Smirking 'No smoke without fire' crew win - we all lose
Thanks to the failure of police to stop Jimmy Savile, all men are now potentially tarred with the 'sex abuser' brush, says Eilis O'Hanlon
Published 17/08/2014 | 02:30
So now Cliff Richard's name has been added to the list of those whose reputations have been irrevocably tarnished, as the authorities in the UK, caught between a rock and a hard place, try to make amends for their failure over decades to stop Jimmy Savile with a retrospective crackdown on every real or perceived act of sexual impropriety by celebrities of the same era.
The singer insists that the allegations against him of assaulting a boy under the age of 16 in the 1980s are "completely false". While his home in Berkshire, England, has been searched, and a number of items removed, Sir Cliff has not been charged.
The notion of being innocent until proven guilty used to mean something, but that hasn't stopped the wild rumours from spreading online; and it raises the question why any man in his right mind would ever allow himself again to be in the company of other people's children.
Many of the public figures against whom allegations have been made were, after all, involved in a number of different charities which helped young people. Their efforts, too, have now been unfairly tainted by association. Others who did similar work with children are being looked at askance. What were they really up to? What was their true motivation?
The internet gossip-mongers claim to know the answer, which is - not to put too fine a point on it - that practically every male who ever appeared on our television screens from the 1960s onwards was a known paedophile whose crimes against children were facilitated and covered up by an equally perverted establishment. Each conviction, however questionable, only bolsters the new orthodoxy: they were all at it. And anyone who refuses to believe that child abuse was being organised at the highest levels of society to the extent that is now being claimed is either in denial or in on the conspiracy. A useful idiot, or another monster. Damned either way.
That same question, then. Why would any man in future allow himself to ever be left alone with children who are not his own? It's not worth the risk. It's asking for trouble. Stay away from them. Actively push them away. Resolve to exist in entirely separate worlds from those inhabited by children. That's the only advice which makes sense in the present climate, especially when, if any allegations do emerge against them - as they have against Cliff Richard - their identities are liable to be plastered across the media before the truth of the charges is properly ascertained. And the reporters and TV cameras will be camped outside their doors as the 'No Smoke Without Fire' brigade smirk and tell sick jokes and say: 'See? Told you we were right'.
That's what happened to teaching. Male primary school teachers are now rarer than Labour voters, as men collectively desert the profession, partly in response to the suspicion which now attaches itself to any man who chooses to spend his time with young people.
What befell teaching could easily happen in other areas of public life too. Social workers, charity workers, youth workers, those involved in voluntary sporting organisations - all have had the finger of doubt pointed at them in recent times. Increasingly, it's only natural that men will retreat from these areas in terror at being caught up in a climate of mass mistrust of their real motives. If that happens, it will undoubtedly be to society's detriment, reversing decades of progress in which men have been actively encouraged to stop leaving the care of children in the hands of women and instead to take equal responsibility for raising the next generation.
More fatherless boys raised without positive male role models in their lives. Terrific. Not.
But men in the public eye could hardly be blamed for turning down invitations to charity projects involving children, or for hurriedly deleting emails from young people seeking help or advice before the temptation to do the right thing leads them into potential trouble down the line.
It's even been observed that many sports coaches now working with young people would rather yell at them when they do wrong than hug them when they need comfort, because doing the latter is far too dangerous.
In one case, a football coach was investigated after a girl ran and embraced him in celebration after she scored a goal. A study by Manchester Metropolitan University recently found that many coaches are afraid of breaking the "no touch" rule, even when they think children may be in danger, and that this climate of fear was affecting efforts to widen participation in sport.
People will say: if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear. That's not really how it works. Men with nothing to hide have plenty to fear if their innocent actions are liable to be misinterpreted in the worst possible light by a society that has decided that men, as a whole, are not to be trusted around children.
Yet, most of the men that most of us know continue to be entirely loving and trustworthy individuals, whose contribution to the existences of the children around them is overwhelmingly positive. Sadly, when lived experience meets ingrained prejudice, it's the preconceived presumptions which all too often win out.