Comment

03.08.2014

Open letter to Margaret Hodge MP

Dear Margaret Hodge,

You rightly say that, whistleblowing is ‘crucial’ and has to matter ‘right to the top of an organisation’. Your perspective has certainly changed since the time when, as leader of Islington Council, you so seriously hindered my investigation of crimes against children. As the main ‘whistleblower’ I have been struggling since the 90s to put the record straight about the murders, sexual exploitation, neglect and physical torture of children both within the care of Islington social services and in the local community. I have also tried to expose the connections between Islington networks and those in other parts of the country.

We have all learnt a lot in the last 20 years and I am continually discovering more about what actually happened during those years when, as a social worker, I was working to protect vulnerable Islington children. It would seem now, in the context of your statements on whistleblowing and your support of the National Inquiry into Organised Abuse of Children, that it is certainly appropriate to move forward in order to increase all our understanding about what led to the cover up of organised child abuse in the Borough.

A few years ago, as more information came to light, you apologised for your mistakes and provided the explanation for your actions that you were misled by senior officers. However, I now question why you did not give evidence to this effect to the final Islington Inquiry in 1995. Also, you have not said if you referred these managers to the police and to the appropriate regulatory body in order to prevent them working with children. So many of them, whose names I remember clearly, have progressed in their social work careers without ever having been accountable for their actions or inactions.

Most puzzling is my discovery of how much was previously known about child abuse in Islington since the early 80s and I, of course, realise that you were council leader from 1982. Am I to believe that you really did not know that there had been a long established pattern of sexual exploitation and even the alleged murders of children within Islington’s care? These events were well covered in the local and national media and, in this context, I cannot understand why my disclosures just a few years later were met with such disbelief. Geoffrey Dickens MP, for instance, exposed the sexual exploitation of Islington children. This was just four years before I raised similar concerns about children’s safety in the neighbourhood of Islington where I worked and for which you were the local councillor. This area was just a few streets away from the location that he was including in one of his now famous dossiers. I have to question why I was not informed at the time about these very serious cases. All this prior intelligence would have validated some of my enquiries and greatly assisted my investigations. If I had received support and understanding from you, I would have been far better able to protect the children who were so severely harmed. Instead, every obstacle was put in my way. My only professionally ethical option at the time was to work covertly with police. When our work achieved a major conviction I thought I would be believed but instead I was further silenced by managers. I now question if you were informed about this conviction and the circumstances in which young people were disclosing? I wonder if you were also informed about all the professionals working alongside me in the investigations and how many were told by their agency representatives on the Area Child Protection Committee that there was no evidence.

What exactly did influence your decision-making at the time? What led you to take a stand, for instance, in publicly blaming a brave whistleblowing residential worker? After raising the alarm about child sex abusers accessing children as young as 9 years old in a children’s home, he was dismissed and prevented from working with children for many years. What led you to dismiss my substantial report about a local network of sexual exploitation? Your support from ‘the top’ of the organisation might have been able to reverse the path of history and protect so many children. I am now being contacted by survivors who feel more able to come forward in the current climate. It is deeply worrying that so many of their files are missing. When I attended the Inquiries not a single one of my records was to be found. What is your understanding now of such negligence?

There are so many questions I would like to ask you. Did you know that after presenting 4 hours of evidence to one Islington Inquiry none of my information was included in the report? Did you know that one of the people who was the subject of one of the 14 Islington Inquiry reports returned to Children’s services in recent years and had not been barred from work with children? I do not know the 32 names listed by Ian White, in the Appendix to his final report, of professionals deemed unsuitable to work with children. I do know two social workers who should never have been named on the list as they were whistleblowers. In the light of your recent comment that some whistleblowers are treated badly I would expect that you would agree that the list of 32 needs to be urgently reviewed.

The White Report in 1995 (Report of the Inquiry into the Management of Child Care in the London Borough of Islington) made reference to 61 children I had identified as possible victims of an organised abuse network. It went on to conclude that, ‘while some individual children were at risk of abuse, the Police found no evidence of connections between these such as would support the assertion that there was organised abuse’ (p. 42). I would like to know in the light of current knowledge, and with hindsight, what your opinion is of this finding.

