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Child abuse and the media



Identifying the perpetrators

Throughout the Western world, awareness of child sexual abuse has led to action by members of the public to draw attention to horrific crimes against children (Goddard 1997a). British newspapers have carried many articles on the dangers created for children when convicted child sex offenders are released from prison. The British media demonstrated that they were prepared to identify or "out" the perpetrators. A selective review (Goddard 1997a) demonstrated that tabloid newspapers carried particularly graphic studies.

The Liverpool Echo on 17 June 1997, for example, devoted almost its entire front page to an "exclusive" by Jason Teasdale (1997) to the effect that a "convicted paedophile" would soon be released. Broadsheet newspapers, for example The Guardian, also carried such stories. Interestingly, The Guardian, exactly one week earlier, had carried the news that this particular man was to be released, under the headlines "In a few days this man, a convicted child rapist, will be released. Police say he is ‘incredibly dangerous’. Should you be told if he moves in next door?", and "Nightmare on any street" (Bowcott and Clouston 1997). The story in The Guardian was accompanied by a photograph of the man, who had been detained after being found carrying a bag of books and toys. He admitted to the police that he was searching for a child (Bowcott and Clouston 1997).

The Guardian story summarised the issues in its opening: "Newspapers are ‘outing’ paedophiles and their homes are consequently being fire-bombed. Do child molesters deserve a second chance after they have served their sentences? Or has the public the right to know when such a menace moves in next door? (Bowcott and Clouston 1997: 2)

The role of newspapers in "outing" convicted child molesters is examined in another piece in the same paper by Gary Younge (1997). Paul Horrocks, acting editor of the Manchester Evening News, a paper described as exposing several child molesters, is quoted as saying that a newspaper takes risks when it does so: "The paper must balance children’s safety with the threat of mob rule; it pits the chance that a paedophile may re-offend against the fact that he has served his time and may be denied the right to resume a normal life. ‘There is a risk that people will take the law into their own hands. But there is a greater risk that children will be hurt. If you can’t take risks to protect children, then when can you?’ [Paul Horrocks] says." (Younge 1997: 3)

Risks there certainly are: "One of those ‘outed’ by the Manchester Evening News suffered physical and verbal abuse from his neighbours and moved away as a result. Horrocks describes as ‘regrettable’ a case of mistaken identity in which an innocent man was attacked by an angry mob" (Younge 1997: 3).

The anger and the potential for tragedy are described in the piece by Bowcott and Clouston (1997: 3): "In May 1994, a girl aged 14 called Samantha Penell died after the house in which she had been staying was burnt down. Those who set fire to the building were looking for a paedophile."

They recount other stories: a convicted child molester stabbed to death in Edinburgh, and a man in Manchester badly beaten by a gang who wrongly believed that he was a child rapist(Bowcott and Clouston 1997). Such problems also occur in Australia. The release in New South Wales of convicted child killer John Lewthwaite prompted a considerable degree of media attention. After his release his new home was attacked by local residents, angry at his presence in their community.

[[[[SNIP]]]] ..more.. by Chris Goddard and Bernadette J. Saunders


9-17-1997 United Kingdom:


Paedophiles are the most feared and loathed men in our society.
All over the country there are groups, some no bigger than a coffee circle of concerned mothers, whose sole aim is to hunt down and hound out paedophiles in their neighbourhoods. The names of these ad hoc campaigns - Campaign Against Paedophiles, Parents Against Child Abuse, People Power, Know Your Neighbour, Parents Aiming to Right Abysmal Sex Offender Laws, Unofficial Child Protection Unit - reveal their simple missionary zeal. It is a movement from the streets upwards. Local newspapers often provide them with the raw material; trawling through back numbers, they turn up details of long-past child abuse cases.

The Oxford Mail and Bournemouth Echo keep informal registers of sex offenders, and the Scottish Daily Record published a "Gallery of Shame" of 38 convicted paedophiles. The Sunday tabloids devote pages and reporters to doing nothing else but hunting "child sex monsters".

Paedophilia has become a national obsession.
Such outings inevitably lead to violence. In May 1994, the home of Dennis Butlin was firebombed and a young girl inside burnt to death; in February 1995, Lawrence Leydon was stabbed to death in Edinburgh; last August in Teignmouth, 44-year-old David Moist was severely battered after vigilantes broke into his flat brandishing a fire extinguisher; in the same month in Belfast, 53-year-old Desmond Moonan was found strangled in his flat. They were all vicious attacks. But when we insert "paedophile" before these men's names, our hearts harden: they got what they deserved.

Whatever has been done to them and however they are treated, we have no sympathy for paedophiles. What they do strips them of any possibility of redemption. Who could defend the rights, the life even, of a man who wants to bugger a four-year-old? Schemes are continually proposed to provide indefinite monitoring, from electronic tagging to chemical castration.


..more.. by The Guardian



Thanks mainly to 'The Guardian' (19 ii '97), I can begin to provide a historical record of recent paedo-hysteria in Britain.

MAY, 1994. Samantha Pennell, aged 14, was killed after the house of paedophile Dennis Butlin was firebombed. Butlin himself escaped.

Lawrence Leydon, a convicted paedophile, was stabbed to death in his home in Edinburgh, nine months after being released on probation.

JUNE, 1996. Residents on the Kingsmead estate in Hackney, east London, warned of vigilante action if Sidney Coke, part of a paedophile ring that tortured to death a local teenager, was allowed to return.

AUGUST, 1996. The 'Manchester Evening News' publishes details of local paedophiles, following a trend set by the 'Sunday Express' (London) and the Bournemouth Evening Echo. Other local papers followed suit.

SEPTEMBER, 1996. 53-year Brixton mother of mentally handicapped boy bludgeons newly released 65-year "paedophile" with a metal spring and smashed bricks through all his car's windows. (Awarded 4 months prison, suspended for 18 months, plus 18 months probation, plus £150 compensation.) (South London Press, 1 xi '96.)

NOVEMBER, 1996. George Taylor fled his Birmingham flat under police escort after residents discovered he had been jailed for a child sex offence.

JANUARY, 1997. A mob surrounded a Department of Social Security hostel in Stirling, demanding that Alan Christie, a convicted paedophile, be forced to leave.

FEBRUARY, 1997. Parents in Dunoon, Argyll, warned they would take action amid fears that up to 10 convicted child sex offenders had moved in nearby.

'Anti-Paedophile March' in Manchester used placards drawn up as follows "Peadophiles Out!" {sic} and "COUNSIL PUTTING OUR ChilDREN AT RISK!" {sic, though an effort had been made to correct the mis-spelling}. A pensioner mistaken for a photographed paedophile was assaulted and had his wrist broken.

FEBRUARY, 1997. UK police, civil liberties campaigners and child protection groups....warned that the plan [for a register of paedophiles] would lead to violence against those named while doing nothing to protect children.

MARCH, 1997. The 47-year-old East Lothian father of a newly released paedophile had both his legs broken by a mob.

MARCH, 1997. Lewisham[?] Borough Council (London) release many details of the appearance and convictions of a recently discharged "paedophile" prisoner so that a lynch mob can be prepared for his arrival on a particular council estate. ..more.. by

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