Britain will subject everyone who works with kids to multiple, repeated police-checks

Britain's pedophile-phobia has reached new heights of insanity -- now everyone who comes into contact with a child at school has to have a police background check and get certified as genuine non-pedophiles. But not just once -- over and over again; a different certificate for teaching karate, escorting field trips, or giving a presentation on careers day. Because, you know, you might not be a karate-teaching pedo, but you might be a field-trip pedo. Everyone's included from Members of Parliament to authors giving a reading. Charlie Stross has some good commentary on the potential dangers all this background checking creates:
As you can imagine, the authors are upset. As Philip Pullman puts it, "It seems to be fuelled by the same combination of prurience, sexual fear and cold political calculation," the author of the bestselling His Dark Materials trilogy said today. "When you go into a school as an author or an illustrator you talk to a class at a time or else to the whole school. How on earth -- how on earth -- how in the world is anybody going to rape or assault a child in those circumstances? It's preposterous..."

Even the simplest of databases have been found to contain error rates of 10%. (The HMRC database in this study contains merely first, second and surname, title, sex, data of birth, address and National Insurance number -- nevertheless 10% of the records contain errors.) Other agencies are even more prone to mistakes. For example: my wife recently discovered that our GP's medical records showed her as having been born outside the UK rather than in an NHS hospital in Manchester. We don't know why that error's in the system, and we've got the birth certificate and witnesses to prove that it is an error, but imagine the fun that might ensue if the control freaks in Whitehall decided to enforce record sharing between the NHS and the Immigration Agency ...! (Hopefully they're not that stupid, but who can tell?)

The point is, if 10% of government database records contain an error, than the probability of a sweep of databases coming up with an error rises as you consult more sources. And there are a whole bundle of wonderful ways for errors to show up. If your name and date of birth are the same as someone with heavy criminal record, a CRB check could label you as a bad guy. If your social security number is one digit transposition away from $BAD_GUY, see above. If the previous owner of your house was a child abuser, see above. If your street address is one letter/digit away from a street address occupied by a criminal and some bored clerk mis-typed it, you can end up being conflated with somebody else. And the more sources the CRB checks, the higher the probability of a false positive result -- that is, of them obtaining a positive result (subject is a criminal) when in fact the subject is a negative.

This is not a hypothetical worry. As of last November, the CRB had falsely identified more than 12,000 people as criminals, according to the Home Office. (Raw parliamentary answer here.) These are the disputes that were upheld, that is, ones where the falsely mis-identified were able to convince the CRB that their record was incorrect. These are false positives which have been conclusively identified as such. While the identified false positive rate is around 0.1%, the true figure is certainly much higher: because there will be a proportion of individuals identified as false positives who are in the unfortunate position of lacking the documentation to prove their innocence.

False Positives and the Database State


  1. The Queensland government has a similar program — see

    At least they use a government clearing house, so one clearance is sufficient.

    My daughter is a Girl Guide. The week she turned 18 she was informed that she needed a “blue card” to continue to attend her guide unit consisting of girls both over 18 and under 18! As she wanted to become a leader, this wasn’t really an issue for her. But, the idea that one becomes a potential pedophile only after your 18th birthday is absurd!

  2. As a victim of multiple pedophiles when I was growing up, I am 100% okay with that legislation. I wish they would enact laws like that here.

    The statistics on pedophilia incidents are mind-bogglingly high. I thought I was incredibly unlucky or somehow cursed to be assaulted by multiple different offenders in unrelated incidents, but when you consider how frequent a problem it really is, cases like mine aren’t really even that uncommon at all.

    The question is: is it still paranoia if they really are out to get you?

  3. So naturally multiple and continual police-checks will have to be done on the royal family, right?

  4. I work in child care in QLD Australia. Blue cards are free to obtain for volunteers but cost $60 bi-annually for all staff who come into regualar contact with minors.

    My only issue with them is it seems to take over three moths to renew your card, as if there is an old lady called Edna who comes in once a fortnight for half an hour to do the paper work.

    We are not yet at the level where parents need blue cards to interact with their child’s class but we are not far short.

