Stephen Glover – Daily Mail.co.uk December 4, 2008
The Today programme on BBC Radio Four claims an audience of several million people. It is the leading radio news programme.
Yesterday it devoted its prime slot to an extraordinary series of articles in the latest Lancet medical journal.
According to Today, the journal alleges that one in ten children in high-income countries such as Britain is maltreated.
Bizarrely, this actual figure does not appear throughout 63 pages of articles, though it is highlighted in The Lancet’s press release.
The word ‘maltreatment’ includes hitting, punching, burning and serious emotional abuse (whatever that means), as well as sexual abuse. The BBC says one million children are affected in Britain every year.
Today also claimed that one study in the journal ‘estimated’ that at least 15 per cent of girls and 5 per cent of boys have been exposed to sexual abuse of some kind by the age of 18, and that 5 to 10 per cent of girls, and 1 to 5 per cent of boys, are exposed to penetrative sexual abuse.
All this was reported as though the BBC had just descended from Mount Sinai. Its credulous reporter actually used the word ‘revealed’.
The study was accorded the status of holy writ. One in ten children is abused. One in seven girls is sexually abused.
Jane Barlow, professor of public health at Warwick University, was then wheeled on to add such authority as she may have to these amazing figures. She said that more children should be removed from their parents.
The story, as relayed by the BBC, is that many ordinary people are child abusers. You might be. I might be. It is a universal problem. Its scale is apparently enormous.
Following the case of Baby P, and other similar tragedies, we might be tempted to believe these figures are correct. We would be horribly misguided to do so.
Intelligent people — rather than academics paid to assemble statistics to further an agenda of their own — start from the position of what is likely.
I do not, for example, think it likely that 50 per cent of people are fundamentally dishonest. I would take some persuading that one woman in two is a lesbian.
Of course, I might be wrong, but most of us have a view based on experience of what seems plausible, and what does not.
Fifteen per cent of girls are sexually abused? As many as one in ten of them exposed to sexual penetration?
These figures could be true, but they challenge the beliefs that most of us have about human beings and the nature of families, where the alleged abuse supposedly takes place.
We might be persuaded by an immense amount of detailed original research, though most of us would probably still harbour reasonable doubts.
The 63 pages have been assembled from hundreds of other studies, all of which had wildly differing terms of reference. Many of its conclusions rely on ‘self-reporting’, or retrospective recollection.
The claims by adults of childhood abuse are set down as fact. What any of us remember about our youth is, with the best will in the world, coloured by false memories. Some people reinvent their pasts.
There is also the obvious fatuity of the statistics as presented. A light, occasional smack on the bottom is hardly to be compared with sexual abuse, and yet the two very different acts are lumped together in the same shocking set of figures.
Look at the wide range of figures. One to 5 per cent of boys are supposedly exposed to penetrative abuse. Which is it?
You would think me pretty flaky if I said that London was a city of two to ten million people. The difference is huge.
Presented with shocking statistics, the media are liable to alight on the higher figure, which is presumably the intention of those publishing them.
One can’t be sure about the motives of the authors of these studies or of The Lancet, though I have a pretty good idea. I feel on even firmer ground with the Today programme.
Research of this sort is not disinterested and dispassionate. Some social scientists set out to ‘prove’ what they want to be true, and they rely on the co- operation of compliant journalists with a loose grip on statistics eager to agree with them.
The story here, embraced by the BBC without critical inquiry, and given vast and unwarranted prominence, is that the nuclear family is dysfunctional. At its centre lies widespread sexual abuse.
Do not think the apparent demise of the Left means the old culture wars are finished. There is a tradition stretching from Marx to Lenin to Stalin, and more recently taken up in a thousand university social science departments, antagonistic to marriage and the family.
They are seen as old-fashioned, bourgeois institutions dangerously independent of the State. In the word of one brilliant author on the subject, the family is regarded as ‘subversive’.
No one denies that terrible things go on in families. God knows, we have had enough examples in recent weeks — from Baby P to the case of the monster in Sheffield who raped and impregnated his daughters.
But the exception does not prove the rule. Some barmy feminists extrapolate from individual cases of rape to say that all men are rapists. Similarly, it does not follow that, because some families are dysfunctional, the institution itself is flawed.
Professor Jane Barlow, and many like her, will use these studies to say that the authorities should be more active in taking children away from their parents and placing them with foster parents.
The attraction of such an arrangement for the State is that it then owns the children. They can be taken away from the foster parents and placed with new ones.
The case of Baby P does not tell me first and foremost that there are some wicked parents: we all know that. Instead, it tells me that the incompetent servants of the State are the last people in the world to whom the care of children should be entrusted.
And far from accepting the thesis that the crumbling family unit should be still further destabilised — surely the intended implication of The Lancet’s study — we should be arguing the exact opposite.
The family, for all its occasional weaknesses and shortcomings, needs strengthening, not more undermining. Too easy divorce and promiscuity and the pressures of the modern workplace have eaten away at its integrity.
Far from trying to protect the family, successive governments of all colours have helped to enfeeble it by offering tax incentives to those who choose not to get married, though the Tories under David Cameron seem at last to have woken up to what has happened.
Now we are told, on the basis of suspect studies employing research that has been spatchcocked together, and then credulously presented by the BBC, that the institution itself is rotten. We are all guilty — or, to be more precise, tens of millions of men are guilty of sexually abusing children.
I don’t believe it, and this research doesn’t come close to proving it. What it does prove, though, is that there are still many who want to discredit the family.
This is ideology masquerading as science — and what could be more dangerous than that?
Last updated 07/12/2008