Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Troubled with Witches

Dear B__

Last year, it was reported on Radio 2 that police and parents in a certain English county - for such a thing could only ever occur in Britain - had been granted permission by the local government to approach and question the motives of adult males using the community park at the same time as children. Whilst I cannot quote any specific statements, it was clear that many - men and women alike - saw this episode as a bizarre epitome of the hysteria and infringement of personal freedom that has exploded admist British culture as a result of increased awareness of child abuse and the safety measures that are now in place to neutralise it. Many stated that they felt embarrassed and insulted that others had immediately branded them as a suspected child molester on the basis of their gender, age and circumstances – we can assume without a moments thought that a woman wouldn’t be treated in the same way if she were seen alone in a park where children happened to be playing.

I endured a similar experience today. I had just finished helping at a function hosted at a local church hall, and was venturing across the lobby to use the lavatories, located along a short corridor. But my journey was terminated when the old witch guarding the entrance hall like a hunched,
voluminous old griffin - always placed in me in the mind of Alyona Ivanovna from Crime and Punishment - leaped forth and barred my way, declaring that I could not go any further because there were children in the room at the end of the corridor. And even when I informed her that I had no intention of going anywhere near that particular room, she triumphed with rebuttal that would have silenced Cicero - "It’s the law” . That, of course, justifies everything. There's no point in questioning it, because that's how it is - even though, of the two of us, Alyona was likely to cause greater psychological damage to those chilren than I ever could in a lifetime. The narrators of fairytales have been warning us for centuaries of the dangers mysterious old women present to the innocence and purity of young children. And I needn't remind you of the countless number of such tales in which children are antagonised by vengeful, carnal, sadistic step-mothers.

Had I been able to subdue my embarressment and confusion,
I would like to have asked her to produce written evidence of this ‘law’ and to explain what gave her the right to enforce it - but I appreciate the fact not everyone will refuse to accept an apparent ‘truth’ without supporting evidence. I also couldn’t help wondering that, if it is now against 'the law' for an adult male to merely approach a room in which there are a children - or to enter a room near to where children are present - will there come a time when every adult male must immediately evacuate an entire property the moment a child steps across the threshold?

I am in no position to transform this tale into a lengthily meditation on the politics and morality of child protection laws. That is a task best left to a future historian, or someone with better knowledge and understanding of their context. Neither do I wish to question the need or purpose of these laws; I believe in the power of childhood idealism and innocence just as strongly as any parent or politician, especially in the face of a cynical, captalist world in which children are forced to grow up sooner than Nature intended.
My grievence is with the way in which these laws make us feel about ourselves and others. I accept that Alyona had a duty to prevent me from entering the presence of the children under her guard - what I do not accept is the assumption that, because I am above the age of eighteen and belong to the male gender, it was automatically assumed that I would present a threat to their innocence. Just as an adult has no right to penetrate and destroy the purity of a child, neither does another adult - regardless of rank or standing among the local women's guild - have the right to assume every beneath their scrutinous gaze adult male is a sexual predator on the basis of his gender and circumstances, until a lengthily, embarressing interrigation process is undergone to prove otherwise.

I hasten to add that those who do point and shout like marytrs - such as Alyona - are those naturally garenteed to avoid being negatively labelled a paedophile themselves. Since the hysteria surrounding child protection is unlikely to lapse - if it has reached this stage, where an adult cannot even approach a room in which there a children without having been 'cleared' by the 'authorities' - such people should consider themselves extremely fortunate. For where will this fear and discrimination eventually lead? To a society ruled by fear and hysteria, in which every man will be a suspected paedophile - and the only way to deflect that accusation will be to accuse others, for none will suspect you of the crime if you are united with them in incriminating another.

