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

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

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own