Thursday, 27 February 2014

O Tempora, O Mores - Oh Times, Oh Daily ... Mail?

"Paedophile Information Exchange" - that sounds nice, doesn't it? They love children. Aw. Nice as PIE. So nice, that the National Council for Civil Liberties could give them office space in the 1970s. The dates quoted by the Daily Mail are for 1977 and 1979. The years I was 11, and 13. The year of the Queen's Silver Jubilee, and the year that Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. In other words, a world away. Not quite so far that many of us - Her Majesty and myself included - aren't still here to remember, but a far off and distant time. When, and where, things were done differently.

There's no co-incidence in this story coming up in the turmoil of the Yew Tree Enquiry which followed the allegations made about Sir Jimmy Savile after his death. And yes, I will continue to use his title, a knighthood, bestowed by a grateful nation in recognition of all the charitable work he had done with and for children in particular. Because that's the kind of world it was (he had a knighthood from the Pope, too). I thought, from the safety of our sitting room and with the television as a screen, he was a creep, everyone who actually knew him says so too (well, they would, wouldn't they? to echo the witness to an earlier moral scandal), but it didn't count enough to stop him being honoured.

The thing that our communications media refuses to understand - because it would defuse a good story - is that we don't think about children now in the way that people did then. Children didn't matter so much. They were much more vulnerable to adult vice (which we generally denied ever happened, and certainly never within the family), because they were also more innocent, they had no name to put on bad things that happened to them. Alas, the only way to protect them from the wrong adults, is to teach them adult things. In consequence, ours is a world of grubbier minds, but fewer grubby deeds.

I have a dim recollection - but I may be making this up - of reading about PIE in the Gay Times in the 1980s. I'd certainly heard of the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA). If I thought about it at all - and it's not very likely, as I was too plain to count on the one side, and uninterested on the other - I might have imagined it to be about more mature people helping youngsters come to terms with their sexuality; in the case of PIE, that it might even be a self-help group for people who were afraid of their own urges to violate children sexually. That kind of group might actually have been a good thing for a number of people I have known in my ministry as a parish priest. But no, that is, always was, naive nonsense, and whilst you will excuse it in a young man finding his feet in his teens and twenties, you will question, with the Daily Mail, whether a leading Labour politician, Mrs Harman (born in 1950, so only in her 20s herself when these things were happening), should be entitled to the same "benefit of the doubt".

The fact is, children were up for grabs. Quite literally. And nobody gave a damn. We didn't even speak of "paedophilia". We had child molesters and kiddy fiddlers. What PIE was doing was cleverly inventing a grand term as a smokescreen for their real intentions. It is understandable that people were taken in, even right-thinking, left-leaning, liberal types, who would be aghast to think their tolerance of such a group might have endangered any child.

Every generation is convinced that it was better than the one coming after, but in this respect, we are better, and the next will be better still. I detest the word "paedophilia" because it is a lie. The people who do it do not love children. Children were vulnerable in the past because neither they, nor the adults they might have trusted, had words for the crimes committed against them. There is as tremendous a power in words as there is in secrets, and the children are being given those words to expose their abusers' secrets.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
February 2014

1 comment:

  1. Spot on ! Abuse, -philia and -phobia were understood literally.
    Teachers knew perverts and fiddlers existed. We were trained to keep our ears open for hints of incest or otherwise being 'interfered with'. Children's Homes and foster placements were believed to be safe refuges for children and young people found to be 'in moral danger'.
    Children in general had more freedom than these days to play out of doors and were warned to be on the alert for suspicious lurkers.
    What was not widely known about was the existence of organised rings. Like many crimes, it was hidden.
    I'm glad to hear for once a politician refusing to apologise for wrongdoing that she didn't have anything to do with.