Friday 13 December 2019

Mary Kenny: My point is simple: not all 'child sex abuse' is the same

Have we now got to the point where no rational discussion of child sex abuse can take place? There is so much anger out there -- particularly directed at the Catholic clergy -- that debate on the subject is soon drowned in a sea of verbal abuse.

Not that the anger isn't justified: or righteous. It is. Any assault on a child should be met with anger. And with punishment.

However, I also think there is a point to be made about clarifying the phrase 'child sex abuse'. It seems to me to be a reasonable observation that not all "child sexual abuse" is the same.

There is a difference between the penetrative rape of an innocent six-year-old, and the "fondling" of a knowing 15-year-old. Yet the phrase "child abuse" is commonly used to cover the entire gamut. Following a discussion on the Pat Kenny programme yesterday morning in which I was asked to discuss clarifying definitions of 'child sex abuse', I received the full blast of anger that surrounds the subject.

I was called, in emails, a "sick, twisted old cow"; a "degenerate old pervert . . . a pig"; I was told that I should be dead, as a disgusting defender of paedophiles.

A man with a senior position in the National Lottery asked if I was "mentally ill or just evil"? It should be, he wrote, "a criminal offence to support the Catholic Church" and he'd be "delighted to see you and your ilk serve jail sentences".

Actually, I don't defend the Catholic Church where it has acted wrongly and neither do I defend paedophiles as a general principle. If I should drop dead, I certainly don't want these misunderstandings written into my obituary.

But it is alarming to be told that you should be jailed for your opinions; and it is frustrating when people seem to wilfully misunderstand what you are trying to say. May I repeat again: any assault on a child is an odious crime, but the phrase 'child abuse' is too generalised and vague to describe the categories of these crimes.

No, I don't want all the graphic and prurient details spelled out every time there is an abuse case. But I find the vague euphemisms invoked in some documents highly unsatisfactory. I thought the Cloyne Report was poorly written in the way it concealed, redacted, and provided scant context of events. You couldn't figure out whether an accused had made a stupid pass at a 16-year-old, or whether he was a dysfunctional rapist a la Brendan Smyth.

As a journalist, I admire George Orwell's principle that clarity is the first duty of a communicator. Euphemisms and obfuscations confuse or mislead. And that is why I believe that 'child abuse' should not be a catch-all category, because there are differences in cases.

Perhaps people feel that if differences in degree are recognised, this will diminish the seriousness of the crime, and from this fear, their anger flows. Understood. But does it help matters if the subject cannot now be discussed rationally?

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