    @Shazbot, please understand I am asking this with due respect and completely understand if you do not wish to answer.

    How many of the abusers were strangers, as in not members or friends of the family?

    as the statistics also quite clearly point out that 99% of abuse is from people who should be implicitly trustworthy (parents, aunts, uncles etc.) and thus not subject to these checks anyway.

  5. My other half occasionally teaches one-day music and/or dancing workshops in schools- she has to get a CRB check for every single one.

    The Today programme had a piece on this a couple of days ago. A woman had apparently failed a CRB check because of one incident where she’d left her own children alone for a short period of time; despite no charges being brought, a police officer had basically judged that she was a ‘bad parent’, and this had shown up on the check.

  6. This is sheer insanity – as Liatach said most abuse is perpetrated by ‘trusted’ people.

    A society that thinks it can afford this amount of meddling by govt when there are many more pressing issues is doomed I say…

  7. With all due respect to SHAZBOT nearly all paedophilia assault is in the the family and the families trusted inner circle.

    SO screening people to be a scout leader while a good idea is not really the panacea for this problem.

    To escape detection all they need do is keep their predation down to those in their family and no one will know.

    The paedophile hysteria in the UK is out of control.
    Public parks are a no go zone for any man on his own, proximity to children is taken as a sure sign. If a child approaches a man then the public reaction is to brand the man a paedo.

    I went to IKEA, while there stopped for a spot of lunch, sat by the window, in the quietest bit of the cafeteria. There was some new big red object there which I’d never seen before but presumed it was a new tray clearance station.

    Half way through lunch a bunch of kids run in through a side hatch. It turns out this is a play house. I finish my lunch to the deafening din of kids playing and leave.

    On the way out a couple spit at me and call me a paedophile.

    I’m heartily sorry for anything that has happened to you SHAZBOT, but really this sort of hysteria is not a solution, ot only induces authoritarian laws that really don’t help.

  8. There’s obviously a very unhealthy degree of paranoia going on here, but one thing that makes the authors case more difficult is that there really was a case exactly matching what this is supposed to prevent.

    William Mayne, children’s author, in the habit of inviting his female fans home to see his etchings, gaoled for 2 1/2 years in 2004.

    Not that I think for a second that this silly checking would work: Mayne was at it for 15 years and it was only 30 years after that he was sent down. All these things only work until you’re caught, and if you’re a celebrity, like a successful author, then having been caught will follow you round perfectly well without the need for a £64 a year ‘freedom to sit in the same room as a child’ licence.

  9. Another important question: how many of the abusers had criminal records that would have been caught by this?

    How many non-guilty adults who would come into kids’ lives and make them happy, educated, whole, inspired, will be kept away because they don’t want to be enmeshed in the system (Philip Pullman) or because the system misidentifies them (12,000 confirmed cases last year)?

    Adults whom I came into contact with as a child made me the person I am today, rescued me from innumerable bad situations, habits and thought patterns. The risk of keeping adults away from kids is never weighed when considering the risks of letting adults into contact with kids.

  10. Shazbot @ 3:

    I’m genuinely sorry to hear about what happened to you. But, if I may ask, which category did your abusers fall into?

    a) Family members

    b) Permanent staff or regular visitors to a school, social group or somewhere else you spent a lot of time.

    c) Occasional or one-off visitors to somewhere in category (b).

    The vast majority of paedophile abuse (yes, I’m in the UK, excuse my spelling) happens in circumstance (a), within the family. But we don’t routinely screen parents for suitability to have children.

    Category (b) is where a significant minority of abuse happens, athough by its nature it includes some of the worst systematic abuse. I don’t think anyone can reasonably disagree that people in this category should be cleared before working with children, although for the reasons Charlie explains this process has to be conducted very carefully.

    Category (c), which is what the current fuss is about, seems to be a fantastically unlikely way in which child abuse will happen. If author X visits a school for a morning, is he or she going to be unescorted with children for any length of time? No, and nor will there be any likelihood of repeated encounters to ‘groom’ a potential victim.