You say that there should be sanctions for those who victimise whistleblowers. The Islington Inquiries were not a legal process and no-one was required to give evidence. Do you think, therefore, that it is too late to call to account those who obstructed my investigations and those who misled you? Other authorities are now interviewing former whistleblowers and considering what action can be taken to right the wrongs of the past. I have not been asked by Islington authorities to assist in identifying perpetrators or to help survivors in understanding what happened to them. As one example, I recently learnt from the media about the unnamed Islington children’s home supposedly related to Savile – no-one has asked me if I know which home it might be. I remain a registered social worker and am therefore appropriately qualified to professionally assist with child protection investigations and I would readily contribute my knowledge about networks of abuse in the area.

I am pleased that you are now supporting whistleblowers. I am one of them and I now ask for your full support in helping to unravel what really did happen in Islington about which you must surely know so much. It is a story which includes your story which has never been told. Many politicians are now bravely coming forward to speak out about organised child abuse – it is surely your time to contribute your account of what really happened.

Yours sincerely

Dr Liz Davies
Reader in Child Protection
London Metropolitan University
l.davies@londonmet.ac.uk
3rd August 2014

Copies to;

Cllr Richard Watts, Leader of Islington Council
Cllr Joe Caluori, Executive Member for Children and Families
Andrew Johnson, Islington Tribune

02.07.2014

Unanswered Questions: Comment by Liz Davies on why she wants a national inquiry

Following his presentation to the Home Office of two dossiers about sexual crimes against children, Geoffrey Dickens raised concerns about ‘child brothels’ being run on an Islington Council Estate. In 1986, he spoke of tenants providing him with tape recordings of children screaming during ‘sex sessions’ and mentioned 40 child victims some as young as 6. He also identified three premises and reported matters to Scotland Yard and Douglas Hurd the Home Secretary. These allegations were denied at the time by the Director of Social Services. Yet, in the very area where Dickens was highlighting his concerns, the decomposed body of a girl of 17 was found in a cupboard in a block of council flats. She was said to have been strangled during oral sex after being at a ‘sex party’. This was in 1988 when, as a social work manager in the area, I was hearing rumours of children in the care system being murdered. I remembered the girl’s name being whispered and made a note but have only recently acquired the press cuttings about her going missing and then being found murdered. I do not know if Vivian Loki was in the Islington care system because no-one is interested in finding out. I have reported this case repeatedly to various authorities since the early 90s.

Another whisper, also scribbled in my hand written notes at the time, was of a thirteen year old boy Anthony McGrane (I had recorded his name as McGrath and his age as 9 years – perhaps this was another child – I do not know). Anthony was found dead in a garage. This time the press cuttings said that he had been a resident in Conewood Street Assessment Centre. If this was true then this was the same children’s home where residential workers had told me that Jason Swift had lived shortly before he was murdered by Sidney Cooke and his gang. At the time of the Islington Inquiries in the 90s, Jason’s residence in an Islington home was also denied by the senior Islington manager. Anthony died of multiple stab wounds. My notes stated a different garage location from the one in the newspapers. Perhaps my information was flawed. Police at the time said that his death may have been linked to 16 other child killings. In both these cases men were convicted of manslaughter and each served 6 years imprisonment.

In the early 90s, when I exposed the extensive abuse of Islington children in the care system, I began to hear accounts of other child murders. Managers, who must have known of these previous cases, accused me of being obsessional and hysterical and tried to stop my investigations. I have recently learnt that orders came from a senior police officer to close the investigations down. I do not know if anyone has a current interest in knowing who that officer was and of course by now he may not even be alive. The social work manager who told me to forget my work with police at that time needs to be called to account with many others who continued to work within the profession and were never asked to explain their absolute disregard for the safety of children. At the time of the Islington Inquiries some staff left the country returning in later years to resume their careers.

