by Louise Perry
Friday, 8
April 2022
Debate
11:49

How paedophilia anxiety moved from Left to Right

A new Jimmy Savile documentary has reignited an old culture war
by Louise Perry
‘Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story’ was released on Netflix this week

Do you remember that story about the paediatrician whose house was burnt down by a mob in Wales? Or perhaps it was Portsmouth. And perhaps she was pursued only by a baying mob, rather than a torch-wielding one. Nevertheless, ‘who can forget the targeting of an innocent children’s doctor in Portsmouth by a populace too ignorant and enraged to recognise the difference between paedophile and paediatrician?’ reported the Daily Mail in December 2001. Who indeed? 

The story isn’t actually true, and yet I’ve heard it several times, and in several different versions. It has developed into an urban legend because it scratches a certain itch for those who wish to warn against the dangers of paedophilia panic, or “paedogeddon!” as Brass Eye memorably described it. 

But the new Netflix documentary Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story, released this week, does not reveal a “paedogeddon!” style of paranoia in the British media. In fact, the journalists interviewed for the film shuffle uncomfortably in their seats when confronted with their own credulousness. There was Savile, sexually abusing as many as 1000 children on BBC premises, and even once live on camera, and then joking about it quite openly. Perhaps a bit more panic was merited? 

Back then, as now, paedophilia anxiety was a highly politicised thing. Currently, it is conservatives who express the greatest anxiety, but that has not always been true. 

In the United States, controversy over the Parental Rights in Education bill, recently approved by the Florida state government, has intensified the culture war focus on paedophilia. The bill prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through to third grade. Its critics have dubbed it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, but its supporters argue that it is designed to protect children from predatory adults, popularly described as “groomers.”

On conservative Twitter, anyone suggesting otherwise is liable to be called a “groomer”, a counterpart to the British word “nonce.” The word is wielded wildly and often unseriously, in a deliberately hyperbolic manner, which as Mary Harrington notes, is designed to mirror the profligate liberal use of the word “racist” to describe one’s political opponents. 

It is an effective insult because, at this precise historical moment, it is liberals who are most vulnerable to accusations of paedophilia apologism, and conservatives who have most to gain from pointing this out. This is due to the fact that it is liberal institutions that have been most recently beset by child sexual abuse scandals: not only Savile at the BBC, but also many other stars of the music, TV, and film industries — all industries with a strong liberal bias. 

But 20 years ago, the reverse was true. In the early 2000s, the most high profile child sexual abuse scandal concerned the Catholic Church, and then it was atheists and liberals who were making political hay from their enemy’s disgrace. 

Paedophilia anxiety is one of those issues that readily takes on a partisan flavour, depending on which side has most recently been tarnished by association with a high profile exposé. This is despite the fact that research increasingly suggests that a paedophilic orientation is innate, meaning that paedophiles are likely to be relatively evenly distributed throughout society and across the political spectrum. 

So although right now it is conservatives shouting “groomer!” and liberals shouting “paedogeddon!” the next big scandal could easily see a reversal. 

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
21 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
GA Woolley
GA Woolley
5 months ago

No, in the early 2000s the more serious abuse scandals were happening in places like Rotherham and Rochdale, in full view of their communities by gangs of men of Pakistani heritage, religion, and culture. Labour councils, left wing activists, and newspapers including the Guardian, actively tried to shut down any and all investigations with accusations of ‘racism’. The only reason these scandals weren’t high profile is that, for a while, their attempts were successful, dooming hundreds more children to rape and abuse.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
5 months ago
Reply to  GA Woolley

All achieved with zero consequence.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
5 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Dalton

I wish people on here didn’t so often overstate their case. Yes many authorities were appallingly negligent about taking the allegations seriously, but a number of men of Pakistani heritage were imprisoned. That isn’t ‘zero’ consequences.

Convictions:
Operation Central: 5 men
Operation Clover: 18 men & 2 women
Operation Stovewood: 21 men (trials ongoing)

I find it rather in bad taste that so many people seem to only become outraged when it is somehow the ‘other side’ responsible, rather like someone I was exchanging messages on here recently.

He was hugely playing down the institutional abuse being perpetrated by priests AND covered up for decades by the Catholic Church. It’s a conservative organisation, you see.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
5 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Well said. Overstating a case undermines it.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
5 months ago
Reply to  GA Woolley

When referring to these events, I am always scrupulous and forthright in frequently deploying the phrase “Pakistani paedophile grooming gangs”.

