Let me start this post by saying that as a father of 3 wonderful young children, whom I love dearly and would do anything for, nothing sickens me more or fills me with more dread than the idea of them ever being abused.
Since having children, I think I get moved to tears much more easily by things, not least by a BBC documentary I watched a year or so ago about a horrific wave of abuse whereby young children were groomed online and duped into doing things in front of their webcams, only to be blackmailed later (many committed suicide). We were only halfway into the documentary and the tears of rage pouring down my cheeks had me Googling CEOP Jobs and thinking, “I’ve got to be able to do something with my tech skills to protect children and stop these monsters…”
I both have children, and I also have experience of volunteering as a youth leader with several organisations.
So, in summary, I’m all for anything which will genuinely protect our children from the threats which unfortunately exist out there, both in the real world and (perhaps even more scarily) in the online world. What I’m not for, though, are lazily-thought-out and excessively draconian knee-jerk rules which categorise all men as “probably a paedophile”. Not only are they unnecessary and ineffective, but they’re hugely offensive to a large part of the honest, decent and law-abiding population.
Most dangerously of all, though, I fear that they may in fact do our young people more harm:
- Firstly, those who implement them are obviously (I hope!) doing so with the best interests in mind of the children in their care. However, it seems that by putting ineffective rules in place they run the risk of becoming complacent and wrongly thinking that they have thus protected the children when they have not really. As a parent that worries me massively. What could be worse than a parent, child and a youth worker who all wrongly think the child is protected when in fact it is not? You just have to hope they have other sensible and effective rules in place, too, I guess?
- Secondly, by tainting every single male adult in the world with the same brush, we’re teaching our young people a horrible (and incorrect) lesson that ALL men are not to be trusted. Sure, we need very much to educate and warn our children about the risks and teach them to be careful. But when we teach them to cross a road, we tell them to look out for cars which are nearby and driving along. We don’t teach them that every single car – moving or parked – is about to try and deliberately run them down! There are a great many good people in this world, and we need to teach our children that too.
Not all men are probable paedophiles: As a quick stat from Googling figures just now, the estimated population of the UK in the 2011 census was 63 million, of which 31 million were male. In 2015 there were ~50,000 people on the Sex Offenders Register. Let’s be ultra unfair to men for a minute and presume that’s all blokes, and even then it would still only be 0.16% of men who are paedophiles. OK, those are very, very, very rough figures but you get my point. (Oh, and Female Sex Offenders are more Common Than You Think, apparently. More about that later.)
So what “rules” am I talking about? Let me give you a brief summary of two upsetting incidents I’ve been on the wrong end of in the last 12 months.
The Swimming Pool Incident
My wife and I have twin boys and a slightly older little girl, and the boys were under 1 when this happened. We like to take them all swimming as it’s so important, but it’s difficult due to the (very sensible) 1:1 adult:child ratio requirement for young children. So if a friend is unable to come with us, we can’t all go in the pool.
One Saturday morning, it was my wife’s turn to take our daughter into the pool, and I came along to watch with the boys who were due a nap and therefore were fast asleep in our double buggy. I made my way through the café to the seating area, waved to my daughter etc., and watched for a while. There’s only so much watching-from-a-distance before you get bored, and as both boys were asleep I didn’t have much else to do. I wished I’d bought a book or a newspaper to read, but – no problem, it’s 2016! – I had my smartphone with me so I started reading a very interesting article on the BBC News app about the helium-filled airships which went on raids in WWII.
After about 20 minutes, I was rudely interrupted by a member of staff who’d rushed over (apparently on the instructions of his supervisor) to reprimand me for using a mobile phone at the poolside. Yep, you’ve guessed it – they were worried that I might be secretly taking photos of any children in the swimming pool. The logical (and disgusting) extension of what they were insinuating I might be going to do when I got home, well, it doesn’t bear thinking about, you know what it is, and I don’t need to write it here.
