Paedophilia draws serious news coverage in the UK. The tabloids love nothing more than a good 'paedo hunt', whipping up the hysteria into terrible proportions, leaving innocent men and women suffering under the assault of misguided, or plain ignorant, people. Two cases to evidence this - a recent one, of an elderly man wrongly accused of paedophilia suffering a heart attack after being at the centre of a campaign based solely on lies told by two girls, the other being an older case of the paediatrician harassed by the ignorant followers of a campaign. Politicians, judges, police officers and social workers are all under pressure to be tough on paedophiles, as though they were the demons possessing communities, the totemic symbols of much of what is wrong with Britain today.
This supposed malady, however, is founded on a moral fallacy of cosmic proportions. I am going to draw a very clear line in the sand here - those who try and argue against me must remember this definition. Paedophilia - that is, the sexual attraction to children - is not, in itself, 'wrong'. It is when paedophiles try to carry out their fantasises in real life that it, necessarily, becomes illegal, because the age of consent is a vital legal concept, designed to protect the very youngest of us from accusations of committing acts they do not truly understand. But this critical definition - the line between the mind and the actualisation - has been neglected.
I do not condone the behaviour of paedophiles who have carried out any act driven by their fantasy that breaks the law. But I cannot stand this current climate of driving them out of communities, isolating them, listing them, treating parents, school teachers, even popular authors as paedophiles until they can prove otherwise. We are not helping ourselves on this - in fact, we're compounding the problem.
A recent BBC article on female sex offenders has an interview with a lady who manages a group that helps former sex offenders after prison makes an important point - social exclusion of paedophiles increases re-offending rates. If these people are excluded and driven underground, it becomes very hard for us to keep subtle tabs on them. Worse still, any underlying psychological issues that they may have will probably be compounded by such treatment and, I believe, help drive up the chance of them re-offending, potentially in a much more harmful way.
There needs to be a two-fold approach to dealing with this problem. Firstly, the government must push for measures that help paedophiles become integrated into communities. If they feel safe, and that they have somewhere to turn to to help them deal with their desires, friends and neighbours who will support them and help them find professional help if needs be, if they feel they place value in the communities in which they live, then I firmly believe that they are much less likely to offend, and more likely to be caught if they do. Stricter punishments for those who start and persecute campaigns against paedophiles, better public information for communities, work with social services and NGOs to encourage communities to accept paedophiles in, to offer them help rather than hostility, all can work together to achieve this sort of aim.
Secondly, the government must act to reduce the 'paedo around every corner' culture endemic in its' own legislation. The registers for everyone who goes onto a school site - which seems to be set in the principle that you're a paedophile unless you can prove otherwise, should end. Each individual should have one CRB check for themselves, not one for every job they do. The costs of CRB checks should be met by the government, not by individuals or the voluntary sector. Instead of endless 'agencies' to deal with this, the government should subsume it all into a "National Sex Crime Agency", which works with the Home Office, Ministry of Justice, police, courts and social services to deliver one approach to sex offenders and the multiplicity of problems they bring and they have. Above all else, it should aim to treat paedophiles and others as human beings in need of help and careful monitoring, not villification.
I am aware that many victims of sex offenders or paedophiles may object to what I am saying. I am also aware that this is a proposal to be enacted over the medium term, not a quick fix. But I stand by it - we need a longer-term policy than the one we have currently have, aimed at producing a system wherein sex offenders are no threat because they feel they have something of worth in the society in which they live, reducing their incentive to break the rules and putting them in easy reach of those who can help them, or keep them from hurting others. That, truly would be a successful policy, in my belief.