E Jane Dickson: We must make it our business to report abuse

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The Independent Online

Last year in Paris, I witnessed one of those accidents where time seems to slow to a horrible stop-frame scenario. A baby, bumped in its buggy down the steep stairs of the Métro, had came loose from its moorings and pitched head-first on to the tiles below. Miraculously unhurt, the child set up a cheerful crowing while his young mother, hyperventilating with shock, was set about by the (mainly female) crowd and scolded for failing to attach him securely, with a noisy consensus in favour of informing "the authorities". It wasn't an edifying sight and, reading this week's report from the first international conference on denunciation in wartime France (where it was suggested that up to one million French people denounced their compatriots to the Vichy regime), I was reminded of those vengeful, furious faces.

I was less edified yesterday by another incident (in the glamorous surroundings of Woolworth's) where a mother whose toddler had dislodged a tottering pile of "gift ideas" reacted with an eyewatering torrent of abuse and a hard slap to her son's head. This time, I was the lame voice of censure.

"Oh, please don't!" I started, "It wasn't his fault..." (as if a deliberate act of display sabotage by a two-year-old might have warranted violent measures), whereupon I was treated to a frank appraisal of my character before mother and baby disappeared into the stream of suddenly impassive shoppers.

Public intervention in such situations is a difficult call. God knows I've been on the receiving end of hard stares for scolding, though not hitting, my own children. But compelling new evidence suggests that, in matters of child welfare, it is time the British stopped looking the other way. As we struggle to find an appropriate place to dump collective outrage over the death of Baby P, a series of papers published by The Lancet medical journal in collaboration with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health suggests that up to one in 10 children in the UK suffers neglect or physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. It is a terrifying statistic and it doesn't begin to tally with the amount of cases already on the books of social services. So the even more terrifying implication is that the vast majority (two-thirds by a reckoning of current figures) of child abuse or maltreatment slips under the radar.

Even if every social services department in the land functioned perfectly, there wouldn't be the infrastructure to cope with this drastically revised figure. Two decades on, the shadow of Cleveland – where a spate of wrong diagnoses destroyed families and splintered communities – still looms large. However, the magnitude or complication of a problem is not sufficient reason to ignore it, and the concerned public needs to find more effective ways to expressing its concern than laying bouquets or baying for blood when official systems crumple under stress.

We could start by actively (for which read financially) supporting NGOs such as Barnardo's or Camila Batmanghelidjh's Kids Company, which do such excellent work at individual and community level with children at risk. And we could, in our daily lives, look out for children more, make it our personal business to protect them. If that means sharing real fears about suspected child abuse with others in our community, we need to swallow our embarrassment and get on with it.

We are right to fear a culture of denunciation. It is an ugly business and we tell ourselves it's not the British way. But child abusers need to know on an intimate, cultural level that their actions will not be discreetly ignored – because nothing is uglier than a battered baby.

A personal opinion that I just have to get off my chest

Two-and-a-half cheers, then, for Esther Rantzen, who, as she sprang from the I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here... camp, was quick to get her thoughts about Nicola McLean's stupendously enhanced embonpoint off her own, more modest, chest. "In getting breast enlargements," said Rantzen, "what we are doing is creating a totally impossible female shape and making it our ideal."

It's just a shame that, in the same breath as blasting McLean for being a poor role model to young women, Rantzen, 68, revealed that she is contemplating a "knee-lift".

Who says young women should have the monopoly on good celebrity role models? Are we to assume that surgery to boost your chest-related career is irresponsible, while surgery such as face-lifts and knee-lifts, designed to eliminate the signs of ageing, is morally and socially acceptable?

Frankly, I don't much care if celebrities' ears now meet at the backs of their heads, but I worry very much about the mindset that equates natural ageing with defeat. Already in the US, and increasingly over here, the much debated "underclass" is marked out by extra poundage while the rich stay rail-thin. Now ,it seems, we must look forward to a future where only the poor grow old.

The truth about strip clubs and Saddos

So lap dancing clubs are now to be legally termed as "sex establishments". Delighted to see a spade "reclassified" as a spade in the Queen's Speech, and I very much hope the Department for the Reclassification of Garden Implements won't stop there.

Here are some de-euphemised terms Her Majesty might find handy for next time. The inoffensive sounding "Civil List" will be known henceforward as "The Hangers On Charter". "Right Honourable Members' might more usefully be termed "Shysters You Wouldn't Trust to Run a Tap", and "The Privy Purse" will go under its new no-nonsense name of "The Swag Bag".

And while we're on the subject of lap dancing, can we also please reclassify the "guests" of these establishments, who are now concerned for their reputations following the semantic demotion of their chosen entertainment, as "Sad And Desperate Deluded Oafs. "Saddos" for short should fit the bill nicely.