The Cruible by Arthur Miller has a special place in my heart; it was the first text that I tackled for an assignment during the early phase of my university existence. It holds nostalgic value, but I will never forget the way in which it demonstrated so vividly how social
hysteria tore apart a seemingly uniform community, through a whirlwind of fear and accusation. The only way to avoid being branded a witch was to accuse someone else of the crime, deemed so despicable by those in charge. I can easily see British society undergoing a similar transformation. Just like witchcraft, to be suspected of paedophilia is a disgrace that words cannot alone cannot convey the weight of. To have ‘laws’ in place which allow 'people' – the Alyonas of this world who needn't worry about being branded by such shame themselves because they are old women in charge of designating rooms for the local 'Quit Smoking' and Yoga class - to justly accuse others of it until proven innocent can only lead to a social catastrophe far more damaging than any recession. Just as The Crucible provided a historical allegory, highlighting the corruption that was erroding American society at the time it was written, so can it provide a contemporary allegory for the impending destruction of a society torn to shreds with the Alyonas of the world leading the charge - safely protected behind a sheild of protocal.

Paedophilia is contemporary Britiain's counterpart of Salem's witchcraft. While we know within our hearts that it is amoral,
we cannot deny that contemporary beliefs towards it have been generated by external forces; government and media. Since the extreme notions of the evil surrounding paedophilia have been created by two governing forces from within society - out of its very own crucible - we thus find that society itself is to blame for the shreds of hypocracy and fear in which it now resides on the matter of child protection. And to cover up the damage that it has inflicted upon its own children, society dresses up its intentions to counter-act that hysteria with 'the law' in order to make you feel even worse - and to create even further distance between you and the Alyonas who are exempt from accussation, and live to accuse because they know it only too well. Thus, society tightens his grip around your throat and keeps you firmly attached to the seat of your office chair.

I don’t think the people who create these ‘laws’ understand the damage they are weaving. While the children remain protected, the adults who they supposedly protected from are faced with shame and embarrassment. And just as hysteria and mistrust tore Salem to pieces, so will our world become one ruled by fear of what little trust we have left in one another. The 'law' that prevented me from using the downstairs lavatory at the church hall today is the same law that encourages the Alyonas of this world - and all of us besides - to see evil within each other, evil that only a CRB check - a piece of paper and a computer system - can clear, because a piece of paper and a computer could never lie to you.
How can those who write these laws then say that they are trying to wrap the world in cotton, when beneath the happiness of the children lies the fear, resentment and bitterness of the adults who can never look one another in the eye – or even glance at a child - without wondering what lurks behind those eyes? Child protection laws may well prevent those with genuine intent harm children from accomplishing their plans - but why must every man who can be clasffied an 'adult' have to suffer the humiliation of being pushed under that category until written evidence shows otherwise? If 'the law' is put in place to prevent crime, why must it then reinforce those invisible but continually felt barriers that create the crime in the first place?

An acquaintance I once knew lived on a street frequented regularly by groups of school children journeying to school. So intense was his fear of being branded a paedophile that whenever a certain time window came about - in which he knew there was a likely chance of children passing his window - he moved to the opposite side of the house, away from any window facing the street, should a neighbour or passer-by catch him looking at the children in a way that might suggest he intended to drag them into his house and devour their innocence. Another related how, when walking to work one day, he found himself mustering every concious effort within his grasp to look away as a nursery group walked by on the opposite side of the road - even though he knew he had no natural urge - moral or immoral - to want to look at them in the first place - should those stern-faced Alyonas escorting the children catch his glance and scream for the police.

I draw your attention to the fact these two cases have concerned men. There has been a great deal of controversy lately in the UK over an incident of child abuse conducted by a woman. From the way in which the matter has been addressed, I am certain that the reason for this controvery is because the public have been presented with the realisation that women are just as capable of paedophilia as men. Are the vile crones and wicked step-mothers of the fairytale realm beginning to rise from the crucible and find a form in the modern world? Is it time we took notice of such stories as Hansel and Gretel and understood the reality of their raw meaning? And for how much longer will the Aylonas of this world remain immune to accusation?