In the absence of police investigation, I have continued to raise my concerns through the twenty-plus years but there has never been a national overview of the connections that went way beyond Islington borders. I have no doubt that children were marketed for sexual exploitation to children’s homes all over the country and I have long argued for a national police and social work investigation team. However, instead of improving child protection systems they have been steadily eroded. Joint police and social work child protection teams have long been closed down and in 2013, revised statutory guidance, Working Together to Safeguard Children, completely eliminated the definition of organised abuse and the means of investigating it. I was horrified. Who exactly was responsible for this policy change?

This is why I want a National Inquiry into organised child abuse. I have struggled to get such cases investigated for many years and got nowhere. I want to know the reason for that. I want to know who was responsible for shredding my files on 61 child victims which were unavailable to the Inquiries. I want to know why so many of the Islington staff who supported the abusers and colluded in the cover ups went on to senior social work posts. I do not know who the 32 social services staff were that, following the Inquiry, were not allowed to work with children but I have certainly located two members of staff who tried to protect children, found their names on the list and were unable to continue their careers. I want to know how such an injustice could happen to good people and no-one be brought to task over it. Only recently I obtained a report of an Inquiry to which I had presented evidence. Nothing of my 4 hour contribution featured in it. The authors of that Inquiry need to be called to account.

Those MPs who have not signed up to the need for a National Inquiry are under scrutiny. Margaret Hodge, former labour lead in Islington who did not believe my reports of abuse networks has not so far stated her position. In her defence, she often said that she was misled by her senior officers. I want to know if, when she realised she had been misinformed, she reported these so called professionals to the relevant regulatory bodies and to police. I want answers. I have waited a long time. Now, through social media, adult survivors are coming forward adding to my knowledge of what happened in the Islington care homes. They also want answers . Most of them have waited far longer than me.

15.05.2014

A meeting with Norman Baker

Peter McKelvie and Liz Davies met, on Tuesday 13th May at 11.30 am, with Norman Baker, MP for Lewes and Minister of State at the Home Office, in the presence of Adrian Sanders MP for Torbay. Adrian Sanders had requested that the meeting take place and it was tabled for half an hour. The meeting began 15 minutes late.

Report of the meeting
The Minister advised that he would be available for ten minutes as he had another important appointment. He listed a number of items that he could not discuss as these were not the direct responsibility of the Home Office – such as any current police investigations and individual cases. He also stated that the National Group on Sexual Violence against Children and Vulnerable People had been set up as a national response to child sexual exploitation. PM assured him that as former child protection managers neither he nor LD would have expected to discuss anything related to current police investigations.

PM then outlined his reasons for requesting the meeting.

1. He had written to David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Edward Miliband asking them to work together and to honour a commitment that David Cameron had made immediately after the Savile scandal. Cameron had said, ‘The Government will do all it can, other institutions must do what they can, to make sure that we learn the lesson of this and it can never happen again. Collusion should never happen again’.

PM explained that there was no evidence that the Government or Parliament to date were showing any sign of including themselves amongst those institutions who should be investigating their role in either child abuse or its cover-up.

2. PM referred to the replies to his letters from David Cameron and Nick Clegg, and also a reply from ” L.Smart ” Home Office, in which all used exactly the same phrase, ‘Child abuse is an abhorrent crime, no matter when, or where, it occurs. We are committed to tackling it, in whatever form it takes.’

PM asked who L. Smart was who had signed the letter to him from the Home Office but the Minister and his associate did not know. The Minister said that he had read PM’s email correspondence.
Again, PM stated that no evidence had emerged in the last 2 years that, when it came to the suggestion that a Member of Parliament might be the abuser or his colleagues might be involved in covering up such abuse, the public could take such promises seriously. The Minister suggested that attitudes and practice had changed in the post-Savile era. He believed that police forces would now charge anyone, no matter who they were, if the evidence was available.

