The manufactured ‘child sex’ panic

A well-known footballer (aged 28) is currently on trial for offences against a young person. He is being tried for ‘grooming’, which he admits, and sexual activity with a child. He admits one count under the latter heading and denies two other counts.

The story is relatively straightforward. (See here and here for press accounts). He met with a young fan – a 15 year old girl. He took her into his car. They kissed. There was a fumble. No penetrative sex. Apparently no coercion.

The case can be understood in the context of the national hysteria around ‘child sex’. And the unhealthy level of interest in the subject. The Telegraph, for example, sees fit to describe the trial as a ‘child sex’ trial; though no actual sex took place. Neither the Guardian nor the Telegraph (linked above) in their reports raise any question at all about the wisdom of taking someone to trial for these very minor offences. One of the friends of the ‘victim’ told the court that she thought that the footballer was ‘a bit of a paedophile’. This is lapped up by the press and widely reported. Naturally, the police went through the footballer’s computer and phone. They found he’d searched articles on the Internet about the age of consent. On his phone they found a photo of his ‘groin area’. – What young man these days doesn’t have a photo of his ‘groin area’ on his phone? Why is searching for information about the age of consent even relevant? He had a fumble with a 15 year old girl. No coercion. A misdemeanor. Maybe a good case for a caution. But somehow the parties pressing the case – the authorities and the media – have totally lost their sense of perspective.

Why have the authorities, and the media, lost their sense of perspective on this? One answer is that it is about PR. The authorities until recently turned a blind eye to child sexual abuse; including far more serious cases than this. Now they don’t miss any opportunity to create a public perception that they are on the case. However; if they meant it, if there really had been a change of heart, their actions would be proportionate and measured. That they aren’t indicates that there has been no change of heart. Just an attempt to manage public perceptions. Indeed the hysteria in this area appears to be being deliberately cultivated and manufactured. (Adam Johnston is just a hapless pawn in a wider effort). Why are the authorities manufacturing a national hysteria about ‘child sex’? What does this get them? Maybe it is not just a PR benefit? It also seems to be about the authorities controlling and managing a) peoples’ bodies and b) all relations between young people and older people. By manufacturing (with the help of the media) this unhealthy and universal climate of interest in the subject of ‘child sex’ they create for themselves a continual reason to police what people do with their bodies and relations between people in general. In essence this is about the police re-inventing themselves as moral policemen. No longer do they focus on robbers and murderers. Now they are a moral police force; concerned with human relations and what people do with their bodies.

The police are re-inventing themselves as controllers of a new moral order. Public attention is thus removed one stage further from the real crimes of the century. The destructive effects of an economic system where power is in the hands of invisible financiers and the capital markets. This system leads to foreign wars – as new markets are conquered – and a disturbing lack of social solidarity at home as all social policies are geared around maximizing labour productivity. It is a feature of the age that attention is diverted away from questioning the perils of the economic order which underpins modern society and onto the question of individual acts of ‘child sex’, acts which can be framed in terms of an individual and in terms of ‘morality’. (And this ‘moral’ hysteria helps sell newspapers of course).

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