Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

War. Huh. What is it good for?

OH good. A task force.

Task forces are great. They sound very strong and definite, a bit military even, and enable people to say 'we're declaring war on litter/bad drivers/disease' which always sounds good.

They are also pretty much free. Everyone invited to join a task force (you can't invent your own, not allowed) is already paid to do something else, and task forces in general recommend things and recommending is free.


But when the authorities announce a task force, they like to say WAR ON WHATEVER rather than 'part-time, low-cost, recommendations which may or may not work'. Not got quite the same ring, has it?

When it's graffiti or dog mess or dustbin collections perhaps that doesn't matter too much. When it's organised and sustained child sex abuse, however, task forces are not what's needed.

So naturally the government has launched a Sexual Violence against Children and Vulnerable People task force and is holding a summit on how they will spot abuse, help victims and generally 'wage war on paedo sex gangs'.

Well, it probably won't hurt. And it will probably also achieve the square root of naff all for the very simple reason the funding of every single body around the table and already tasked with waging war on paedo sex gangs has been slashed.

Police forces are facing cuts of 20% over five years and some have stopped sending officers into schools to teach children how to be careful online. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) which runs a child trafficking unit, traces perverts on the deep web and catches truly vile people, will lose 10% over four years.

Every local authority in the country is losing about 10% of its funding with an obvious impact on social services, children's homes and youngsters who are at risk. And charities, which are funded both by local councils and the public, are suffering too.

Even the ministerial department hosting the summit and running the task force, the Home Office, has had a 6% cut. It's also sacking 7,000 Border Agency staff while the Prime Minister talks about cracking down on immigration.

Sitting around talking about waging war on anything above a paper bag in that situation is not only fruitless, it would be laughable if the topic were not so awful.

Doing the same as yesterday on less money might be possible, but doing more is about as likely as Jimmy Savile coming back from the dead to say sorry.

This task force was set up in the wake of a national child sex scandal which is still ongoing. First Jimmy died and we learned there were hundreds of accusations of abuse by him over 40 years, much of it carried out in places where children should have been safe.

Ten NHS hospitals, a mental health institution, children's homes, BBC studios - all places where the state in some respect was not only paying but also in loco parentis. Fumbles, assaults, rape, boys, girls, teenagers, and plenty of evidence of care home workers, nurses, politicians and producers turning a blind eye, telling children to pretend to be asleep, giving him access to his victims.

And what's been done? So far the BBC has spent £5m and put another £20m aside for legal costs. It's produced two reports and sacked no-one.

West Yorkshire Police has investigated itself over its officers having coffee mornings at a paedophile's flat and found there was nothing amiss.

Officials reportedly tried to stop the hospitals involved being named, and there are a thousand unanswered questions about why Margaret Thatcher knighted him despite warnings from her advisers about his "unfortunate" private life.

Meanwhile we've had two long and horrible trials about the organised abuse of dozens of girls in care homes in Rochdale and Oxford which showed that very recently children in the care of the state were systematically drugged and raped while their carers ignored their claims, failed to report them missing and generally looked the other way.

Today police have made another arrest having finally got around to investigating allegations of child sex abuse at care homes in north Wales.

There have been apologies, but no inquiries.

No-one has asked a social worker, on oath, what they knew or what they did. No-one has asked former Health Minister Edwina Currie, on oath, why she allowed a radio DJ to briefly run Broadmoor high security psychiatric hospital. No-one has dug out a nurse who worked on the wards Savile stalked and asked her what she saw.

No-one has stopped to ask why behaviour which was barely reported or prosecuted 40 years ago - and is therefore understandably coming to light only now - is still going unnoticed today.

Unnoticed. Unnoticed when a child goes missing from care for days and crawls back, pregnant, to claim she was drugged and raped, and the authorities decide not to prosecute on the grounds she's not believable enough.

There are 67,000 children in care in the UK at this moment. Increasing numbers of homes are run by private firms with fewer staff and less training. If it has happened in Wales, Rochdale and Oxford it is happening elsewhere and it is probably happening right now.

Jimmy Savile is long gone - but the stones he crawled around under are still there, still home for those who want to avoid the light, and still in serious need of being turned over.

And what have we got? A task force and a Prime Minister who not only thinks the internet will obey his commands but the greatest risk to children is racy pictures on Daddy's iPad he doesn't want them to see.

Most child sex abuse is carried out by a relative. Determined paedophiles use the deep web you cannot access via Google. If someone wants to look at such things, they can and they will, and if you want to ban all representations of rape you'll have to start with the Bible and work your way down to Tess of the D'Urbervilles and half the art in the National Gallery.

The real risk to children about sexual abuse is that we are willfully blind to it. We call it porn when it's child abuse, we call it Lolita fantasies when it's child abuse, we call it child sex when it's child abuse.

We call it historic when it's happening right now.

We don't need a task force, we need a flame thrower. We need CEOP to be properly funded, we need a Prime Minister with a basic grasp of the internet beyond Fruit Ninja, we need police officers to have the time and money to go into schools and tell children - and parents - how to be careful. Scrap HS2 and spend the £40billion on that and there won't be a single objection.

We need a judge-led inquiry into everything from Savile to Rochdale, we need victims to be listened to and wrong-doers punished. We need to look it in the face and stare it down.

Without those things there is not a hope of this going away as we all wish it would. It will just slither back under the stones and come back to bite us later.

And when it does, we'll probably get another task force.