Won't someone please think of the paedophiles?
There are few more emotive and controversial issues than the rights and wrongs of dealing with both paedophiles and child abuse. When it was announced last year, shortly after John Reid had ascended to the home secretaryship, that he was to send a minister to America to investigate how "Megan's Law" had been implemented, most assumed that it would quickly be forgotten once the hysteria over the case of Craig Sweeney had died down. It was therefore something of a surprise when a sympathetic, previously obscure Labour MP David Norris emerged at the weekend, leaking to the News of the Screws that a trial of a British version was to be implemented in his constituency and a couple of others.
As it turns out, it seems that either Norris got ahead of himself, wrongly briefed by the Home Office, or that the instant criticism even of the trial has meant that it has been somewhat watered down even further. The Home Office is claiming that no decision has yet been reached. The trials themselves therefore may involve single mothers being able to request information from the police on whether prospective partners are on the sex offenders register. The reasoning behind this is that predatory paedophiles are increasingly targeting vulnerable single mothers since they provide relatively easy, trusting access to children.
Even this relatively slight measure has a number of problems with it. It seems unlikely that a single mother, on finding that a man she's been associating with has a conviction for child abuse, is going to keep the information to herself. In fact, she's bound to inform anyone and everyone, including the local media that a sick pervert has been trying to get to her kids through her, even if he in fact wasn't. While this may well be an acceptable outcome in some way, unless the man is then able to be prosecuted for doing so, especially when he can quite reasonably claim that his motives were in fact pure, then the problem is simply magnified, with him either forced into moving away, or becoming an outcast who as a result is even more likely to attack a child on their own, making children even less safe. Unless we are then prepared to lock such potentially dangerous men away, possibly for the rest of their lives, then such a scheme seems to provide little actual comfort, except giving a single mother a false sense of security when her new love turns out to not have a past. It's also encouraging suspicion where there might not have been any in the first place.
The watered down version of Megan's Law which the Home Office denies has been approved yet is little better. Instead of giving the names of offenders in the area and exactly where they live, parents would instead be able to request the number of sex offenders that are living in the local area. It seems unclear just what parents are then meant to do with this information, other than potentially shit themselves and never let their children out of their sight again. It almost seems designed to increase fear of strangers, and of men especially. In the internet age, armed with the number of paedophiles in the area, research is bound to be easy enough to carry out in order to identify exactly who the faces behind the numbers are, therefore negating the whole premise behind restricting the full information in the first place.
Indeed, it makes you wonder if such a scheme does eventually go ahead whether it's a precursor to a full-version of Sarah's law being introduced shortly afterward, with the government forced into going further as a result of the concerned citizens' legitimate and understandable efforts to identify the perverts in their midst. Cynical, maybe, but the Sun, edited by Rebekah Wade, who started the original hysteria back in 2000, is already campaigning for the real deal, "canvassing" their readers, asking them to reply to an insultingly leading questionnaire:
1. If a convicted paedophile was living next door to you, should you have the right to know?
2. If a convicted paedophile was living near your child's school, should you have a right to know?
Durr, let me think. Headteachers are already being informed about paedophiles living near schools, as the Guardian article makes clear. Most convicted sex offenders recently released from prison are dealt with by MAPPA, with the various agencies within it deciding on a case by case basis whether locals need to be informed. It's in fact their hard-work which goes unnoticed in all of this.
3. Are the human rights of a convicted paedophile more important than those of potential victim?
Unsurprisingly, there isn't a box to tick where the human rights of a convicted paedophile not to be kicked to death by rampaging vigilantes or to be allowed to get on with their lives when they are complying with all the conditions of their release and aren't considered a danger to the public are balanced against the human rights of the potential victim. Or even, God forbid, where the human rights of a convicted but reformed paedophile (the Sun denies there is such a thing, even though there have been successful isolated schemes, Circles of Support and Accountability, where none of paedophiles on the course have re-offended as a result) are just as important as every other citizen's.
4. Should police resources be directed at protecting children rather than convicted paedophiles?
This is a daft question. Resources have to be spread between protecting children, and the groups that monitor sex offenders in the community, not either one or the other.
5. Would you feel your family was safer if Sarah's Law was introduced in Britain now?
Another stupid question, as we don't know what the effects of Sarah's law would be. If the results mirror those after the introduction of Megan Law's in the US, then we should expect vigilante attacks to go up and the number of convicted paedophiles currently complying with registration regulations to drop. The figure in the UK at the moment is that 97% of those released do so. Only 80% now do in the States.
Maybe if such evidence was given to Sun readers', they might come to a different conclusion to the one that the newspaper wants them to. As it is, they instead only provide the views of the sympathetic Labour MP, and one of the workers at the charity started by Sara Payne, both of whom support Sarah's law. The information about how Megan's law "works" also doesn't feature any criticisms of the scheme. Yesterday the Sun only bothered to report how Kidscape, a children's charity, supports at least the idea of single mothers being given information, without reporting how the head of Barnardo's and former head of the prison service, Martin Narey, made clear how he thinks it'll in fact make the current threat more insidious through offenders going underground. The NSPCC has also investigated whether Megan's law makes children safer, and found no evidence to suggest it does.
Instead, the Sun's readers' will instead have to make do with the views of Rebekah Wade:
I didn't realise that the NSPCC, Barnardo's and indeed, even this government, were members of the civil liberties brigade. Welcome brothers!
But it can only be a first step. More must follow if we are to provide our children with the protection they need.
The Sun hopes ministers will look hard at the results of the Reader Referendum we are conducting today.
Our readers have always wanted the whole neighbourhood to have the right to know if a child sex monster is living near them or a school.
They know these ruthless perverts rarely respond to counselling or treatment and remain paedophiles all their lives.
Err, so if you already know the results of this "referendum", why are you even bothering carrying it out?
As it stands, the proposed new law is unlikely to prevent avoidable attacks on young victims.
When it comes to choosing between the human rights of a child and those of a sexual predator, there IS no choice.
Let us decide once and for all whose rights matter the most.
This is a false dichotomy. Rights are universal; they apply to everyone, even "sexual predators", or at least those that aren't breaching the conditions of their original release. We can't pick and choose who has human rights and who doesn't, especially as I wasn't even sure that the Sun believed in human rights. It certainly doesn't in the Human Rights Act itself, which provides the very measures that allows for the relatives of victims of sexual predators to get inquests into the death of their loved ones.
It would be a shame then if the results of the Sun's referendum were skewed by those concerned of the dangers of introducing Sarah's law in full. The poll is here, although I obviously cannot condone the actions of anyone attempting to do such a thing.