    In the interests of fairness, I’d point to a blog post by a friend of mine (and indeed Charlie’s) who, concerned that this legislation might apply to him, has dug deeper and found that it ought to apply where someone visits the same school more than monthly – a sort of half-way situation between (b) and (c). This means that one-off visiting authors ought to be exempt, but of course the problem is that with the general “Paedo Paranoia” our red-top media cultivates, school authorities will want to cover themselves by demanding clearance for any visit.

  11. Cory,

    Okay I’m asking for trouble here but I’m going to put my head above the parapet and challenge you to back this up some more.

    Can you produce some evidence please to backup your article. I’m a school governor at my son’s school so I have been CRB checked. My wife is a teacher so she has been CRB checked. I know lots of people who have been CRB checked as they are teachers, childminders, coaches at the village footie team or the tennis club, or they are scout leaders etc and so far I have not heard of one case of a false positive. Please show me some evidence of why I should get upset about it. So far all you have persuaded me of is that it might be a bit of an inefficient way of safeguarding children’s safety – which to be honest I knew already.

    Secondly why are you suddenly paying attention to this just because Philip Pullman is complaining. The great Johnny Ball was upset about this system a few years ago but no one paid any attention.

    Finally what should be done ? How do you ensure that you safeguard children and at the same time not get bureaucratic ? Its easy to throw bricks at the existing system – for example:
    – it is only valid at the point where the check is carried out,
    – at £64 it is expensive especially for organisations such as Scout packs or small sports clubs.

    But what system would you put in place ? is there a country where this is done well ?

  12. If we run enough checks, everyone will come up “criminal” then we can all be locked away. Remember, legislation, security and punishment all make money. This is just another horrible over-reactive step towards tighter government control. You have the right to do as you are told.

  13. I am female and was required to have a CRB check for just working in kids TV – I had no contact with children – but hey I might insert my evil thoughts into programmes..

    The same company didn’t bother to check my references for the job??

    Obviously both are important not just working with children but also other vulnerable people – but some sense of perspective is needed.

  14. Paedos will go for easy targets / marginalised kids. I was approached by a family associate when I was 10, and fended him off with a surly attitude and some street knowledge. To him, I appeared unprotected and easy prey.

    So multiple things really – teach kids the “stranger danger” thing, insist that they never be alone with an adult, and teach them martial arts.

    It’s terrible, all this, from all angles. Massive bureaucracies don’t deal well with complex and subtle problems such as paedos.

    The awful thing is, you really can’t tell a paedo from everyone else.

    With the internet, and the recent prosecution of the nursery assistant in SW England, we have a new problem: financial gain – not just sexual gratification.

    I’m kind of lost what to do, except that if it happens in my village, we shall burn the perpetrator at the stake.

  15. Imagine the good that we could accomplish if the person/people responsible for putting this idea into effect could be found, publicly shamed and then savagely beaten.

    We’d actually have a chance at intelligent government…

  16. If you teach your child that it’s perfectly ok to say “No!” quite loudly to an adult, I suspect that most of the battle is won.

    In the US, “pedophiles” are usually invoked the same way “terrorists” are: as a boogieman that blinds you to the fact that your own rights are being eroded.

    My suspicion is that there are about as many genuine pedophiles lurking out there as there are terrorists trying to board airplanes.

    Also, I agree with Cory. Healthy childhood almost certainly involves a range of interactions, and adults often make good role models for children.

  17. @10: Yes, of course there’s evidence. Follow the link in the story. It links to Parliamentary evidence etc.

    And as to why now? Because I just found out about it because Philip Pullman and Charlie Stross called it to my attention. I don’t understand why now isn’t as good a time to write about it as any — is your point that if you miss an alarming thing at its inception, you should just keep your mouth shut about it for all eternity? And what’s wrong with listening to Philip Pullman?

