Thursday, 26 April 2007

Child abuse

I suggest we need to think rather carefully about some of the issues raised by the case of the latest choirmaster to be found guilty of abusing choirboys. Much of what I have read and heard on this subject so far today betrays an above average level of muddled thinking.

We can all, I hope, agree that the abuse of children is wrong. It would also seem that procedures now in place to safeguard children in this country are pretty stringent and, for the most part, effective. However these procedures and the attitudes that both feed and result from such procedures have changed markedly over the past ten or fifteen years.

What happened before then was different in that although most people thought the 'abuse' of children (I continue to use the catch-all pc term) was wrong, methods for dealing with such matters had not then been codified as they are now and therefore practice varied considerably. While by today's standards many aspects of the way responsible, competent individuals and organizations dealt with instances of paedophilic abuse were not at all satisfactory, we must, I think, be careful to avoid one of the besetting modern hypocrisies of judging the events and attitudes of the past through the narrow prism of current thinking. As a society we simply have to be able to accept that over time collective pre-occupations, to say nothing of notions of what is acceptable and what is unacceptable behaviour, change and it serves no useful purpose to exercise our other obsession with apportioning blame for current mishaps, retrospectively.

I write as a former chorister at a very well-known English cathedral. I was never abused in any meaningful sense nor am I aware that any of my contemporaries experienced such abuse. What I do recall is behaviour by certain adults which, if it were to occur today, would result in these individuals’ instant dismissal but probably not their prosecution. We were taught how to handle such situations and in doing so learned one of the many lessons children in every generation have to learn about a world and human environment beset by risk and danger.

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