LD stated that she and PM were just two of many professionals who had over many years built up a solid body of evidence which had never been investigated. She made particular reference to the extensive abuse carried out in Islington which LD attempted to expose with others in the 1990′s. She said that both had contributed to Operation Fairbank and Operation Fernbridge and had much respect for the hard work of the few police officers working on those investigations since Tom Watson’s Prime Minister’s Question began the process in October 2012.

PM added that, putting aside the very positive changes in attitude inspired by Keir Starmer at CPS level towards witnesses, a great deal could have been achieved in the last 2 years, without prompting, by each political party to investigate their internal cover ups on such prominent politicians as Cyril Smith and Peter Morrison. The public view is that this would not happen of the Government/Parliament’s own volition.

PM wished to be reassured that action would be taken against all perpetrators and alleged perpetrators – including those in government. Norman Baker emphasised a number of times that anyone who has committed crimes against children or who is alleged to have committed such crimes must be subject to due legal processes whoever they are. PM stated that there was sufficient grounds to merit police investigation into at least 27 members of the Commons and Lords, some deceased and some alive. Norman Baker asked if any of the MPs were currently sitting in Parliament and PM confirmed that some of them were.

PM then referred to the role of the Home Office in relation to the Paedophile Information Exchange in the 70s and suggested that the role of MI5, MI6 and government in relation to the safety of children should be a matter for public disclosure because, although he acknowledged that some aspects of government needed to remain secret for reasons of national security, this criteria did not, in his view, apply to the protection of children which is of central importance to every concerned citizen in the country.

Norman Baker mentioned that a number of current investigations were in progress and LD commented that these were fragmented and that a national investigation was required to ensure co-ordination. She mentioned, as an example, Michael Gove’s recent request for 22 authorities to investigate children’s homes where Operation Yewtree, the investigation into crimes against children perpetrated by Jimmy Savile, had indicated a possible connection. The Minister said a national inquiry would demand major resources but LD clarified that she had spoken of a national police investigation not aninquiry. Norman Baker said that a national investigation would not always be helpful because, for example, where the issues are within the NHS then the NHS is best placed to be a focus of investigation. LD asked if he was open to considering the need for increased police and social work resources in view of the enormity of the national task. She explained that some survivors who contact her wait a considerable time to be interviewed by the police. He responded that what was needed was a change in attitude rather than increased resources.

There followed a brief discussion about the need for more support for survivors when they were considering speaking with or providing evidence to police or social workers and about how they can have better trust in the systems. The Minister commented that an increase in reporting of child abuse by victims was a positive development signifying a change in attitude. PM stated that, for all the known reasons, survivors were not coming forward and therefore the Police were limited in what they could achieve. PM suggested that much greater efforts were needed to convince survivors that they would be believed and supported even if their allegations were against powerful politicians or members of the Establishment.
The meeting was then brought to a sudden end when the Minister was informed of an urgent phone call and he left the room.
PM and LD thanked Adrian Sanders, MP for Torbay, who had facilitated today’s meeting, but informed him that his efforts had been in vain because the brevity of the meeting had ensured that it had served no real purpose and had left both PM and LD feeling quite strongly that their views and opinions were never going to be taken seriously or answered. PM considered that his long held view that most politicians see themselves as our political masters rather than our elected representatives was definitely reinforced by the experience of this meeting

Comment on the meeting
Whilst we recognise that we were very privileged to have met with the Minister, overall the meeting was a disappointment It was certainly important to gain reassurance that everyone, of whatever status and background, would be subjected to the same due legal processes when suspected or known to have committed crimes against children. However, in our view, current police operations are poorly resourced and the officers are struggling to meet the increased level of reporting that the Minister referred to. It was therefore disconcerting to hear that an increase in police and social work resources for the proper investigation of crimes against children was not to be considered. It was also disappointing to learn that the Minister did not support the concept of a national police and social work investigation team. We know that senior police officers have been asking for such a team for over twenty years and that the proactive collation of intelligence and coordinated analysis of victims’ accounts and corroborative evidence is essential to the targeting of child sex offenders. The offenders themselves are of course well networked at a national and international level. They continue to evade justice and to offend against children because of a statutory response situated at local level.

