Wednesday, 4 April 2012

NSPCC brings Brass Eye to Life

Revealed: the Paedophile Map of Britain, screams the headline in the Mail.  Actually, the headline is misleading: it's merely the paedophile map of England and Wales.  We'll have to wait for the paedophile map of Scotland.  The Mail didn't go for the obvious headline, PaedophIsles, perhaps because they remembered that Chris Morris got there more than a decade ago.  But otherwise it Brass Eye come to life.  "Why is it that we can no longer think of the British Isles, without the word 'paedoph' in front of them?"

The byline is "Daily Mail Reporter", an infallible sign that what we're looking at is a glorified press release.  And the story comes courtesy of the NSPCC, which has compiled the map based on figures obtained from police forces under the Freedom of Information Act.  The "shocking" figures refer to reports rather than convictions, and no contextual information is provided: for example, whether the incidence of reported child abuse is increasing, declining or remains fairly constant, or how many of the alleged offences were committed in the home as opposed to by strangers, or why only one in ten of the reports resulted in a conviction.


Nor do the figures set out in the Mail add up.  Of the 23,000 reports recorded by the 43 police forces, just under 5,000 (fewer than 20%) related to children under ten, we are told.  Around 15,000 victims were aged 11-17.  That leaves 3,000 unaccounted for.  The NSPCC asked for information on alleged sex offences committed against all children and young people under 18, including rape, incest and child prostitution.  Girls were six times more likely to be victims than boys.  From this it might be reasonable to deduce that a high proportion of the allegations relate to sexual assaults against teenage girls, including those over sixteen.  However serious, such crimes wouldn't fit into most normal definitions of paedophilia.

 The message the NSPCC wants to get across seems, though, to be one of generalised, pervasive fear: a message for which the Daily Mail, as so often, makes the perfect conduit.  We shouldn't be surprised.  The NSPCC has got itself something of a reputation for scaremongering about child abuse.  Frank Furedi has described the organisation as "a lobby group devoted to publicising its peculiar brand of anti-parent propaganda" and written that it is "shameless about its obsession with publicity."   A few highlights will suffice:

Last November it claimed that one in four babies in Britain were "at high risk" of being abused.  The charity was accused of gimmickry for supporting a campaign to get Facebook users to change their profile pictures to those of cartoon characters to raise awareness, or something.

In 2010 the NSPCC released a bizarre and creepy video warning music teachers not to touch their students while demonstrating how to play their instruments properly, lest it be construed as "inappropriate".  Michael Gove suggested that the video was "playing to a culture of fear among both adults and children" and "sending out completely the wrong message".

In 2009 the Advertising Standards Authority banned an NSPCC ad campaign which (based on out-of-date statistics) that one in six children are sexually abused.  The ASA noted that the presentation of the figures would lead people to infer that the physical abuse of children was far more prevalent than it actually was.

This came two years after the ASA censured the charity for using made-up stories of child abuse to solicit donations, in a hard-hitting mailshot that was liable to cause recipients "undue fear and distress". 

A report in the same year (2007) concluded that despite raising £250 in its Full Stop campaign the NSPCC had failed to make much if any impact on the actual abuse of children.  It noted the NSPCC's preference for high-profile PR campaigns drawing public attention to child abuse, something that had "very little bearing on whether a substance-abusing parent neglects their child behind closed doors, or whether a sexual offender chooses to abuse a child when they have the opportunity to do so in secret."

1990, at the height of the Satanic Ritual Abuse hysteria, the NSPCC fuelled the panic with a report that claimed that SRA was widespread in Britain.  The charity made much of the allegation that groups of ritual abusers were engaged in the systematic production of child pornography, something for which there was never a shred of evidence.