16 July 2014
I have long held the view that child abuse is much more common than acknowledged. The scale of the problem was brought home to me a decade ago by a Newsnight report that devoted its entire programme to a woman who was frightened her estranged father was going to abuse his new grandson.
She retold how her father had ‘sold’ her to neighbours across her estate on a weekly basis. When given a map of her area, she pointed to seven houses to which she was regularly taken.
I sat back and asked myself: if seven men were happily paying to abuse this one girl on this one estate – how many other people were they abusing – and how many people throughout the country are involved in this kind of abuse? It didn’t take much extrapolation to appreciate that it must be happening on an enormous scale.
That is why I don’t think the current climate is in any way an overreaction. Indeed, I don’t think we have begun to get to grips with this problem.
Yet at the same time it profoundly saddens me that children are now confronted by unsmiling adults in public as everyone blankly stares ahead, terrified of interacting with children, even with a smile, lest the finger of suspicion is pointed in their direction. I for one will continue to interact with children in the way I always have done. We cannot bring up our children to think that all adults are aloof, uncaring, unconnected people – because that will cause its own problems in the future.
Our innocent eyes are being opened to the real world around us. Yet we must not allow fear to interfere with the normal, joyous relationship we must all have with the children growing up around us. To borrow from Arthur Miller, they are all our sons and daughters and we have a responsibility not to look away, in any context.
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