07.12.2014

The Home Office National Group on Sexual Violence Against Children and Vulnerable People – an inappropriate response to organised sexual crime.

Tom Watson MP, on October 12th 2012, asked a Prime Minister’s Question to ensure that the police investigate claims of a powerful paedophile ring linked to a previous prime minister’s senior adviser and parliament. Watson said that an evidence file collected by the police to convict paedophile Peter Righton, in 1992, had contained clear intelligence of a widespread paedophile ring.

Following this question, and in response to many recent exposés, the government did initiate a range of reactive inquiries and police operations. It also set up the National Group on Sexual Violence against Children and Vulnerable People.  The title, though, is significantly flawed because, of course, children are people and alsovulnerable.  This Home Office led group, established in April 2013 and chaired by Damian Green MP, has published a Progress Reportand a report of national findings relating to a multi-agency project.  I haven’t yet noted a strong base in survivor and care-leaver groups, a consultation process or any invitation for the presentation or collation of evidence.

The Home Office would not have been my department of choice for this work. In the 80s, Geoffrey Dickens MP presented the Home Office with extensive dossiers about serious crimes against children. These were carelessly mislaid and it seems little action resulted from his investigations. Dickens was exposing the sexual abuse of children in the London Borough of Islington long before I whistleblew about it and just a street or two away from the events I exposed in the 90s.  I was a social worker in Islington at the time and it is my deep regret that I did not contact him. However, my investigations were without the advantage of the internet, social media and strong survivor networks currently proving so helpful to investigations.

I looked optimistically for the word ‘social worker’ in the Progress Report but social work as a profession is severely marginalised. There is a mention of the appointment of the Chief Social Worker and a one liner about social work practice.  This is no surprise as the Working Together 2013 statutory guidance, which the Progress Report pledges to implement in full, omits all reference to methods of joint police and social work investigation  and even removes the definition of organised abuse. As it isn’t included I expect that no-one will notice it – let alone investigate it. Social work is now all about assessment of needs and the police separately investigate crime. Unfortunately, the protection of children does not fit so neatly into such divides. The nuanced, skilful work of specialist police and social workers jointly investigating child abuse, in a child-centred way, has been steadily under attack since the mid 90s. Academics and politicians are among those rightly accused of assisting the demise of proactive child protection work which has consistently led to  tragic consequences for children.  Prevention, early intervention and family support  approaches were implemented as an alternative to policies and methods of protection –  as if the protection of children could be made redundant if these early years systems were in place. The changes also provided an opportunity for the easy privatisation of services. It was comparable with having fire alarms but no fire fighters.

Serious case review findings, following the deaths of children from abuse, have in recent months highlighted that the focus of work was on the parents and adults rather than the child, there was a lack of investigation of perpetrators, poor evidence collation and little focus on direct communication with children. Specialist joint child protection teams have been discarded and police and social workers now rarely train together. The Progress Report promotes the Frontline social work fast track education scheme to bring Russell Group graduates into the work.  Some of us working in higher education cannot imagine how this can possibly work. We are anxious about the scheme competing with us for valuable student placements and fear for a profession in which newcomers will be unlikely to reflect the diverse class and ethnic backgrounds of those who use the services. In contrast to my own teaching, I doubt if the syllabus will include anything about organised sexual crime.