I protested that I was simply reading an electronic newspaper, I’m here with my wife and daughter plus – look – my two twin boys asleep in their pram. It was a long, drawn out argument in which he started by saying “well those are the rules, sorry!” to actually seeming to agree with me (possibly just to shut me up) but it really was ridiculous, for a number of reasons:
- I was told that using a mobile phone was fine in the café, just not poolside. I’d show you a photo of the layout but for obvious reasons (ha!) I can’t. The café is actually CLOSER to the water than the poolside seating area, with a nice large glass window right by the shallow children’s area. I kid you not; it would apparently be fine to use a phone there, even if I was reading the news app holding the phone up to the glass, not pointing down at my feet as it had been before I was told off.
- None of the children were naked, by the way – they were all wearing swimming costumes (thankfully!) and of course it was a public place, with large windows to the outside, etc. etc. Sorry if you think I’m being flippant, but this wasn’t the private changing areas, this was the main swimming pool, in public, easily viewable from the street.
- Can I read the news if I cover up the camera with a piece of tape? No. Can I use a mobile phone if it’s an old brick of a phone, with no camera? No, just in case it does in fact have a camera. But I can use any smartphone with a high-res camera over there, closer to the water? Yep. *facepalm*
Well here’s a newsflash for you Liverpool City Council, if I was trying to surreptitiously take illicit photos of random children in your swimming pool, I wouldn’t turn up with 3 children of my own plus my wife, and then stand obviously by the side of the pool with my smartphone. I’d probably stand outside on the road by the large windows and use my DSLR with a telephoto lens, or even worse some of those freaky spy-camera-glasses you see on eBay. Seriously, you think you’re helping protect children by treating innocent parents as probably paedos?!
What makes this even more offensive is that I wasn’t the only person on the poolside passing the time by using my phone. I was, however, the only male in my age range if I can remember correctly. I asked the attendant if he was also going to have similarly stern words with the lady in her ~50s a few benches away, and of course he said he’d speak to her next but it’s interesting how he made a beeline for me. Then again, I’m a man so y’know, probably a paedo.
After something like that, you feel so unwelcome in a place. You feel like you’re being watched with an eye of suspicion, as if they think you’re guilty and are just waiting to prove it, to catch you out. It’s horrible, really horrible.
It’s also worth noting that about two weeks previously, it was my turn to take our daughter into the water and my wife waited at the side. She was loving it so much, and and one point got out the water to go and say “hello mummy, we’re having a great time” and my wife innocently videoed her saying that to the camera. She hadn’t noticed the “No photography” signs until on the way out, oops. (Don’t worry; no other children were visible in the shot, the world didn’t cave in and guess what – nobody died.) So being a female, no-one paid any attention to my wife’s usage of her phone to the point that she was even allowed to take a video of our daughter in the water without anyone protesting.
I took to my closed bubble of close friends on Facebook in the immediate aftermath and whilst some thought “how ridiculous” others thought it was for the best. I disagree with them in the strongest possible terms; they just don’t get it. When is this madness going to stop? When is society going to stop taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut? It doesn’t even manage to crack the nut with the sledgehammer anyway, it just breaks the table the nut was sat on, if you’ll forgive my slightly wobbly analogy there.
Where will we draw the line and stop this getting worse and worse? Will we have different public transport to separate men from the rest of the population soon?
The Public Toilets Incident
The swimming pool incident happened 11 months ago, but this one happened 2 days ago and is what incensed me so much to write this blog post, in the hope that maybe some sort of grown-up and sensible adult discussion can be had.
We’d just been on holiday as a family for a week in Devon and on the way back up to Liverpool we stopped to meet up with some friends and my brother + his wife at a festival taking place at the Bath and West Showground, in Shepton Mallet. We left Devon early, which meant a large cup of coffee at breakfast to keep me awake, plus a 2 hour drive, so one of my first priorities when arriving on-site was to find a toilet! It’s a huge site with lots of people camping, so there are several toilet/shower blocks and we stopped off at the nearest one to the day-visitors’ car park. My wife went into the ladies’ with our daughter, my brother waited outside with the double buggy, and I went into the mens.