R Wright
R Wright
5 months ago

The author seems to have forgotten the Labour adjacent Paedophile Information Exchange and Paedophile Action for Liberation movements in the 1970s trying to get the age of consent lowered and/or abolished. There were allegations that they received taxpayer’s money from the Labour-run Home Office albeit they were not made out when scrutinised by the IICSA.

https://www.iicsa.org.uk/reports-recommendations/publications/investigation/westminster/part-g-paedophile-information-exchange/g3-allegation-home-office-funded-pie

https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/local-news/jack-dromey-fury-paedophile-links-6407122

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26352378

Last edited 5 months ago by R Wright
Tom O'Carroll
Tom O'Carroll
5 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

Nonsense. Neither PIE, which I chaired, nor PAL, of which I was a member, was affiliated to any political party.
As for receiving “taxpayer’s money from the Labour-run Home Office”, I wish! It’s another urban myth. There are plenty of them around. Or maybe, “R Wright”, you are buying into Pizzagate as well?
Even the sources to which “R Wright” links do not support the funding claim as a fact. The Birmingham Mail link merely says, “The Home Office is currently investigating [my emphasis] allegations that PIE received public funds from the Government while James Callaghan was in Downing Street.” That report was in 2013.
This Home Office “investigation” turned out to be perfunctory. A far more thorough job was later undertaken by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). I gave evidence to this inquiry after receiving a request from IICSA’s solicitor to do so. My sworn evidence has exhibits associated with it that included PIE’s financial accounts from the time, and supporting evidence to show that PIE was always operated on a shoestring budget.
The fantasist who started this “government funding” hare running proved unable to substantiate his claim to IICSA’s satisfaction. At the end of 38 paragraphs of narrative commentary, the inquiry concluded by favouring my account, saying, “There is no available evidence to suggest that PIE as an organisation actually received a grant or grants of Home Office funding.”
None of the individuals running PIE received any such funding either. Some of us, indeed, were left much the poorer after being hounded out of our jobs following often intemperate media hostility.
Not that any of this will stop “R Wright” and others from perpetuating myths they find congenial. Sadly, such people tend to have no interest in the truth of this or any other matter, preferring the easy mischief of partisan trolling. 
For more detailed information, see IICSA’s published papers at their website. For a concise account from my perspective, see my Heretic TOC blog on the subject in 2019: No porkies, but one PIE too many!
Tom O’Carroll, former Chair of PIE

R Wright
R Wright
5 months ago
Reply to  Tom O'Carroll

I have made edits to my post above in response to reading G3 of the IICSA paper to which you refer. You may be a convicted criminal and sex offender but you are correct on noting that the allegations re the home office were subject to scrutiny and found waning. In relevance to this article, the links between Labour notables and various 70’s “liberation movements” such as your own are well known. You are a former member of the Labour Party yourself.

Lindsay Snoman
Lindsay Snoman
5 months ago

The important takeaway from the new Netflix documentary about Saville was how he groomed an entire nation including journalists and the police and it was how he managed to get away with it till death! People need it understand that a successful groomer doesn’t just groom children, they’re capable of grooming adults too and not just intellectually challenged ones!
Groomers are manipulators and can turn that to any situation. Hence the concern over gender identity lessons in schools.

Keith Jefferson
Keith Jefferson
5 months ago

An unsavoury aspect of this issue (though obviously it’s all extremely unsavoury) is that the whole judicial process, from whether the authorities launch an investigation in the first place right through to determination of guilt and how it is reported, depends on who the alleged perpetrator is and who the alleged victim is, and their status in society. 50 years ago, allegations against the priesthood would not have been investigated and it took decades before the truth was exposed. 15 years ago, allegations surrounding the events in Rotherham, Rochdale and other towns were not investigated, and it took a long term for the truth to emerge. In both cases, it was because the alleged perpetrators held a privileged place in society, either as part of the establishment (in the case of the priesthood) or as a “protected” minority (in Rotherham). In both cases, the victims were usually poor, working class and without a voice or any sympathy from the authorities.
When it comes to public revulsion (at least in the media), the situation hasn’t got much better. Yes, the public is revulsed by Jimmy Saville, but there are autobiographies from 70’s rock stars that openly admit to having sex with minors, without consequence. We have philosophers and film producers that are still respected and even lauded by the left even though they defended or engaged in sexual relations with minors. These people get away with it because society considers them either talented or clever, as opposed to the victims who were either attention seeking groupies or, in the case of the Rotherham grooming gangs, white trash.
Of course, the vast majority of priests, Pakistanis and 70’s rock stars are not child abusers, but their privilege in terms of being immune from scrutiny allowed a minority of predators to hide successfully within their ranks to perpetrate heinous crimes without challenge. And what group nowadays is deemed to be immune from criticism, where such predators could hide? What group is attempting to overthrow a long-held consensus that young children should be shielded from discussion of sexuality until at least they are approaching puberty, and actively promoting discussion of sexuality mixed up with gender identity to primary school kids? As with priests and Rotherham Pakistanis, I am sure that the vast majority of trans people are not in any way sexually interested in children, but the trans movement allows a space within which predators can hide. It is not unreasonable for the public, and for parents, and for the Florida school boards, to be concerned about this. If you think that such predators do not exist, you are naïve, and if the phrase “groomer” is causing such upset amongst liberals, maybe that is because it is hitting a nerve – something they know in the back of their minds but cannot openly acknowledge. 

