What will they think of next?

Hi all, the Deputy here for one more post.  Lenore will be back on Monday.

We’ve talked a lot about the United Kingdom and their, well, obsession with rooting out pedophiles, or as they write, paeodophiles.  I think they finally, yes finally, have this problem really and truly licked.  Tim Black of Spiked-Online reports that the  “UK Home Office’s sex offender scheme is set to go nationwide.” His article is excellent and brings up a number of thoughtful points. Here is the link:  spiked-online

And just to clarify, yes, this government plan is referred to as a “scheme”! Perfect!  Here’s a quote from the UK Home Office:  “Under the terms of the scheme a parent, carer or guardian or another interested party, can request that an individual who has access to their child or children is checked to see whether they have a record of committing child sexual offences.”

I think a better name for this “initiative” might be the “Nothing Bad Will Ever Happen To Our Nation’s Children As Long As We Consistently Encourage Distrust Of Everyone Around Us Scheme”.  What do you think?

27 Responses

  1. FWIW, I think the Brits use “scheme” as we use “plan”.

  2. I’m just very sorry that the tax payers money spent on this scheme has not been allocated towards a UK charity such as Kidscape which teaches children and provides materials for adults who work with children about how to keep safe and aware in terms of child sexual abuse.

    The sex offenders list is strange too in that it does not state the crime. A serial rapist is far more of a danger than a 17yr old who had a relationship with a 15 yr old back in 1986.

    I remember the paranoia caused by the reporting of incidents over the years. A paediatrician was hounded out of her home as the local people in her neighbourhood thought this meant she was a paedophile.

    Have we sorted out child sexual abuse here in the UK? If only, if only ….

  3. I wouldn’t be surprised if it also worked to perpetually strengthen itself, so that having your “predit” report pulled a certain number of times would then count against you and arouse suspicion.

  4. Wow….Science fiction continues to tell the future. Minority Report is coming to fruition. Pretty soon, they will be able to tell who *might* commit these crimes and stop it before it starts!

    [/sarcasm off]

    Jeez Murphy……

  5. I am not sure I understand the program. But I don’t see what is wrong with having a source of information on people our kids will be with. It is better than just assuming that everyone is a child abuser to “be on the safe side.” It would also ensure that organizations that work with kids are as careful as they should be about screening potential candidates.

    I understand that there are some people who are on the registries for doing things completely unrelated to children and without criminal intent. But the idea of a meaningful registry to which parents have access is a good one. Making the registry meaningful and fair seems to be the controversial part. Maybe parents should simply have access to a searchable list of individuals who are not allowed to be in contact with children / live close to schools due to what they have done in the past.

  6. @SKL

    After reading this article, it is as I had suspected, and therein, to my thinking, lies the problem. If your kid is invited to another kid’s house for, say, a birthday party, you can request records on all adults who might be at the house for that party (your kid’s friends’ parents, any and all of them), to see if they are on a registry.

    The article also references the Cleveland satanic-abuse ring thing that got a whole bunch of people in deep trouble, and was later shown to be completely innacurate. Ooops… sorry. Sorry your lives were ruined, but, ya’ know, better safe than sorry.

    And not to mention, many sex offenders who are out there HAVE NO RECORD!!! They have to first get caught and convicted. This renders the list pretty useless, and doesn’t provide any real safety.

    When we suspect everyone we meet, casually or professionally, of wanting to hurt our kids, it certainly makes us want to take shelter in our homes and vehicles, not exposing ourselves or our kids to perceived dangers that probably don’t exist. That is the exact opposite of what I understand free-ranging to champion. Most people are good. Most adults will help a child, not hurt them, we have to trust in humanity, not be overly suspicious of it.

    Anywhere my kids are that they are cared for by professionals (well, grandkid. Kids are adults now…), those adults have ALREADY been screened. I don’t need to ask the government to check up on the mom who wants to have the kid over to play, do I? Really? Or the neighbor who offers the kid to come into the garden to cut a flower? Really? I want to BUILD community, not more walls.

  7. Coming from the UK and working with and in schools I have to have the “Enhanced Disclosure Scotland” check to ensure that up until the date of the certificate I have no unsuitable criminal convictions. Sounds quite sensible. The certificates are valid for 3 years. Did I say certificates – plural? Oh yes! In the past 3 years I have been Disclosure Checked 6 times.