Or at least I tried to.
There were a few children running around and a bloke and his apprentice in orange T-shirts were at the entrance. Over the noise of the children I didn’t quite catch what he said, but I presumed he was being far too polite and apologising for the boisterous group of children he’d brought to the loos, saying we’ll all be gone in a few minutes. No problem, it’s fine, I said, I’m just here to use the urinals. Imagine my shock when he then physically restrained me from entering, and then said something about I can’t come in. “Because of what, sorry?” “Safeguarding – you can’t come in whilst there are children around.” “Safeguarding?!?!?! Are you having a laugh?!?!?!?”
So, let’s stop and think about this with a cool head for a minute. They’re saying that in order to safeguard the children in their care, I can’t go in and use the public toilet. So if I did go in there, they would not be safeguarding the children, so they would not feel the children are safe. In order words, my presence would pose a risk to the safety of those children. In other, other words, I might do something to those children. Wow, that’s about as offensive as you can possibly be, and it was a great welcome (not) to the site that I’d set foot on not 5 minutes prior.
His attitude stank, too. He was clearly enjoying his sense and position of authority, and with an air of arrogance he said “have you got children?”, obviously assuming the answer would be no. He was quite taken aback when I said that I had 3, and if they were enrolled in the “Ground Breakers” kids group, I wouldn’t expect them to ban anyone else from using the toilet if ever one of them was doing so. “What, I’m not allowed in because I might do something? Which child protection law says you have to do this? Where in the rulebook does it say?” I asked. His response was just “Well this is just what we’ve decided to do.” And that’s the problem. That’s the madness. This is what’s ruining our society.
Not wanting to get into a physical fist-fight with them, I was left with no option but to go back outside to my brother who was waiting with my twin boys in their pram. When my wife appeared after a successful and uneventful toilet trip with our daughter, I asked if there was a children’s group in there and yes there was! The female leaders hadn’t stopped her entering though! So I went back and challenged the male leader again, asking why I was deemed as a risk to the children but my wife wasn’t . To rub salt into the wound having been so offensive to me, he then patronised me by saying “now look sunshine, this is just what we do alright so just leave it” (or words to that effect). But he even had the cheek to call me sunshine, and he was so aggressive with me – talk about guilty until proven innocent.
Later in the day, I used other toilets on the site and – guess what? – there were children around and it was all fine. None of their parents stood at the entrance taking names, addresses and fingerprints of other people who needed a wee, or placed the area on lockdown so that their kid could pop in for a piss. I literally cannot fathom the reasoning behind closing the entire toilet block whilst they took their group in (it’s on a closed site, after all) – ESPECIALLY when it was not the case for the female toilets. And I can’t fathom why that bloke (I should have got his name) wants to create a world for our children where it’s presumed that all men (not women, mind, just the fellas) will probably try and abuse you given half a chance.
So, to summarise – these people seem to have a warped view that there are so many men with paedophilic tendencies that whilst in their care, they need to put in place a huge exclusion zone to prevent them possibly coming within a few metres of another male adult human. What a world we live in. What a world they’re trying to create. 🙁
If you’ve read this far, well done! I tend to rant a bit, especially when I’m upset by something and/or I feel so strongly. I’m hugely in favour of anything which will really, genuinely, protect our children from harm. Blanket suspicion of all men, does not our children protect.
Please, as a society, can we start a serious and sensible discussion about this so that our children can be properly protected, not just live with an illusion of protection which does more harm than good?
PS. I’ve emailed the festival organisers and asked them to send me a copy of their Safeguarding Policy. It’ll be interesting to see what it says…
UPDATE: I received an apology from the festival organisers, who acknowledged that my experience was ‘clearly inappropriate’ for the situation I found myself in, and an assurance that the appropriate people will be briefed on the interpretation of all protocols and guidelines in the future.