I don't know if you've seen the news that Primark have stopped selling padded bikinis for children (pictured) but this mini-moral panic has thrown up some really interesting issues to my mind.
On PM tonight (about half an hour in) they covered the fact that Primark had taken the item off sale and donated all profits to a children's charity.
Shy Keenan, an advocate for child protection, had been part of the campaign against the bikinis and made a very clear case against. Whilst I appreciated her tone, for example she repeated a number of times that she did not want anyone to live a "risk averse" life, I do think that a few of the things she said was less helpful than they could have been.
However, although the radio interview was conducted fairly sensibly she did say in The Sun "It never fails to amaze me just how many High Street household names are now prepared to exploit the disgusting 'paedophile pound'." In case people think The Sun might have made this up this is a phrase taken directly from her website.
I don't believe there is any phenomenon that is properly described by the phrase 'paedophile pound'. There are some rather tacky and stupid items like lap dancing kits for kids that pop up occasionally but the objection to these is not that they are bought by paedophiles but that they encourage kids to sexualise too early and in a very distorted, commercialised way.
I also believe her statement is intended to give the impression that you can't go into any of these 'many High Street household names' without seeing goods designed for sale specifically to paedophiles. This is not the case at all. It's dangerous hyperbole in an area where we need to encourage a measured response.
I don't want to get too pedantic over the radio interview because, in fairness to her, she may well have been grappling towards saying something that she didn't quite articulate the way she would have wanted, but never-the-less I think it's worth looking at the claims she made about these bikinis.
Here is the most controversial sample;
"We shouldn't be doing anything to help and facilitate [paedophiles] just don't dress your child up like a sexy adult, it's not terribly helpful."Now, it seems to me there are some factual errors here. We can look at the bikini and make a decision about whether we think the pic above is an example of "extremely sexualised outfits". Unwise, yes. Tacky, yes. Extremely sexualised? That's a real stretch and, I think, more a product of her perspective on the issue than objectively true. It seems to me that she's reacting against her idea of the product not the product itself.
[She was asked whether she thought there was a link between these bikinis and paedophilia.]
"There are paedophiles everywhere, you are never going to find areas where there are children where there aren't paedophiles. I'm suggesting again you have to live a risk averse life but I don't think you have to do things to encourage their attention and certainly a child dressed in extremely sexualised outfits would attract their attention."
Secondly, it is just not true to say there are "paedophiles everywhere". It is not responsible to say everywhere you find children you will find paedophiles. Perhaps she was trying to make a more general, moderate point - possibly - but the effect is to cast a shadow over all adult-child relations whilst ignoring the extremely basic point that "stranger danger" is not the key issue when it comes to child protection, but those adults with direct responsibility for a child's safety.
The key phrase that made my ears prick up here was the idea that the way you dress your child "may help and facilitate" paedophiles. This is a new version of the idea that women who wear short skirts are somehow partially responsible if they get raped. This is plain wrong.
Those who abuse children are not enticed into abusing by kids dressing like adults. They abuse kids because they have a sick and distorted sexuality that makes them focus sexually on children. They are neither helped nor facilitated by a parent's choice of their kids clothing.
Like the ridiculous media furor over the "panic button" for a Facebook we have these campaigns for things that will have absolutely no effect on the number of kids that get abused whilst simultaneously raising the fear of abuse in society and distorting people's view of society as one that is full of dangers and those dangers are other people.
I'm not sad to see these silly padded bikinis taken off the shelves but it is quite wrong to imply that the cause of child abuse is children behaving and dressing like adults. Kids are not to blame if they've been abused, no matter what they wear.