    It is not sufficient for one certificate to be like a passport which can be scanned and different schools and organisations to be told that all is fine. Each Disclosure Check is expensive and also time consuming to process especially for people who have lived abroad in the past 5 years. Each time, different organisations take photocopies of key documents like passports, driving licences and birth and marriage certificates. The data protection issues around the collation and management of this process are serious and identify fraud can easily happen.

    This system, like so much in relation to the safety of our children has come about as a consequence of a tragic event. I very much hope that eventually we will move to a society that is more proactive rather than reactive in its approach to children. Then people’s heads as well as their hearts can be involved in the decisions that are taken at local and national levels.

  8. gramomster: You hit it on the head: it’s not just “many” child sex abusers out there who have no record, it’s the vast majority of them. And since most them are offending against family members or close friends’ kids, an increased atmosphere of distrust toward anyone who isn’t family or a close friend will only make it easier for them to get away with it (not only will abused kids be scared of talking to the only people who can help them, third parties who have reasonable suspicions will be scared of getting involved for fear of becoming suspects themselves).

  9. I know most child abusers don’t have records yet, but many of those who prey on unrelated kids do.

    I grew up in a pretty normal neighborhood, and at least 3 adults and 2 teens within a half a block of my home made specfic advances toward me or a sibling of mine. I found out over the years that all 3 of the adults (2 elderly, 1 in his 30s) were up to something with multiple kids in the neighborhood. They had mysterious backgrounds and odd living arrangements, but as they were very “nice” to kids, their homes were kid magnets – until the kids figured out they should be scared – after something happened.

    Those were different times, but now with grown-up street-smarts, I suspect those three adults had records. It would have been nice if my parents could have checked them out – one because he lived directly across the street from us, and 2 because we hung around at their house a lot. My parents wouldn’t have done anything crazy, but at least they would have told us not to go over there – and several things that happened need not have.

    People need to understand how to use the knowledge they have, but there is no reason to deny intelligent people access to this type of information. We (free-rangers) are supposed to be all about recognizing our kids’ capability to use their wits to survive “out there,” yet some of us imply that adults don’t have that capability.

  10. It’s especially troubling since because those victims people are most concerned about (actual children, old enough to walk and talk but still pre-pubescent… say for the sake of argument ages 3-10) are far more likely to be abused by their own parents or caregivers. If you expand that to include parents, caregivers, relatives, and close trusted friends of the family, it accounts for the vast, vast majority of abuse cases for that age range.

    Of course, the whole big lot of them pale beside the cases of neglect and physical abuse (perhaps as much as 10 times as many cases of these less “sexy” crimes). But those aren’t nearly as much fun for the ideologues and politicians to harp on about.

    The bottom line is that “schemes” like this (good word choice) aren’t done in the best interest of children. Or at least, that’s not their primary goal. They are created by some very opportunistic people to scare parents into giving them things (votes, cash) by playing to their basest fears, no matter how unlikely or improbable those fears may turn out to be in the light of reason.

    If I had a dollar for every time a conversation with friends went like this: “… but if you were that one in a million, you would wish they had a working system like this in place —> Even if it doesn’t work? –> Well, at least they’re TRYING to protect the kids! What’s YOUR magic solution to this epidemic of child sex abuse? —> Well, I don’t think it’s an epidemic, really… from what I’ve seen, the experts claim that stranger abuse of children is actually extremely rare —> Whose side are you on, anyway, weirdo?” … Well, I might be rich enough to get some new friends and colleagues. :/

  11. Well, I am getting a bit concerned here about the “statistics.” I don’t believe it is extremely rare for unrelated adults to sexually bother kids. Especially kids who are seen as “not well cared for,” which many people consider free-range kids to be nowadays.

    Whether these things happened to me and my siblings because we were perceived as vulnerable (we were free-range, latchkey kids, etc.), or because this actually is pretty common – or both – it doesn’t matter. Either way, child sex offenders in the neighborhood ARE an issue for free-range parents.

    Just because most kids don’t to report these incidents to the police (none of my family ever told any adults until years later), that doesn’t mean these things aren’t happening in your neighborhood. Sooner or later, the scumbag(s) may be reported, and even if that’s just the tip of the iceberg, at least other parents can use that information to help their kids protect themselves.

    I know the media makes mountains out of molehills, but when you do hear of a creep getting caught doing something to little kids, how often does the creep have a prior criminal record? Fairly often. Often enough that the parent’s access to this information could have made a difference.

