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"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Edmund Burke

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Sex offender hysteria kills children

by Wendy McElroy

On Nov. 28, 2002, 2-year-old Abigail Rae died by drowning in a village pond in England. Her death is currently stirring debate because the ongoing inquest revealed an explosive fact. A man passing by was afraid to guide the lost child to safety because he feared being labeled "a pervert."

In the article "Day of the dad: paedophilia hysteria leaves men afraid to help," The Telegraph raises a question that applies equally to North America. Have high profile cases of pedophilia created such public hysteria that the average decent human being, especially a man, is now reluctant to approach a child in need?

Consider what happened to Abby. The toddler wandered from her nursery school, Ready Teddy Go, through a door left open. A bricklayer named Clive Peachey drove past her in his truck. At the inquest, he stated, "I kept thinking I should go back. The reason I didn't was because I thought people might think I was trying to abduct her."

Instead, he assured himself that the parents must be "driving around" and would find her.

A few minutes thereafter, Abby fatally fell into an algae-covered pond. Meanwhile, the nursery staff searched. When the mother noticed the staff near her home, she was told they were looking for a "lost dog" but the truth soon emerged. The frantic mother's search ended when she leaped into the pond to fish out what she thought was Abby's shoe.

She stated, "As I grabbed for the shoe, I missed and was shocked to touch what felt like a leg. I pulled the leg upwards." The dead child emerged.

Abby's case may be extreme but it hinges on a question that commonly confronts everyone who interacts with other people's children. Is it possible to touch a child in a non-abusive manner without risking terrible repercussions?

Before moving to this question, however, it is necessary to consider a related issue that arises in almost every discussions of Abby. Is Clive Peachey legally or morally responsible for her death?

For several reasons, I argue that he is not. First and foremost, the responsibility lies with the nursery staff who became her guardians. Abby was in no immediate danger when Peachey saw her and he contacted the police upon later hearing a 'missing child' report.

Arguably, if he had phoned the police immediately, Abby would have been dead long before they arrived. Moreover, by coming forth, Peachey has accepted the damage to his life that comes with the public disgrace of saying "I drove past her."

Important information in judging Peachey is missing. For example, if Peachey has a family, he may have been reluctant to place his reputation or livelihood at risk. He may have balanced possible harm to his own children against helping a stranger's child.


Every day I read news items on the hysteria that surrounds the closely-related issues of sex offenders and pedophilia. As a woman who lived on the streets briefly as a runaway teen, I would never deny the existence of sexual abuse or the unique vulnerability of children to it.

But I simply do not believe society now produces 10x, 20x, 100x more sexual offenders than it did a few decades ago when children walked home from school alone and I did, as did every other child I knew. I do not believe the politicized and self-serving statistics I read from social workers, PC feminists, law enforcement and others who draw money/prestige from the "child abuse industry." I know for a fact (because I investigated several cases) that the lives of entirely innocent people are being destroyed by false or otherwise ungrounded accusations that, once made, are a de facto GUILTY conviction in the eyes of the public. The soaring number of sex offenders on registries and in jail are far more a result of unreasonably expanded definitions that include an 18-year-old having sex with his teenaged girlfriend, teens texting each other, etc. It is the result of a legal system that draws little distinction between violent sexual assault and the distasteful but non-violent act of exposing one's genitalia. And, so, an increasing number of sexual offenders (overwhelmingly males) now live under bridges or on the street because of residency restrictions; they cannot get jobs; they have fewer and fewer legal rights every day; any chance of rehabilitation is virtually stripped away and non-violent offenders naturally turn brutal or suicidal in facing utter hatred from all whom they meet...

Today I read a story that made my blood run cold. There has been (from what I can see) an increasing trend toward a vigilantism in which sex offenders are brutalized -- sometimes to the point of death -- by neighborhood residents who are informed by the authorities that an "offender" is moving nearby. What the hell do the police think will happen when they announce that Satan has come to town in order to rape your 3-year-old? The blood-curdling story from this morning: Parents told how to protect kids from predators. The police chief in a town in Vermont is apparently frustrated that a soon-to-be released sex offender -- who is named in the story, of course -- has the right to live wherever he wishes. I presume he was sentenced prior to residency restriction laws because such freedom is severely curtailed for those sentenced today or in recent years. And, so, the police chief gathered together parents from the community to personally warn them of the fellow's background and advise them to 'protect' their children from him. Of course, he adds the standard boilerplate warning that lets him entirely 'off the hook', No rough stuff, now! Don't break the law. I have no doubt officials such as this police chief turn their faces away (whenever they can do so with impunity) from the brutalization of sex offenders within their jurisdictions; hell, the police themselves are the main perpetrators.

A final irony of the sexual offender hysteria is that the drive to protect children is actually endangering them. Decent, decent men -- like my husband -- know to stay away from children...even to help them. They know how vulnerable they are to false or mistaken charges that could ruin their lives merely by being spoken aloud. I have made Brad promise NEVER to volunteer for a Special Olympics or any other event where he will be in contact with children; this has been a hardship for him because volunteering in the community in one of his favorite things. What do parents and authorities expect will happen to children when decent men with common sense literally avert their eyes when they see a child approaching? Do they think that child will have people rushing to assist him/her when lost, hurt or in other danger? They have destroyed the social network of decent human beings whose natural instinct is to help a child in need. This helps children?

This train of thought reminded me of an article I wrote years ago about an incident that drives home the impact of sex offender hysteria upon children. Some children will die because of it....

Peachey's fears have precedence on this side of the Atlantic.

Last summer, an Illinois man lost an appeal on his conviction as a sex offender for grabbing the arm of a 14-year-old girl. She had stepped directly in front of his car, causing him to swerve in order to avoid hitting her.

The 28-year-old Fitzroy Barnaby jumped out his car, grabbed her arm and lectured her on how not to get killed. Nothing more occurred. Nevertheless, that one action made him guilty of "the unlawful restraint of a minor," which is a sexual offense in Illinois. Both the jury and judge believed him. Nevertheless, Barnaby went through years of legal proceedings that ended with his name on a sex offender registry, where his photograph and address are publicly available. He must report to authorities. His employment options are severely limited; he cannot live near schools or parks.

Arguably, the law would have punished Barnaby less had he hit the girl or not cared enough to lecture her. Perhaps that's the equation that ran through Peachey's mind.

Again, Barnaby is an extreme case. But ordinary people make decisions on how to interact with children based on such high profile stories.

The effect on average people in non-extreme situations can be partially gauged through a study conducted by Dr. Heather Piper at Manchester Metropolitan University: "The Problematics of 'Touching' Between Children and Professionals." Piper examined six case-study schools through interviews with teachers, parents and children regarding the propriety of touch.

Commentator Josie Appleton reviewed the study, "Reported cases include the teacher who avoided putting a plaster [bandaid] on a child's scraped leg; nursery staff calling a child's mother every time he needed to go to the toilet; a male gym teacher leaving a girl injured in the hall while he waited for a female colleague."

One school reportedly kept an account of every 'touching incident.' They stated, "We write down a short account and date it and put which staff were present and at what time, we then explain it to the parent and ask them to read and sign it."

Appleton observed that this is more in keeping with "police logs than teaching children."

The last words encapsulate the problem.

Touching a child, even to render medical assistance, has become a potential police matter.

Child abuse must be addressed but it is worse than folly to punish those who help children. Our society is creating Clive Peachey -- decent men who will walk away from a child in need.

Abby Rae died not only from drowning but also from bad politics.

Wendy McElroy - Monday 11 May 2009


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