Strangers aren’t the greatest threat to our children

We prefer to believe the worst danger lies outside the home. But that's a mistake

Share

What would your child do if a stranger approached them? The experiment by ITV’s Daybreak last week sent chills through viewers who watched seven out of nine children walk away with a man asking for help finding his lost dog in a park. At the school gates, on the first week of term, my fellow mothers and I shook our heads in despair, horrified at how effective a ploy it was – a stark reminder of the innocence and vulnerability of our children.

I need no such reminder. I’ve spent the last few years investigating child abuse, including some of the most heinous crimes this country has ever seen; gangs who turn young girls into sex slaves. The headlines grabbed by these gangs as well as the Jimmy Savile case has, rightly, turned the spotlight on child sex abuse. However it has also distracted attention from something stressed to me regularly by organisations working with abused children: their abusers are mostly neither celebrities nor men lurking in sinister cars and parks but usually someone, of either gender, known to the child – a friend, a neighbour, a nanny or, often, a close relative.

I sat with three mothers this week, for a piece I’m writing about a charity called MOSAC which helps the non-abusing parents of sexually abused children. Their children were all molested by someone the mothers trusted; a partner , perhaps, or a grandfather. They sighed deeply when I mentioned the Daybreak experiment. “People can’t face it”, said one, “they’d rather see it as stranger-danger than someone close to home. It’s too scary.” Another added, “How can we warn our kids off everyone?”

MOSAC are now marking their 21st anniversary. It’s the only national charity which helps the parents of abused children and has had a huge increase in calls to their helpline this year. They say the general public still wants to believe the worst danger lies outside the home. A recent NSPCC campaign encourages parents to teach children as young as five about inappropriate adult attention. The Underwear Rule (PANTS) is highly commendable, and a long time coming in my view, but the message it also sends is that children have to protect themselves. It’s important to equip our children, yes, but our legal system has to step up.

Anyone who works with abused children; the police, social services and voluntary organisations know the difficulties of getting these cases to court. Evidence is scant and children, especially young and traumatised ones, are not strong witnesses. Sadly, paedophiles know this too and are aware of the legal difficulties. Very few cases are ever reported, fewer pass the legal threshold required to get to court, and even fewer result in successful convictions. The depressing and terrible truth is that until our justice system changes, and until we’re all prepared to face difficult facts, our children will remain more vulnerable than any Daybreak experiment could  ever prove.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have previous experience...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay's Chris Martin “consciously uncoupled” in March  

My best and worst stories of 2014

Simmy Richman
The Queen spoke of respect for all cultures and faiths in her Christmas message  

Decoding the Queen's speech: Was Her Majesty taking a swipe at Ukip?

Jane Merrick
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015