The child protection professional who informed Tom Watson’s prime minister’s question has written about his former team of social workers who, working jointly with police over 8 years during the 90s, took over 4000 referrals and achieved 37 convictions of child sex offenders. The team closed down 9 boarding schools associated with these investigations.  Such expert teams no longer exist. The joint investigation of child abuse has been air brushed out of policy, yet it is only when social workers and police work closely together, focusing both on the world of the children and that of the perpetrator, that effective investigation can take place. Those of us who worked in this way in the 90s know in depth what works and how it works. We do not need a National Group to tell us how to protect children and how to prosecute child sex offenders.  We also know that, with devastating impact on abused children, this proven methodology is not being implemented now. The systems and structures that supported it have long since been dismantled.  Working Together 2013 also removed guidance about child trafficking, sexual exploitation, forced marriage and honour-based crime as well as a focus on disabled children. It removed chapters on training and development and on how to manage those who pose a risk to children. The responsibility for detailed protocols covering such matters now falls to each locality. This takes me back to the early 80s and the mayhem of a free-for-all as each area had their own child protection procedures. The government thinks that  professionals  should rejoice at the reduction in pages of Working Together guidance from the 700 of the previous version to just over 70. However, knowing the tragedies that will undoubtedly follow, I can only mourn the reckless deregulation of protocols that did effectively protect children.

The source of Tom Watson’s question has written an open letter to David Cameron. He has suggested that all three party leaders come together to forget their political roles and act as fathers of young children and as decent citizens. They should show the moral courage to stop the cover-ups and allow all abusers to face justice regardless of their privileged position in society.  Responses from Cameron and Clegg to this letter refer to the National Group but this is not the answer.  What is needed is a national police and social work child protection team to work proactively, co-ordinate local investigations,  collate current and historic intelligence and achieve justice for child abuse survivors and care-leavers as well as protecting children currently being harmed.  Clichés and rhetoric are not required. We have heard it all before and we recognise an excuse for inaction when we see one.

Tom Watson’s question pointed to investigations that were closed down when they got too close to people in power. This was also my experience in Islington when all police were removed from my investigations of child murder, abuse networks, abductions and sexual assault. It is only by the investigation of past crimes that current children will gain protection from abusers who have never been brought to justice.  The past must come under scrutiny but it is the safety of children right now that is my prime concern.

A critique of “Working Together 2013”.

Working Together 2013 must be withdrawn. It is a document which places children at increased risk because of its inadequacy and inaccuracy. Many extremely important and essential aspects of child protection have been omitted. As one example, the definition of organised abuse has been removed as has all means of investigating organised crime against children. This is at a time when there are so many examples of sexual exploitation, trafficking and organised networks in the media which are currently the subject of police and professional attention. This critique provides an analysis of the document. Please disseminate it in order to campaign for the guidance to be removed and to revert, as before, to using Working Together 2010.

Working Together to Safeguard Children 2013: A critique

03.01.2013

A response to John Henley’s article “Paedophilia: bringing dark desires to light.”

Tom Watson MP and Liz Davies – A response to Jon Henley’s Guardian article on paedophilia on 3rd of January 2013 entitled, “Paedophilia: bringing dark desires to light”

Jon Henley had a piece in yesterday’s Guardian, entitled “Paedophilia: bringing dark desires to light”. He’s received a furious response on social media and I can see why. Many involved child protection will find it hard to see it as anything other than the commentariat’s backlash, a contrarian response to a public outcry over recent revelations about child abuse by the rich and famous.

That may be harsh, and I felt a considered response was important. These thoughts are my own, but I have lent heavily on the work and advice of Dr Liz Davies, a leading academic in the field of child protection.

In a brief Twitter exchange, Jon pointed me to the final two paragraphs of his article. Quoting senior lecturer Sarah Goode he writes, “If we can talk about this rationally – acknowledge that yes, men do get sexually attracted to children, but no, they don’t have to act on it – we can maybe avoid the hysteria. We won’t label paedophiles monsters; it won’t be taboo to see and name what is happening in front of us.”

The sub-heading for the article claimed: “The Jimmy Savile scandal caused public revulsion, but experts disagree about what causes paedophilia – and even how much harm it causes.”

My main argument against this article is that this approach ignores the evidence of the experiences of abused children, the experiences of adult survivors of child abuse and the experiences of many professionals who work to protect children. It is a risky strategy at the current time because so many of those who promoted the rights of the ‘paedophile’ have in later years been convicted of sexual crimes against children. Equally, so many of those whom this lobby attacked have been vindicated in their efforts to protect and gain justice for children and survivors.

