ensure their safety, I do worry at the amazingly high numbers of convicted offenders who appear to have been able to get jobs in close proximity to children in the decade before these restrictions were brought in. Was there always this volume of paedophiles or has there been a sudden proliferation in the last 15 years due to some other external factor?

Back then, the child molester was seen as a dirty old man in a raincoat, who shuffled surreptitiously along in his shame, thinking he was the only individual in the world who had these unnatural urges. Trying to hide himself away and keep his distance from any temptations, although sometimes unable to resist the urge to lurk and peep.

With hindsight, of course, we now know that he was far more likely to be a respectable family man with a houseful of either his own progeny, step or foster children that he could interfere with at will; or a highly respected professional with access to young people through his work with organisations relating to children; or even wear the uniform of an ordained religious man. This person had no need to abduct children for his own devices, he had a whole pool of them from which he could select and groom. And he could persuade himself that they had tempted him, coerced him into his actions.

Today, things are slightly different again because he can stay in his house and download images from the Internet to satisfy his cravings - up until recently with total impunity. He has access to photos and data and, worse, to forums because, through them, he can interact with other people of a similar persuasion. Instead of feeling guilty and sickened by his desires because no one else feels the way he does, there seems to be a whole bunch of people out there who have similar compunctions, encouraging him that his desires are not as unnatural and perverse as he originally thought and can be satisfied and acted upon. According to the media, it would seem now that there are gangs who will procure you a child to your set specifications, providing you have the money to pay for it and your computer will grant you an entree to them.

The Internet may have a lot to answer for.


DJ Kirkby said...

Very well written, I am impressed. This article should be publsihed on one of the journalistic blogs, try British Parent Bloggers, there is a link on my side bar. Ithink they would be interested in this post.

Casdok said...

Yes very well written and true.

Vi vi vi vooom!!!!!!!! said...

I'd like to say, I still let my children walk to and from school by themselves and let them down the park by themselves, at the age of 7 and 9. They know not to talk to strangers and come straight home if a stranger does. We can't stop our children from having a normal life. There aren't any more sickos out there then when we were kids. Just more publicised now.

BenefitScroungingScum said...

Well said about a difficult subject to raise. I personally feel just like Vi, there is no more stranger peadophilia than there ever has been, just media hype and massive parental panic over the 'bogeyman' concept so the reality of abusers almost always being family or close friends can still be ignored.
Where I live the consequence of this is that instead of allowing their children to play at the very nearby playing fields because of course that's too dangerous the mothers kick them outside from early morning til late at night (during summer holidays it went on from before 8am til as late as 10 pm)
The eldest of these children is 10 (which is fine) but the youngest has only just turned 3. They are bored and run wild, peeing on plants and other people's property, climbing into gardens, playing with bins and dog muck. They come to myself and various other adults without children looking for attention which is frankly disturbing.
Their latest game is to lie in the middle of the main road or run out in front of the cars. Its sickeningly difficult to spot a 3 year old over your bonnet. Any of these children could disappear and it would be hours before their mothers noticed.
But of course, it's still far too dangerous for them to play on the enclosed fields 200 meters away.

RONJAZZ said...

On this side of the Atlantic, however, there is occasion where the rampant conservatism that wants to invade every quarter is the rule of the day. NO ONE in their right mind endorses pedophilia...But we DO need to live our lives. If we allow the real evil of fear to run our lives, then we set ourselves and our families up for it all. Stand up, be intelligent and put one foot in front of the other. And teach your children the same.... That's what I believe.

Gypsy said...

Absolutely brilliant post! I know you have just read my post on my childhood so I smiled when I read about yours. There was so much freedom then to be free, to have a vivid imagination and just be kids.

Kids must sometimes wonder what kind of world they've been born into with all the warnings about paedophiles, drinks being spiked at night clubs, drugs, the list goes on and on. I wonder if they will look back and ever feel they were free once.

(Btw, why aren't you with Ruf if that's not too personal)

having my cake said...

DJK - Thank you. I have contacted BPB to see what they think.

Casdok - Thank you.

Vi - I started letting mine play out in the street when they were in y6. Since they started walking to and from school on their own at that age, it seemed like a natural progression and a natural learning curve towards the next step which would be catching the bus to senior school in y7.

BG - Three year olds playing 'chicken' makes me feel sick. There are a couple of children who seem to spend their whole time at my house or my neighbour's. Our kids flit between our houses in the holidays and at weekends but these kids come from several roads away. Our kids never go to their houses, it is always them coming to us. You wonder whether their parents even know where they are.

Ron - I agree. But the media put such a hideous slant on everything, blowing stuff out of all proportion. It makes us all scared to be good parents who teach responsibility.

Gypsy - I am so envious of your childhood with the haunted house lmao.
Why am I not with Ruf? Well not with him permanently is covered in my post on 'Having my Cake' in August I think. Why Im not with him this weekend? Sadly, we can only be together once or twice a month. This weekend, the teen and I had some quality time. We went and got some beers and Chinese and snuggled up on the sofa in front of the L Word. Apparently Im quite cool, as mother's go :) Cant ever imagine watching anything sexual on the tv with my mother!

Isabella Snow said...

In this country, parents still leave babies in baby carriages parked outside of the shop. See it every day. Amazing to a New Yorker, where kids are practically leashed to parents nowadays.

However.. I was home alone, walking to and from school alone from age 6. I think I walked about 1.3 miles each way. My mother was either very laid back, or just didn't give a fuck.


Angela-la-la said...

Ah, darling. I know I was in your thoughts as you wrote this and you know I agree, the danger has always been present and, sadly, far closer to home than the dirty old man in the park.

I do think that the ease in which perverts (and by that I mean true perverts, not consenting adults with a touch of kink that may call themselves such) can communicate and share over the net is a problem. Not because, as a lot of people think, it increases demand for material (personally I believe the demand has always been there in some form or other) but because the more they see others engaging in the same thing the more it normalises their actions to them.

A perversion shared is a perversion justified to those operating outside society's norms. The ones that break our deepest taboos are those most needy of confirmation and justification.

Put a heroin addict in a room full of teetotal deity-worshippers and the disparity would immediately call their behaviours into question. Then put them in a sink estate where hope is in shorter supply than married parents et voila, suddenly everyone needs a crutch and it's just a case of picking your poison.

Sulpicia said...

I read your last post first. And so this is the downside, for us in our times. Linking expands one world and the other.

Historically speaking, childhood is a relatively new concept. We protect ours until an unprecedented age.

Which is not to say I wouldn’t take anyone out who tried to mess with mine. Or with any child I know.

What is acceptable or not, kink or perversion, is society's call. Different in each juncture of time and place.

Fifty years ago we wouldn't know shit about clitorectomies. Now we do know and we're aghast and ensuring it stops.

Gah. I'm babbling. I guess I make a shitty moral compass.