    How high a % likelihood do we need to see before we take action to protect our kids? I mean, how many of us advocate every female getting an annual pap test because of an extremely rare cancer (about 5,000 cases per year)? How many get their kids immunized against diseases that almost never cause death or severe harm to chidren? Yet they don’t even want to know about certain risk factors when it comes to sexual abuse? I think I’d rather have had measles than have a dirty old man overpower me and paw my privates. But maybe I’m the odd one out.

  12. By the way, the way I read it, they are not suggesting parents check out “strangers,” but people folks know their kids will be with, i.e., acquaintances, casual friends, etc. People who could have enough opportunity to build trust and get the child alone.

  13. At least the plan is miles better than what’s in place now. If you trust your child-rearing neighbor to watch your children for a couple of minute, this plan allows them to do so without mandatory checking.

    It’s a small improvement.

  14. @skl With all due respect, but if a neighbor or casual friend or even a relative would ever have my records checked out, just because I interact with their kids I’d politely ask them to leave my property and break of any contact.

    Yes, I do understand that they are concerned, but I’ve been raised with a high understanding of privacy – to this day I do not open my wife’s mail, drawers or bags without asking.

  15. From a statistical point of view there is very limited sence in checking out stranger (good old stranger danger). it would make more “sense” to have this check before you start a relationship/ move in with somebody or get married, because as most of us know, the biggest danger is you own family……

    In Germany there is a lot of news about sexual abuse of children in boarding schools (most of them catholic, probably similar to what came out in Ireland some time ago, and in one of the articles it was mentioned that an abused child on average asks for help appr. 8 TIMES before somethings happens to help them….

  16. Personally I don’t think this is necessarily a bad idea – if the execution is good and the cost is reasonable for the benefit.

    From what I’ve read, this is what seems good about the scheme:

    It was used sparingly. This seems like a good thing to me – i.e. it didn’t promote significant fear and paranoia in the area it was used.

    There were 315 checks, the Home Office claim these checks lead to 32 people being highlighted as a potential risk – that’s a “success” rate of 10% which seems like a reasonable good rate for a proactive scheme like this (but see below).

    It wasn’t used to find out about total strangers, according to the home office: “The biggest category of applicants in the pilot areas was fathers concerned over the new boyfriends of ex-partners. ” Live in male partners who are not a child’s natural father are one of the biggest categories of abuser. When we talk about children being most at risk from people they know *this* is one of the things we’re talking about.

    And this is what troubles me:

    “The biggest category of applicants in the pilot areas was fathers concerned over the new boyfriends of ex-partners. ” I could see this becoming another tool to stoke up the adversarial nature of separation and using kids as a weapon during divorce. On the other hand, I’m not sure how it really hurts when the animosity is already sky high and the only “bad” info the ex-spouse can get is stuff that really is relevant to the safety of his/her kids.

    But this: “In all, police disclosed information on 32 individuals who had a record of child sex offending or posed a risk in a different way.” Sends chills down my spine – I couldn’t find any information on what “posed a risk in a different way” mean? Or who decides. Without some transparency on that I find the scheme too Orwellian. It calls the success rate into question, and makes it very difficult to consider the hidden cost of people unfairly highlighted as a potential danger.

    And I’d like to know more about the cost – could the money that is spent on the scheme be used more effectively to protect children? Or for something else? Have there been any negative impacts (vigilante attacks, gossip and slander that impacts peoples’ lives, etc.)?

  17. I should add I got the quotes from the BBC article:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8546126.stm

  18. Speaking of sex offender lists, I have a friend who rides bicycles semi-professionally. When he is on a long trek, he sometimes needs to use the side of the road for a urinal. He has been threatened by police officers to be put on the sex offender list for doing this.

  19. Great, innit? Even after 9/11 not everyone was happy about being stripped off their citizens’ rights, even with all the swine flu propaganda not everyone liked the idea of healthcare at gunpoint, but when the threat is against our kids, we’ll let them do whatever they come up with.
    Want a scarefree life for free? Unplug your TV.
    Btw, Deputy, your better name idea is just perfect.

  20. Well, I’ve been screened and it doesn’t hurt a bit. If the neighbors wanted to screen me, would I even know? What is the harm, if the list is built correctly? (Understanding that may be a big “if.”)

  21. what is the world coming to when you cannot even spend time with your own children and not be considered a sex offender.

  22. If people are using it to screen stepfathers, doesn’t that make the most sense? Stepfathers are more likely to be the perp than most other folks. What’s wrong with a father wanting to make sure his daughter (or son) isn’t living with someone who’s been caught doing that before? Would you seriously not want to know if your kid was living with a person who has been convicted of a sexual crime against a minor?

