Here is a novel idea – the overwhelming majority of men are not pedophiles.
However, in this era, for a man to approach a child, take a photo of a child, talk to a child, or even look at a child in public is to open up scrutiny of that individual’s behaviour. Generally, it’s more acceptable for women to interact with children, but for men, there is usually a quality of apprehension and silent awkwardness that is difficult to ignore.
Protection of children of course is paramount. They are vulnerable and suggestible, and historically, a slip of the eye from a not-so-vigilant parent has certainly led to horrendous circumstances.
But are we that afraid of ourselves that we must shield every possible interaction between children and adults in fear of a microscopic likelihood a bad situation eventuates? Must men be afraid of having an innocent chat to a child on a bus, or a photographer feel like a peeping tom if he wants to open up the shutter to capture a beautiful moment in a free society?
We must also ask, what does this level of protectionism do to the development of our children? Does it stunt confidence and general social interaction if every person a child comes in contact with is to be treated as a brutal offender?
Also, it is insulting to the natural resilience and social smarts a normal child has. As much as we would like to give children no credit for their own intelligence – the majority of well adjusted children are smart enough to work out who a friend or a threat is. And given that a majority of abuse cases involves a member of a family or an individual known to the family, the attitude that all men who talk to children are leering pedophiles is utterly ridiculous.
But this attitude is one that our overtly hysterical news media wishes us to adopt. The news media seems to be obsessed with pedophiles. Their stories access the deepest recesses of outrage we are capable of traversing, which in turn triggers phenomenal levels of engagement in the media environment. But considering the facts – that most cases of abuse happen behind closed doors and usually not in the public playground – the media have no target to work with, no finger to point at. Abuse, usually, is silent and subdued. The media, perversely are not particularly interested in these muted stories.
Perhaps, if we directed the responsibility towards ourselves, and encourage our children to be open and honest about situations that might be arising within the home or family, instead of fanning the flames of unfounded fears that all unknown people are a threat, we might find ourselves living in a society marked more by interaction, communication and transparency, than one dominated by the attitudes of fear, loathing and mistrust. The cultivation of hysteria is not worth the destruction of a normal, healthy social fabric – an aspect of which includes a free and shameless embracing of all members of society, young and old.