For Jon, the current public discourse is hindered because of moral panic around child abuse. Saying “If the complexity and divergence of professional opinion may have helped create today’s panic around paedophilia, a media obsession with the subject has done more: a sustained hue and cry exemplified by the News of the World’s notorious “name and shame” campaign in 2000, which brought mobs to the streets, to demonstrate against the presence of shadowy monsters in their midst.”

Defining moral panic this way with respect to the sexual abuse of children is shows a failure to understand the term. Stanley Cohen, author of “Folk Devils and Moral Panics” defines moral panic as “when a condition, episode, person or group emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests. Those who start the panic fear a threat to prevailing societal values”. Opposing the sexual abuse of children and upholding their human rights doesn’t fit this definition. Prevailing societal values are not under threat by those who challenge child sexual abuse because this society clearly legislates and upholds the rights of children to be protected from harm and all forms of abuse. The concept of a ‘moral panic’ is an academic argument being exploited to attack those who are striving to protect children from harm. They would never say that those who oppose racism are part of a moral panic so why apply it to those who oppose childism (to borrow an “ism” from the experts)?

The part of the article that concerns me most is where it touches on the experiences of the liberation campaigns of the1970’s saying: “The reclassification of paedophilia as a sexual orientation would, however, play into what Goode calls “the sexual liberation discourse”, which has existed since the 1970s. “There are a lot of people,” she says, “who say: we outlawed homosexuality, and we were wrong. Perhaps we’re wrong about paedophilia.”

The Paedophile Liberation Front and Paeodphile Information Exchange emerged also in the 70s. It is wrong though to suggest that everyone around at that time agreed with the extension of the ‘rights’ movement into including a child’s right to ‘sex’ with adults. This was definitely not the case. These groups were always on the very margins of the freedom and civil rights movements. Some of this pro-paedophile lobby, though, infiltrated academia and professional circles including the children’s charter and rights movement. Brian Taylor’s book “Perspectives on Paedophilia” (1981), the most depressing on my Christmas reading list, is one of the main examples of professionals who promoted this view. Some of the contributors were subsequently convicted for sexual crimes against children as was Tom O’Carroll, author of the “Radical Case for Paedophilia” (1980). Peter Righton, in Taylor’s book, wrote about boys expressing appreciation for the consideration and attention they received which they rarely got in their own homes and most felt they benefited. He was convicted in 1992 of importing and possessing abusive images of boys.

These claims, bogus of course, are perhaps why people were so angry at Jon Henley’s comment piece. The very fact that a respected features writer on The Guardian lent his authority to a number of pseudo-intellectual claims like these is deeply upsetting to many who campaign to expose child abuse as Britain’s hidden scandal.

Here are further examples of how leading writers of the time were captured by the language of liberation:

Cambridge criminology Professor, Donald West, author of “Children’s sexual encounters with adults. A scientific study” wrote about paedophiles ‘coming out’ in the late 70s, which aroused a “witch hunt” against paedophiles:

“there is an urgent need to distinguish between those adults who use force to obtain sexual contact with children and those who do not, as well as between children who just endure what is done to them and those who actively participate in sexual relationships with adults’.

“This study is concerned with adult sexual experiences with children.. its central aim is to give voice to the viewpoint of the paedophile”.

He criticises the prevalence statistics stating that they mainly include “relatively innocuous advances”. He also states that it is “unwise to overdramatise institutional abuse” as many boys “did not take the behaviour at all seriously or felt the need to make a formal complaint.”

Ralph Underwager was a high profile US consultant psychologist to the Cleveland Inquiry. He was exposed as contributing to a Dutch Paedophile magazine Paidika (1993) in which he wrote “Paedophiles should become much more positive. The should directly attack the concept, the image, the picture of the paedophile as an evil, wicked, and reprehensible exploiter of children”. He went on to say:

“Paedophiles need to become more positive and make the claim that paedophilia is an accceptable expression of God’s will for love and unity among human beings”.

