I am grateful to that excellent blog The Enemies of Reason – which exposes the inanities of the British tabloid press – for this story, which seems to me to lay bare the utter imbecility that lies at the heart of what passes for quite a lot of public discourse in Britain today.
The Daily Mail was working itself up into a furious lather the other day about a leaflet on the dangers of child abuse circulated to 8-year-olds at a Worthing primary school a few weeks ago. The leaflet, produced by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), set out scenarios in which abuse was happening. The result was predictable – condemnation, outrage at the content, hasty withdrawal of leaflet by backbone-free head teacher. The comments attached to the Mail story tell their own story.
The Mail grudgingly gives an NSPCC spokeswoman the chance to reply. She refers to the fact – easily verifiable by anyone who is interested in the facts – that the victims of bullying and abuse tend to suffer in silence. The purpose of the campaign, she says, is to get children to speak out. And, yes, if that involves children learning that there are things that are right and wrong, and that what is being done to some of them is unacceptable, I believe that it’s absolutely right. Eight-year-olds are not stupid, but they are vulnerable, and if they are being abused they have already learned that there is nobody to stick up for them. It’s ignorance that does the real damage, and allows the abuser to get away with it.
So, what is the argument here? Are the Mail and its readers happy that children should continue to suffer bullying and abuse to spare the feelings of a moralistic few who want to ignore the facts, or wish them away? It’s an inference that is all too easy to draw. But I don’t think that’s the whole story here. I think this is yet another example of the appalling witless stupidity with which we in Britain deal with issues relating to children and sexuality (although of course abuse is about power, every bit as much as about sex), and how that stupidity is preventing us as a society from getting to grips with these issues in a grown-up and sensible way, least of all through proper sex education