    As to what to do: there are good suggestions in this thread:

    * Limit screening to people with *protracted* or *repeated* exposure to kids

    * Treat all positives as presumptively incorrect and in need of independent, manual verification (the way we would with the diagnosis of a rare disease; google “the paradox of the false positive” to get a stats primer on why even highly accurate tests for rare conditions can’t be trusted without multiple independent verifications)

    * Create a culture of independence among kids that gives them the green light to object to authority figures who ask them to do things they’re not comfortable with — the single greatest risk to kids’ safety is their parents, teachers and other authority figures. It is kids’ natural deference to authority that makes it possible for predators in positions of authority to get away with it.

    Attacks by strangers, while often lurid and awful, are exceedingly rare. Every pound we spend on protecting kids from the extremely improbable danger from strangers is a pound we divert from protecting kids from the most likely danger source — the familiar authority figures in their lives.

  18. I think the logical conclusion of this line of thinking must be that any parent picking their child up at the school gates must also be police checked…

    I guess I just don’t like the insinuation that, inherently, we are all potential child molesters, especially that delightful Philip Pullman bloke.

  19. First of all, I reserve the word paedophile for those who meet criteria for this disorder. I have observed many men in a child sex offender treatment unit who did not meet criteria for paedophilia. A diagnosis of paedophilia requires sexual attraction to children. Some people who abuse children are opportunistic rapists, not paedophiles. Treatment strategies can be different for these groups.

    Aside from this, the base rate for people who sexually abuse children is much higher than the rate that are convicted for this. Around 20-30% of adult women admit to being sexually abused as children or teenagers. There are many, many, many people who sexually abuse children out there in the community. You probably walk past/talk to one every day. Even people accused and sent to trial are much, much more likely to be aquitted than found guilty.

    I don’t think the problem is false positives. I think it is false negatives.

    Having said this, it is true that the people who abuse children are much more likely to be family members and trusted friends of the family than strangers.

  20. The point of this new programme is to PREVENT the constant duplication of CRB checks that currently happens. Because a wide range of organisations misunderstand their obligations, those of us who work across more than one end up having to take CRB checks for each one we work at (as a sports coach I end up taking dozens). The new scheme should mean that you do it once and that then applies to everywhere you work so that you don’t have to keep doing CRB checks over and over.

    I think the CRB checks are very important, they are not perfect but they do prevent people with records of abuse away from kids as much as practically possible. With respect, I think Philip Pullman is acting like a complete prima donna and he should stop being such an arse and look at the bigger picture. It’s not about paranoia, it’s about taking sensible precautions. WTF is wrong with that?

  21. @shazbot: I was abused as a child too (all the way, regularly), and I’m not at all okay with legislation like this. As is so often the case (as others here have pointed out), ‘my’ pedophile was someone who would never have been found by that system. Never in a million years. This system is horrible not only in the invasion of privacy (no it’s not because you haven’t got anything to hide that it’s okay for people to dig through your personal affairs, not at all!), but also in making it sound like everyone could be a pedophile. Which not true. The vast majority of people is good and wellmeaning and not (potential) childmolester, and even the most paranoid behavior will probably not do much good, more the opposite.

  22. #18, apoxia:

    I don’t think the problem is false positives. I think it is false negatives.

    …and this is just as much a problem with CRB checking- it gives a false sense of security.

    The only real protection it gives is to the authority that applies for the check- they have an instant defence against any accusation that they didn’t do all they could to vet anyone they employ.

  23. I’m a youth care worker and have had the great misfortune of working with “abusers” in both Canada and the US. I wouldn’t say pedophiles, as the girls are usually older (16-17), but the men involved definitely abused their position of authority for some sick satisfaction.

    It’s awful that we have to have a screening process to begin with – but a lot of it falls under covering our own asses versus what’s really effective.

    Here’s an article – “The Catastrophe of Compliance” about how we facilitate abuse by trying to create little compliant children.

  24. Yep, followed the links and all the various reports and so on. From what I could see there was nothing detailing terrible miscarriages of justice, nobody got burnt at the stake, lost an eye or anything else. There is an appeals system in place that seems to work.

    As for some of your points:

    * Limit screening to people with *protracted* or *repeated* exposure to kids – that’s the whole point of the checks – it is meant for those who will be working unsupervised with children. If Mr Pullman doesn’t get checked, a head still could invite him into a school , but he’d just have to have a person who had been checked as a minder. Up to him really. He can fill in a form and mingle freely or he can have a shadow.

