The picture editors were busy yesterday. The winsome portrayals of Madeleine McCann, once the picture of choice if the word paedophilia was to be mentioned in the media, were passed over. The aging shots of Jimmy Savile dusted down again, a touch of yellow applied to the teeth; the one with the sinister leer selected, the fattest cigar, symbol of wealth and membership of an elite, brought to the fore, and extra space booked on the front page to allow a larger than usual graphic to be displayed.
Had something occurred which involved Savile? Not exactly. But a man who had once freelanced for the same employer as Savile had been charged with a sexual offence which had come to the fore of the mind of someone, now middle aged, given the ‘courage’ to come forward 30 years later in the wake of the allegations that the BBC might conceivably be financially responsible for all crimes of a sexual nature which occurred within spitting distance of their premises by anyone with a tenuous claim to employment by them.
A BBC correspondent said Smith was a chauffeur who drove for the BBC though it was not clear his alleged offences occurred while he was employed by the corporation.
Yeah! ‘Yewtree’ has notched up its first formal charges! Considering that Yewtree received more than 500 ‘allegations’ the attrition rate is liable to be horrendous. Will this be used to show how poorly served child abuse victims are by the criminal system, in the same way that Rape statistics are routinely massaged year in, year out? Even someone as aware as I am of how the media misuse facts and statistics, had allowed the furore regarding the unique place Rape occupies in the reporting of crime to pass unnoticed.
Unique? Yes, unique! The ‘conviction rate’ of all other crimes is reported on the basis of charges laid versus convictions in court. Thus we arrive at a figure of 57% of people charged with manslaughter ultimately convicted. Where rape is concerned, many people, if asked, would tell you that it has a low conviction rate. Indeed we are frequently quoted the figure of 6.5%, with the accompanying mantra that ‘victims are to believed’ and ‘more must be done to improve the conviction rate’ – leaving one with the impression that the majority, the vast majority, of ‘rapists’ go unconvicted by the courts. Year by year, money is poured into facilities to help the victims of rape, to organisations that provide support for rape. It is ‘never enough’ is the meme.
I was astounded to learn that if rape conviction statistics were recorded in the same way that every other crime conviction rate is recorded, you actually have more chance (58%) of being convicted of rape than of manslaughter!
Somewhere round about Jack Straw’s tenancy of the Home Secretary’s desk in 1998, a vital and barely noticed change was made, in that henceforth, rape convictions were to be compared, not with people charged, but with ‘allegations made’…and it is from that change that we arrive at the oft quoted figure of 6.5% conviction rate for rape. The sleight of hand is often achieved through misleading words, such as ‘only 6.5% of reported rapes are successfully prosecuted’ – see what they did there?
In an age of austerity, one that we are likely to inhabit for a long time, all the Charities, and the Government ‘arms-length’ agencies that specialise in supporting victims and the vulnerable, are scrabbling to secure sparse funding, to secure their jobs and incidentally, I suspect too, too, incidentally, for the benefit of their dependent clients. The media are under resourced and dependent on press releases from these bodies. It is an ill fated combination. One that too easily falls victim itself to a desire to promote fear and guilt in the public to fight the headline moral panics. Individuals will surface who are predisposed to promoting the panic that will fill a particular charities coffers, whether through donations or more usually by putting government ministers in a no-win situation whereby they can scarcely deny more funding for a particular cause.
Curiously, today sees Mick and Mairead Philpott given lengthy sentences for the manslaughter of six of the seventeen children they have between them – yet the child protection agencies and their celebrity ’placemen’ have been ominously quiet on the subject of this tragedy. Whereas at the merest hint that a fourteen year old might have offered and delivered a ‘blow-job’ to a celebrity they become almost hysterical with demands for ‘something to be done’, the idea that six children should have been heartlessly incinerated by their feckless Father has induced no comment. I find it hard to imagine a more profound case of child abuse.
Child abuse that could have been foreseen, if not to its gruesome extent, at least to the possibility that harm might befall one or more of the children. The circumstances were known. The man had a previous conviction for violence, stabbing a previous partner. He famously appeared on ITVs Jeremy Kyle show explaining the finer details of his ménage à trois to guffaws of laughter from the audience and the ITV staff. Light entertainment! Later, Anne Widdecombe in another ITV show brought publicity to his feckless lifestyle, which apparently brought rewards of:
£20.30 a week child benefit for the eldest of the 11 children in the house and £13.40 for the other ten, totalling £8,023.60 a year.
His wife and Ms Willis had cleaning jobs. According to the HM Revenue & Customs website, his wife, with six children, was entitled to up to £20,560 a year in tax credits, and Ms Willis to up to £17,870 a year, totalling £38,430.
His wives’ wages could have taken his “income” to about £60,000 a year. Housing benefit covered the estimated £150-a-week in rent — a further £7,800.
Working tax credits and child benefits were paid tax free, meaning that Philpott’s account could have been similar to that of a man earning about £100,000 a year, putting him in the top 2 per cent of earners.
It is hard to escape the suspicion that the ‘culture and practices’ at ITV, by treating Philpott’s unusual lifestyle as a subject of light hearted entertainment, had contributed to producing a man who thought he could do no wrong. Hell, he was one of the few individuals in this country to receive a personal visit from a member of parliament investigating his lifestyle. Did no one refer his children to the child protection agencies?
And no demands for children in similar households to come forward and be ‘believed’ if they tell of life in the home of a man who resorts to casual violence whenever he doesn’t get his way, who relieves the taxpayer of the equivalent to £100,000 a year whilst he is lauded for his dubious sexual habits on television? No handwringing from Esther Rantzen? No Dame Janet Smith to spend millions examining whether the ‘culture and practice’ at ITV had any part to play in the horrendous life and death of those children?
What has happened to his remaining eleven children? Does anybody know? Does anybody care?
It appears to be a sad fact of life that not all child abuse victims are equal. Some are more valuable than others.