Friday, April 07, 2006

Did pedophilia hysteria in super-"correct" Britain cause a child's Death?

For similar reasons it is a brave male these days who becomes a schoolteacher

On Nov. 28, 2002, 2-year-old Abigail Rae died by drowning in a village pond in England. Her death is currently stirring debate because the ongoing inquest revealed an explosive fact. A man passing by was afraid to guide the lost child to safety because he feared being labeled "a pervert."

In the article "Day of the dad: paedophilia hysteria leaves men afraid to help," The Telegraph raises a question that applies equally to North America. Have high profile cases of pedophilia created such public hysteria that the average decent human being, especially a man, is now reluctant to approach a child in need? Consider what happened to Abby. The toddler wandered from her nursery school, Ready Teddy Go, through a door left open. A bricklayer named Clive Peachey drove past her in his truck. At the inquest, he stated, "I kept thinking I should go back. The reason I didn't was because I thought people might think I was trying to abduct her." Instead, he assured himself that the parents must be "driving around" and would find her.

A few minutes thereafter, Abby fatally fell into an algae-covered pond. Meanwhile, the nursery staff searched. When the mother noticed the staff near her home, she was told they were looking for a "lost dog" but the truth soon emerged. The frantic mother's search ended when she leaped into the pond to fish out what she thought was Abby's shoe. She stated, "As I grabbed for the shoe, I missed and was shocked to touch what felt like a leg. I pulled the leg upwards." The dead child emerged.

Abby's case may be extreme but it hinges on a question that commonly confronts everyone who interacts with other people's children. Is it possible to touch a child in a non-abusive manner without risking terrible repercussions? Before moving to this question, however, it is necessary to consider a related issue that arises in almost every discussions of Abby. Is Clive Peachey legally or morally responsible for her death?

For several reasons, I argue that he is not. First and foremost, the responsibility lies with the nursery staff who became her guardians. Abby was in no immediate danger when Peachey saw her and he contacted the police upon later hearing a 'missing child' report. Arguably, if he had phoned the police immediately, Abby would have been dead long before they arrived. Moreover, by coming forth, Peachey has accepted the damage to his life that comes with the public disgrace of saying "I drove past her."

Important information in judging Peachey is missing. For example, if Peachey has a family, he may have been reluctant to place his reputation or livelihood at risk. He may have balanced possible harm to his own children against helping a stranger's child.

Peachey's fears have precedents on this side of the Atlantic. Last summer, an Illinois man lost an appeal on his conviction as a sex offender for grabbing the arm of a 14-year-old girl. She had stepped directly in front of his car, causing him to swerve in order to avoid hitting her. The 28-year-old Fitzroy Barnaby jumped out his car, grabbed her arm and lectured her on how not to get killed. Nothing more occurred. Nevertheless, that one action made him guilty of "the unlawful restraint of a minor," which is a sexual offense in Illinois. Both the jury and judge believed him. Nevertheless, Barnaby went through years of legal proceedings that ended with his name on a sex offender registry, where his photograph and address are publicly available. He must report to authorities. His employment options are severely limited; he cannot live near schools or parks. Arguably, the law would have punished Barnaby less had he hit the girl or not cared enough to lecture her. Perhaps that's the equation that ran through Peachey's mind.

Again, Barnaby is an extreme case. But ordinary people make decisions on how to interact with children based on such high profile stories. The effect on average people in non-extreme situations can be partially gauged through a study conducted by Dr. Heather Piper at Manchester Metropolitan University: "The Problematics of 'Touching' Between Children and Professionals." Piper examined six case-study schools through interviews with teachers, parents and children regarding the propriety of touch.

Commentator Josie Appleton reviewed the study, "Reported cases include the teacher who avoided putting a plaster [bandaid] on a child's scraped leg; nursery staff calling a child's mother every time he needed to go to the toilet; a male gym teacher leaving a girl injured in the hall while he waited for a female colleague." One school reportedly kept an account of every 'touching incident.' They stated, "We write down a short account and date it and put which staff were present and at what time, we then explain it to the parent and ask them to read and sign it."

