I’m sure I’m not the only one to watch the release of Gary Glitter from jail in Vietnam on child molestation grounds, and the government’s reaction to it, with alarm. Glitter was memorably jailed in 1999 for having inexplicably gone to a PC World to get his computer repaired, only to get caught for having 4000 underage sexual images on it. More recently he was imprisoned in Vietnam after having had repeated sexual contact with 10 and 11 year old girls, although rumours persist that they were paid off to make their allegations. Not to understate things too severely, but whatever the truth of the claims in Vietnam, the man has a problem, and is a problem the likes of which we as a society haven’t yet decided what to do with. And my alarm doesn’t so much come from him, but the instantaneous knee-jerk response by the government and media to his reappearance.
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Gary Glitter is now being used as a pawn and I find it disgraceful. I find it disgraceful that a huge fuss is being made over just one man who has done his time. But rather than initiating procedures or making resources available to actually help him, Britain instead is contorting in a renewed moral panic. ‘That foul paedophile’ eh? Not to diminish the severity of his proven crime in the UK, but how seriously can you take a government who uses this man’s reappearance as a distraction from their own incompetence? They’re destroying all of our civil liberties, robbing the poor to pay off the middle class, breaking their own anti-poverty and environmental targets, but at least they can say they’re strengthening the control order regime against those guilty of child sex offences (which is already incredibly tight). Is it genuinely not possible to get any perspective here? Jacqui Smith, not one known for human qualities, even had the gall to announce this on Talk Sport radio, as if she weren’t shamelessly populist already!
Boris Johnson has a sager perspective on the situation. Writing in 2006 he complained:
I mean, come off it, folks. How many paedophiles can there be? Are we really saying that any time an adult male finds himself sitting next to someone under 16, he must expect to be hustled from his seat before the suspicious eyes of the entire cabin?
What about adult females? Every week there is some new tale of what a saucy French mistress is deemed to have done with her adolescent charges behind the bicycle sheds; and, disgraceful though these episodes may be, I don’t hear anyone saying that children should be shielded from adult women. Do you? Or maybe I’m wrong — maybe all adults will have to carry personal cardboard partitions with them on every plane or train, just in case they find themselves sitting next to under-16s.
Even as I write, I can imagine the lip-pursing of some of my lovely high-minded readers. How would you like it, they will say, if some weird chap was plonked next to your kids? And they are right that I would worry about some strange adult sitting next to my children, chiefly because I wouldn’t want the poor fellow to come to any harm.
To all those who worry about the paedophile plague, I would say that they not only have a very imperfect understanding of probability; but also that they fail to understand the terrible damage that is done by this system of presuming guilt in the entire male population just because of the tendencies of a tiny minority.
And make no mistake, the papers are ‘off on one again’, and will be seeking to drag public opinion with them, whatever the balance you see in the video. Paul Gadd meanwhile has just been denied entry to Hong Kong, having been denied entry into Thailand, after refusing to return to Jacqui Smith and the Home Office’s kiss of death. I’m exaggerating you say? David Wilson believes not:
We also know what makes sex offenders generally, and paedophiles specifically, re-offend when they return to the community after a prison sentence. In short, they are more likely to re-offend when they are “named and shamed”, hounded from pillar to post, demonised, scapegoated and pilloried because when that happens they calculate that they may as well commit more crimes because, well, they have nothing left to lose. Sadly, an unnamed police officer quoted in the Sun doesn’t seem to be aware of this fact and claimed that when Gadd returned he would get a “Hell of a tough time … we’ll unleash the hounds”.
We don’t have the right to dehumanise anyone. The police don’t have the inherent authority to pre-criminalise anyone (although you try to tell them that) and Jacqui Smith certainly doesn’t have the right to say:
Ms Smith today announced tighter controls on the movement of paedophiles but she dismissed a suggestion that the Government had wanted a “celebrity paedophile” to promote the crackdown and had found it “embarrassing” that Glitter had not come home.
“No paedophile is a celebrity, every paedophile needs to be controlled,” she said.
She told GMTV Glitter was “despicable” and said it was “pretty hard to imagine it would be legitimate for him to travel abroad again”.
So says the thoroughly despicable woman who believes that sending gay asylum seekers back to Iran is perfectly safe as long as they’re discreet. Glitter’s current failure to return to the UK is an egg in the face for a government more concerned with spin and blunt instruments than good policy. Try making parents responsible for their children’s welfare once again, try the old (and successful) system of teaching children to risk assess their relationships with older people and strangers, try helping people who demonstrably have problems, and what about ending this ridiculous campaign (and charade) of controlling people in order to save a mythical, threatened majority. Governments mustn’t be allowed to get away with such shameless diversionary tactics, certainly not at the cost of individuals, particularly the vulnerable ones, hidden away from the full glare of a greedy and compassion-free media.