Mel Bass
Mel Bass
5 months ago

Predators hiding behind the trans banner certainly do exist. I’ve dealt with a couple through my job. It’s excellent camouflage because of the hysteria surrounding trans people, to the point that if a trans person is accused of a crime, they are considered a vulnerable victim themselves.

Andrew D
Andrew D
5 months ago

The Catholic Church was never an apologist for for paedophilia. It covered up the actions of priests and monks (usually involving ephebophilia rather than paedophilia) to avoid reputational damage. However wicked, this doesn’t make it an apologist. By contrast, some among the liberal left were open apologists – such as PIE and that French philosopher whose name escapes me.

Last edited 5 months ago by Andrew D
Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
5 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Michel Foucault?

R Wright
R Wright
5 months ago

And Derrida too.

William Hickey
William Hickey
5 months ago

Paedophilia is not being investigated today nor paedophiles prosecuted because of where on the spectrum their political opinions fall.

Corporations and institutions, such as Disney and school boards today or the Catholic Church and the BBC yesterday, are being investigated and prosecuted because that’s where paedophilia is being practiced and covered up.

Austin Ruse
Austin Ruse
5 months ago

Except the issue in the Catholic Church was not pedophilia but predatory homosexuality. Almost all the victims were post-pubescent boys.

Sue Sims
Sue Sims
5 months ago
Reply to  Austin Ruse

Austin, I think that’s what Francis McGabhann is implying.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
5 months ago

Well, now, the Catholic paedophile scandals have never been truly addressed by the media, not then and not now. And I suspect a big part of that is down to the howling oddity of exactly WHO was being abused and in what relative numbers. Let’s just say, it was the polar opposite of the –ongoing — Rotherham scandal. You can’t expect any better from journalists, but as a lifelong and committed Catholic, I am disgusted to the heart by the utter cowardice of my own hierarchy on this issue. Priesthood doesn’t cause a man to abuse, nor does celibacy. If it did, every man who wasn’t getting satisfaction three times a week would be a danger to children, which is clearly nonsense. So, what’s the variable here?

Last edited 5 months ago by Francis MacGabhann
Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
5 months ago

A Catholic Priest friend of mine — sadly deceased — said that part of the problem is that a good many priests interpret their complete lack of sexual interest in women as part of the evidence that God is calling them to the priesthood, because they sure don’t seem to be called to marry. Now the bulk of these people end up discovering that they are Gay. But a significant subset of them are only attracted to children, which they often only discover when children are placed under their supervision, i.e. they didn’t enter the priesthood under false pretenses because they wanted access to children. Thus the Catholic Church has a disproportionate number of these people in their ranks, compared with the population at large.
He was one of the leading proponents of reforming the Catholic Church by not only allowing but encouraging priests to marry. This is one reason why he thinks this would get the church better priests — and more of them.
(Wonder why this one went into moderation…)

Last edited 5 months ago by Laura Creighton
Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
5 months ago

I think your friend was being more charitable than was warranted. Being attracted to women is not at all the same thing as being attracted to marriage. Marriage may be a vocation, but NO man ever feels called to it. We do it because, historically at least, it was expected, and because we think we ought to. It’s only after we marry that we begin to understand the fruits of union with another person. Preditors, on the other hand, are called to whatever will get them closer to their prey. If there was a greater proportion of them among the Catholic clergy in the past, that was because of the opportunity afforded. The fact that clerical sex abuse seems to have dropped off a cliff — most of the cases reported today are historical — without the celibacy rules being relaxed should tell you something. The wolves have moved on.

Lindsay Snoman
Lindsay Snoman
5 months ago

Predators gaining positions of trust/power. I don’t think its a left thing or a right thing and more that predators will move in the circles that serve them best. For Saville it was celebrity, for some its the priesthood and for others working with children. The trans issue is multifaceted because of the different reasons that people are declaring themselves trans, the lack of open debate, the denial of the existence of autogynophiles which in turn leads to distrust and fear and the push to remove all safeguarding from areas of life that could impact trans people regardless of the impact on the safety of everyone else.

Last edited 5 months ago by Lindsay Snoman