Appleton observed that this is more in keeping with "police logs than teaching children." The last words encapsulate the problem. Touching a child, even to render medical assistance, has become a potential police matter. Child abuse must be addressed but it is worse than folly to punish those who help children. Our society is creating Clive Peachey -- decent men who will walk away from a child in need. Abby Rae died not only from drowning but also from bad politics.



VIRGINIA BEACH - The city has reached a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department to resolve allegations that it discriminated against black and Hispanic police recruits. Under a consent decree filed Monday in federal court in Norfolk, the city will change the way it scores the police entrance exam. The Justice Department had complained that the math portion of the exam had an adverse effect on minority applicants and unfairly excluded them from being hired.

The city will offer to let 124 black and Hispanic former applicants resume the hiring process. Those recruits failed the math test between 2002 and 2005 but would have passed under the new standards. The city also will create a $160,000 fund to compensate those applicants.

In the 27-page settlement, the Justice Department states that the city did not intentionally discriminate against blacks and Hispanics. "The Department of Justice has alleged that the testing component disproportionately disqualified minority applicants," Deputy City Attorney Mark Stiles said. "They don't allege that we engaged in that conduct with the intent of discrimination, but rather that the disparate impact was found to have occurred by our simply using the test."

In a letter to the city in February, the Justice Department said Virginia Beach had "engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination" against black and Hispanic applicants. After an 18-month investigation, the Justice Department found that the police force did not reflect the diversity of the city's population because of how the math test was graded. The Justice Department claimed that the test's pass-fail system had a disproportionate effect on minorities because the passing rates for blacks and Hispanics were less than 80 percent of the passing rate for whites. From 2002 to mid-2005, about 85 percent of white applicants passed the math exam, compared with 59 percent of blacks and 66 percent of Hispanics. Under the old standard, Virginia Beach required all recruits to score 70 percent on each of three written tests for reading comprehension, grammar and spelling, and math.

The Justice Department questioned whether math is relevant to the daily duties of a police officer. The city agreed to eliminate the 70 percent cutoff score for the math part of the test. Under the new standard, an applicant must score at least 70 percent on the reading and grammar parts of the test and score an average of at least 60 percent on all three parts of the exam. The new scoring method will take effect as soon as next week, when the next exam will be administered. According to data from the city, an additional 15 percent of applicants probably could pass the overall exam under the new standard. "This is the right standard," Stiles said. "The investigation, at least in part, helped us realize what we have to do."

At least one city official, Councilwoman Reba McClanan, said she does not agree with the settlement. "One of the things that's insulting about it is they're telling us we don't have a right to insist on certain standards," McClanan said. "My feeling was we should hang in there. We want fairness and we want as many minorities working for our departments as possible, but we also want them to meet certain standards."

The city will give 124 applicants a chance to resume participation in the hiring process. Of that number, the city has committed to hiring at least 15 - three Hispanics and 12 blacks - who complete the application process. Those recruits could begin the Police Academy sometime in 2007 or 2008. "I hope that we get more than 15 because we have tried to diversify," Police Chief Jake Jacocks Jr. said. In the end, the applicants who failed under the old standard will still have to meet the department's other entry requirements.


Wotta Gal!: "Men have been wrongly told it is more difficult being a woman and blokes do not pull their weight at home. The comforting message for menfolk came from the nation's sex discrimination commissioner yesterday. Speaking at an Institute of Public Administration Australia breakfast in Adelaide, Pru Goward said while figures showed women did more housework, it was unfair to simply blame men who work long hours. "It is our unpaid working arrangements that have a major impact on our work decisions," Ms Goward said. While research shows women working full-time did more housework, this should not be used to just "blame men". "The most significant reason why men don't do more work at home is they are not there because they are working huge hours," she said, adding that was up to 60 hours a week for some. "It is unfair to just suggest that men don't want to do it. They just can't." The women's movement had "made mistakes" through the "blame game". "We kept telling men how hard it was being women," Ms Goward said. "If you are an average rational bloke and all you hear is that women earn less ... they don't become prime minister or heads of departments and they end up part-time casual, you'd think, 'Who would want to do that?'."

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