Friday, October 1, 2010

Sarah's Law and Communities

When I was a kid, my friends and I always knew that the bloke at the end of the road was "dodgy". We didn't even know the word paedophile, or anything about sex for that matter, but we knew damn well to steer clear of that bloke.

That was a small Welsh community, settled and cohesive. The community held its memories and made its social judgements. No formal charges need be made, no official pronouncements or registers demanded. I daresay that this remains the way of things in small communities.

Equally, in larger and more unsettled areas, then such social information and judgement must be absent. When people do not know their neighbours, how can they know whether they are Good or Bad?

This effect of social mobility and isolation must play a part in the reasoning underlying Sarah's Law. If it is, then it has the distinction of being the only strand in this mess that has any coherence.

On the face of it, it is obvious that we should be told if there is a danger in our midst. There are two huge flaws in this. Firstly, it assumes that a person’s future actions can be extrapolated from their past. They cannot. Human beings do not dance to some Newtonian clockwork mechanism.

The second flaw is rather more fundamental and fishy. Kids are far more likely to be molested once they reach home, rather than being kidnapped by a stranger on their journey.

Sarah's Law distinguishes itself in its deliberate and wilful mis-direction as to the danger. It isn't so much the sex offenders who have already been captured, punished, released and registered who pose the problem. It is those who remain unknown, in their homes that are the risk. But now everybody is looking in the wrong direction.

And has Sarah's Law had a positive effect? According to the papers and its supporters, yes. According to keener eyes - has it hell!

Is it the fragmented nature of modern life that has forced us to rely on the State for information about our neighbours, rather than our being able to tap into stable social networks? And, one for futurologists, will social networking on the Web replace a little of the networking that used to take place on the streets?

I apologise for mixing themes in this piece - communities and Sarah's Law - but they are profoundly connected. A purer, more focused piece would have pointed out that Sarah's Law is a testament to the will of the tabloids and some victims’ groups, and nothing to do with actually protecting children.

And a separate piece would have pointed out that our fragmenting society no longer acts as it did as a channel to carry useful information within communities. Rather than a new boyfriend being placed in a context, a known history of rumours and pub talk, leaving us to make our own we have to rely on the State to gather than information and make the judgement for us. In this sense, Sarah's Law is more pertinent to a discussion about the nature of communities than to child welfare.

And here's the kicker. If you do inquire of the police about a new partner or child minder, they won't tell you straight if that person has dodgy antecedents. No - they only tell you if they believe that he poses a future risk. With a lack of information on our part, we surrender our judgement and discretion to some minor State bureaucrat. Strange way to protect kids.


  1. Amongst those who don't think it's is a good idea there are American law enforcement people who have seen the pitfalls of 'Megan's Law' first hand.

    A remember a few years ago (here in England) a Pediatrician's home was vandalized and the word 'Pedo' (sic) spray painted onto her front door. I rest my case.

    I am starting to think it's utterly pointless having elections in this country and we should just cut to the chase with a dictatorship run by the editors of the Daily Mail and Express respectively.

  2. What happened to yesterday's post?

  3. From Ed: a post called the Devil Inside was removed earlier today. My fault; it was intended for future series of post on prison humour. Nothing sinister (just having a blond moment, sorry!)

  4. It is all about creating 'fear of men', unless the man is government certified.

    Communities and families, represent some degree of independence from the state bureaucracy; these institutions are therefore a threat to the state's total hegemony. Sarah's Law is just another form of state sponsored subversion to destroy our independence, via the destruction of community cohesion.

    ZanuLabour introduced 4,000 laws to incriminate men; Sarah's Law is just another round of ammunition in the fascist state arsenal.

  5. I linked this piece to my face book page and have gotten into a debate (and lost one or two fb 'friends', sad I know).

    This is a strong post over an important issue. The issues are emotive and the facts seemingly scant.

    Below is a link to an article from socialist worker from the time when people in Portsmouth were being whipped into a frenzy by the tabloid press over sex offenders.

    There are some interesting facts and figures concerning the issues around Sarah's Law which may be of interest.

  6. What you say about potential danger to children being in their own home is true ! However what no-one ever seems to grasp (as published queitly by the NSPCC and many other studies confirm) is that Children are safest where the BIOLOGICAL FATHER is present.
    single Mother households (especially with multitudinous boyfriends) are where most abuse of children takes place.