Time to do the (Childrens) Right thing?

6:57 PM / Posted by David Hartery /

“The “Stranger Danger” program that was widely shown in public schools was the most damaging campaign ever in terms of child abduction. It taught children about the “scary man in the trench coat hiding behind the tree” instead of warning children that strangers are only a fraction of the offenders. Most people who hurt and abduct children are family members, teachers, neighbours, people they see every day.”

- Dr Spencer Reid, Criminal Minds Season 1 - “What Fresh Hell”

RTE ran a “damning” exposé of paedophile rings in Ireland, determined to show that the creeps are just a click away. Posing as a young child they proceeded to try and entice paedophiles into soliciting them for sex.

There are ethical and taste issues with such a practice (Just watch “To Catch a Predator” to see every single one of them) but while I personally found the show crass and distasteful (the quotations from the paedophiles in trying to solicit the “child” were particularly unnecessary and disturbing) my main issue is with the blatant scaremongering that the show was based on. Your children are probably least at risk, statistically, from the pervert behind a webcam. Who you really need to be wary of is the pervert teaching them history, the pervert who lives next door, the pervert who trains the football team or the pervert that you're married to.

You may say, this isn't a problem. We can at once warn parents about the dangers of predatory paedophiles and explain the warning signs of child abuse at home. Except we don't. We don't run the same type of dedicated program to shining light on child abuse by people in these situations. The whole paedophile priest fiasco typifies the Irish attitude to such circumstances. It took years and years for those abuses to come to light. And they were far more prevalent than instances of child grooming online.

And what if both the parents are abusive? What if they haven't the concerned mammies and daddies who look through their MSN chat logs and secretly check their bebo; like many internet safety advocates have trumpeted during the week since the program. What if it is the parents who are neglectful or sexually abusive? Well due to the disgraceful anachronism which is the Irish constitutional regard for children, many of them get away with it. Our constitution is a document that places a higher regard for the stability of the “family” than it does for the children being damaged within that unit. A relic of the days of strict Catholicism, children in Ireland can often be left in horribly abusive scenarios due to this ridiculous line of precedent. Even the reforms introduced after the Kilkenny Incest report in 1993 haven't stamped out the issue – as illustrated by the continuing appearance before the courts of issues of failure in the protection of children, many of which are based on the absence of adequate rights for minors.

But in the week following this Prime Time program, were the airwaves flooded by well spoken Bernardos officials, experts in Constitutional Law and people who work with the abused? No. The week immediately following was filled with under informed members of the general public terrified that their children were inches away from abduction and rape on Facebook. Has the campaign for children's rights ever gotten the level of attention that the Prime Time program managed to attract this week? Not once.

It is a sad day, when a much more moving, realistic and valuable story is left to one side for a cheap sensationalist dig at the Gardai for not catching the online predators. It's over a year since the Ryan report called for a referendum on children's rights. Surely it is time for a cheap sensationalist dig at the Government for not catching the real predators.


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