Posted by Mark Murray
Copied from the editor’s desk -The Tablet — Abuse inquiry urgently needed
18 May 2013
From the court appearances of accused TV stars to historic scandals involving priests, music teachers and care workers, to the killing of young girls, Britain’s news pages, websites and TV bulletins are awash with cases of the sexual abuse of children. This week the shocking details of the depravity of a group of men in Oxford were revealed during a court case which saw a gang of eight convicted of the rape and torture of six girls over more than a decade. The conclusion to be drawn is that in Britain sexual exploitation and predation is endemic; that it goes back decades and continues into the present. Many perpetrators have been allowed to continue their crimes unchallenged.
The Catholic Church was one of the first institutions in this country to stand accused of negligence in its dealing with the child victims of abuse and the handling of their abusers. Some critics of the Church blamed its tradition of a celibate priesthood, claiming that sexual frustration was the primary cause. But the scandals now coming to light show that celibacy is not a common denominator. Paedophilia is about power, about people in positions of authority, or who are famous, or are even ordinary but have gained power through long-term grooming of children, who target the vulnerable and defenceless.
There are other common factors. Paedophiles continue targeting young people because institutions allow them to do so. Sometimes those institutions were the ones to which the criminals belonged – the Catholic Church, the Church of England, the BBC – and which failed to act because those in charge were more concerned with the institutions’ reputations and the impact of scandal than with the pain of a child.
On other occasions, as has happened in Oxford, as well as Rochdale and other northern towns, the abusers got away with it because the police, social services and others in positions of responsibility failed to intervene, or did not do enough to protect the children from the perpetrators. There has also been speculation that some agencies failed to act in the case of the Oxford and Rochdale scandals because of racial and religious sensitivities: the victims were white; their attackers were Asian, often Pakistani Muslims. While some experts now accept that white girls have been preyed on by such men who are linked to organised crime, others point out that group grooming is a small part of the picture and that white males, operating as individuals and often through the internet, are a far bigger problem.
What is evident is that the causes of paedophilia, the incidents of it, safeguarding procedures and best practice, all merit further study. In Australia, the response has been to set up a royal commission into child sexual abuse, with a particular focus on institutional cases. A similar inquiry in Britain would enable victims to have their stories heard; it would be an opportunity to consider to what extent changes in culture are needed or whether individual culpability is what matters most. And it should also consider whether the law needs to be changed, making it a legal obligation to report suspected abuse to the police. For many victims, the worst aspects of abuse are being ignored and denied justice. A public inquiry would offer the chance to right these wrongs.