    As an adoptive parent, I had to go through every screening short of a colonoscopy to qualify to adopt. So I guess I don’t see what the big fuss is about.

  23. SKL – To some extent I agree with you. I do think the pendulum was too far the other way when I was growing up. I don’t think we thought as kids that adults would take our word against an adult in a matter like this (we might have been wrong, but that’s how I felt). There seemed to be an air of denial that adults could be bad to kids except in the most rare of circumstances. And some of the stories that have come out (and continue to come out) about the way institutions abused kids in the 20th century, even after some kids complained, are tales that *should* change the way society acts. It really wasn’t good enough then.

    I also think the “invasion of civil rights” argument against these types of lists is a bit of a crock, given that criminal offenses are public information.

    But the risk of vigilantism and discrimination is significant. And I think there is a need for society to have a reasonable way for offenders to go on and lead crime-free, normal lives after they have served their sentence (because, among other things, the cost of anything else is horrendous). So I’m pretty anti open lists of offenders.

    I also think these lists, and these sorts of populist approaches, encourage a more paranoid approach to our neighbors. They seem to encourage us to think of people as inherently unsafe until they’ve been vetted, rather than making an assumption of good faith. And I think that is quite detrimental to children and community in general.

    I took some time to look at the Home Office’s research report into the pilot they ran:
    http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs10/horr32c.pdf

    It seems like the checks are done quite sensibly. The decision to disclose is based on a number of factors and ultimately rests on a professional decision that a child could be put at risk, not simply that they have a previous conviction for something sexual with children. People who receive the information are obliged to keep it confidential, and there were no known cases of vigilante actions in the pilot. The “posed a risk in a different way” seems to be related to convictions for things like domestic violence, which does seem relevant.

    Reading the report made me think that it was a sensible and measured approach that did a good job of trying to balance conflicting risks and rights.

    But the cost! Half a million pounds. That’s (very roughly) three quarters of a million US dollars. And it *might* have helped lower the risk in 32 cases. It’s a pilot so costs could probably be cut somewhat for a National roll out, but the report seemed to indicate that it was a costly process to do well. So I do seriously wonder if the money wouldn’t do much more good if spent in other ways.

    In the end, I’m not against this particular implementation on principal, but, as a tax payer in the UK, I’m wondering if it’s a good use of my money.

  24. I work as a public defender and will attest that the vast majority of sex offenders do not have a record (at least of sex offenses). Out of the 100+ serious sex offenses my office has handled during the last 5 years, only 3 have involved defendants already convicted of a sex offense in the past. Meaning that (a) sex offenders are not being reconvicted in large numbers, and (b) most sex offenses are committed by people who are not on any registry.

    And this lack of recidivism has absolutely nothing to do with a lack of access due to registries. The average child molester is a master manipulator. He will be able to convince people that this was all a big mistake and get access to children without much trouble. And anyone who is going to abduct, rape and kill a child is going to be completely undetered by a registry. It’s more likely a result of the fact that most on the registry are there for consensual sex with a slightly underaged person (too underage and it becomes molestation regardless) and they are unlikely to reoffend. You also mix in people who commit sex crimes against adults who aren’t a threat to children – rape of an adult and rape of a child are VERY different and you almost never see a crossover. This leaves you with a very small number of registered sex offenders who are likely to reoffend and likely to commit a crime against a child.

    Sex registries have the dual effect of improperly stigmatizing people and lulling people into a false sense of security. Sure, dad can check out mom’s new boyfriend but his being on a registry or not has absolutely no bearing whatsoever as to whether he poses a threat to a child. He could be a molester who has never been caught. He could be a public urination case that ended up on a registry. It seems as if the better choice would be to forget the registry all together and teach our children to protect themselves and keep the lines of communication open about sex so that they believe that they can come to us should something uncomfortable occur.

  25. Recently, a convicted offender was release from prison and moved in with his sister. Unfortunately, the sister lives across the street from my kids’ school. I live in Piedmont CA, a quiet suburb which prides itself on its public schools and public safety (which, given the location next to Oakland is a big deal).

    The offender in question is 71 years old and had been serving time for child porn. In other words, someone who is potentially a danger.

    Given the amount of publicity and police attention this guy has received, I’m actually not worried. Just yesterday, I saw a group of young children (5 to 10 years old) climbing trees around the corner from this guys house with no adult present.

    I guess I really do live in a FRK town.

  26. Deputy: Nice work in Lenore’s absence.

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