I went on a course last week about ‘safe recruitment’ in my role as chair of a local pre-school.
Even as volunteers, we’re expected to develop a knowledge of safeguarding children – a sentiment I applaud.
The course on the whole was good and highlighted to me the importance of working hard to keep paedophiles away from children. It’s all about reducing risk – not eliminating it, as that’s impossible.
All of this in the light of the Panorama about the mis-treatment of vulnerable adults in a setting in South Gloucestershire.
During the course though, one of the speakers put up images of two newspaper articles about court cases involving paedophiles. The headlines used words like ‘predator’ etc with pictures of two men staring madly.
The speaker said that the media had got it wrong when it came to dealing with paedophiles, their language was wrong and articles such as these don’t give the real truth.
The real truth being that paedophiles don’t look like monsters, are rarely strangers and often look like the nice guy who lives next door, the helpful guy round the corner or the lovely lady who always helps you out.
Unfortunately for the speaker, this was not something I could just leave without comment. It’s such a yawn to hear that well worn phrase ‘the media has got it wrong’ as if that excuse covers all ills.
Over coffee, I tackled her. She said that I must agree with her and I said I completely disagreed.
This is why.
The law around reporting sexual offences is very strict, so the only cases the media can report in any detail are those few (often the most terrible, and the most lurid) which reach the courts.
Most journalists know that there are far more sexual offenders out there than the public realize and often they are very close to home.
Also one of the biggest barriers to reporting these disturbing facts are social services departments.
These departments often run scared of the press and, even when given lots of assurances, won’t trust a journalist to protect the identity of vulnerable victims or witnesses (even though the law says we must).
But when these professionals allow quality journalism to take place – things can be changed, sometimes very quickly.
I’ve overcome this media fear a couple of times in my career and produced films which I’m deeply proud of – where police officers, professionals have all cooperated in order to tell a story which would not have seen the light of day otherwise.
Last year, I tried to get permissions in place to tell the story of the lives of a small number of dysfunctional families in Swindon and the massive investment that was being made to help them. The police were all for it – given that the then head of Swindon police knew I would honour my promise to protect those who needed protecting. But social services said no – and that was the end.