No wonder many more enlightened academics like Dr Liz Davies talk of the “child sex abuse lobby”. She argues some academic writings have to be located in the context of what is known about those who spread those viewpoints and their agendas. Their views were clearly expressed in a document dated 1975 where Paedophile Information Exchange submitted evidence to the Home Office.This proposed abolition of the age of consent and the removal of consensual sexual activity at all ages from the criminal law.

Jon Henley goes on to make a number of other claims that deserve further challenge. They are listed in bold:

A liberal professor of psychology who studied in the late 1970s will see things very differently from someone working in child protection or with convicted sex offenders.

If there is such a person, daring to call themselves ‘liberal’ then I would want to know why they have not developed their thinking since the 70s to understand the dynamics of child sexual abuse and of child sexual abusers in a context of prevalence studies, survivor accounts and research, academic research and the findings and recommendations from hundreds of Inquiries. I cannot imagine why a Professor would want to situate themselves as seeing things differently from someone working in child protection. This would imply that they are confidently situating themselves outside the law, policy and practice guidance relating to the safety of children from sexual crime and abuse.

The vast majority of sexual violence is committed by people known to the victim, stresses Kieran McCartan, senior lecturer in criminology at the University of the West of England. Only very rarely is the danger from the “stranger in the white van”, Mccartan says.

It is commonly stated that most abuse of children is by the family or by people well known to the child. That is almost certainly true. But Dr Liz Davies argues that we do not have full statistics of abuse of children by ‘strangers’ e.g. the children who go missing and are never found are not counted by anyone and abductions do not count within the child sex abuse statistics. If there is one point we can learn from the Savile expose – it is that it highlights the extent of ‘stranger’ abuse. This is very important too.

MAPPA statistics do not differentiate between sex offending against adults and those against children which makes analysis difficult because the numbers of known offenders against children are not easily accessed. There is also substantial under-reporting of all forms of child abuse. It is important to compare prevalence statistics, such as NSPCC research citing that nearly a quarter of young adults experienced sexual abuse during childhood, with the numbers of children subject to a protection plan for child sexual abuse which, in 2012, were just 2300 in England and Wales. Where are the statistics of children illegally adopted, children trafficked for domestic and sexual exploitation, children who are victims of the “global industries of child abuse” such as online abuse and abusive images? All these forms of child sexual abuse are under-reported and largely absent from the official statistics.

…a sample of boys in paedophilic relationships felt positively about them
In order to sexually abuse a child a perpetrator will often groom the child and so it is not uncommon for a child to have some positive feelings towards the person harming them. The perpetrator may also be someone who is close to them and the child wants the abuse to stop but does not want to lose the relationship. This is no way suggests that the abuse is justifiable. In fact a state of confused emotions and responses adds to the severity of the trauma experienced by the child. That this is not obvious to Jon Henley is alarming to me.

Whether or not a child voluntarily entered into sexual relations with their abuser, and how positive or negative they felt about it at the time, is irrelevant when it comes to both the long-term effects of child sex abuse, and how seriously we should treat the abuse. Even if it is true that for some survivors of this type of consensual abuse there were no “undesirable outcomes” (though this is surely hard to quantify), this is certainly not true for all, or even many, if any, children who entered into abusive relationships voluntarily; and to draw a distinction between children who were violently abused and children who submitted willingly is irresponsible and damaging when children who submitted willingly are already more likely to feel shame, self-blame and not seek help due to their belief it was their own fault.

I hope Jon Henley reflects on how his features piece has, inadvertently I’m sure, lent credibility to bogus claims about child abuse that make it harder for policy makers to act decisively. In the few short weeks I’ve been looking at this subject, I know that we are failing children today. We have to act with boldness and at scale. I’m talking to colleagues about what Labour’s future policy in child protection might look like. I hope to talk to colleagues from other parties also.

Survivors of child sex abuse commonly suffer from depression, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, phobias, flashbacks, disturbing thoughts, intrusive memories, self-harming, alcoholism, eating disorders, and feelings of shame, anger and worthlessness. This is the reality, but Jon Henley doesn’t voice it in his piece.