    * Treat all positives as presumptively incorrect and in need of independent, manual verification – fair point , and I’d add backed up with a decent appeals system with parliamentary and judicial oversight.

    * Create a culture of independence among kids – I believe that most parents in the UK do this already. This is only based on my own observation from the limited bit of the world I’ve seen but from what I have seen most parents want only the best for their children and work very hard to help them become well rounded and responsible young persons.

    “Whats wrong with listening to Philip Pullman?” – well I’d rather Johnny Ball had spoken at my school than him… Seriously though – to me the main thrust of his argument seem to be that he was above us ordinary mortals and so didn’t want to be checked but he thought he’d hide behind a light covering of paranoia and claiming we lived in a nanny state. He didn’t need to be checked because he was “Philip Pullman”. Meh. If he really cared about getting his message out to schools he’d get over himself, get his checks done and get out there and speak to children directly.

    ” is your point that if you miss an alarming thing at its inception, you should just keep your mouth shut about it for all eternity?” – is the CRB system is an “alarming thing” ? Really ? That is a truly paranoid point of view and I don’t think I have seen anything that backs that up.

  25. @22: The 12,000 people who were able to overturn their false accusations of being pedophiles surely believe that this is alarming; the unknown number of people who lacked the wherewithal to prove a negative likewise feel this way. The fact that the Home Office’s own auditors agree that 10% of their database records contain errors, combined with the paradox of the false positive (did you look this up?) mean that thousands, if not millions, more will find themselves in this predicament.

    If the appeals process “seems to work” and if the Home Office’s own assessment of its databases is to be trusted, then about 10% of the positives should be false and overturned, but far less are, which suggests that the majority of those who are being harmed by being characterized this way are innocent.

    If kids have a culture where it’s OK to object to authority figures, then how is it that authority figures continue to get away with it?

    Pullman’s argument is that he’s a) not a convicted pedophile (and we know this because if he was, this would be big news); and b) never in a position to abuse a child, so putting him in a position where he might be falsely identified as being a pedophile (a career-ending accusation, even if overturned on appeal) is dumb. Making him repeatedly subjected to these kinds of checks is even dumber and even riskier.

    It sure sounds like you’ve got some kind of grudge against Pullman, and you’ve decided to rubbish this because you don’t like his books or his message.

    As to “truly paranoid,” if it’s to be ad hominems, then I’d suggest “truly innumerate” as a return volley.

  26. I’ve been into schools a few times to help out with non-kid related stuff (fixing computers, cleaning empty classrooms etc) on a voluntary basis. Even five or ten years ago I had to wear a name badge and was told that I couldn’t be alone with the children at any time. I thought that was a perfectly sensible system and don’t see why it suddenly isn’t enough. The CRB checks should only be necessary for people with supervisory roles over the children, i.e. teachers and other staff members with unsupervised access to and power over the children who act — in effect if not in law — in parentis loco.

    My objection to these additional checks is largely the same as to all the other things our govt have done in the fight against terrorism and paedophilia: they start from a presumption of guilt and demand that we prove our innocence. That’s not the way a free society is supposed to work.

    This link that NICKPHEAS posted above really is an excellent explanation of the unintuitively big problems of false positives when screening for any rare trait.

    Apoxia: Around 20-30% of adult women admit to being sexually abused as children or teenagers
    Can you point us towards a reputable source of information about this? I’d love to see a more detailed breakdown. For example, the age ranges and definitions of sexual abuse. Any sexual abuse is terrible of course, but there’s a world of difference between e.g. 20-30% of prepubescent girls being groped and 20-30% of 16 year old girls being leered at in nightclubs.* It’s such an emotive and politically charged subject that I’ve never been able to pull up much actual data. I have pretty good journal access if you want to point out academic sources, but something targeted at laypeople would be ideal.

    *For American readers: Drinking age in the UK is 18, so it’s pretty common for teens to start sneaking into nightclubs when they’re 16 or 17

  27. Well, I guess my position on this is simple.

    Being accused of being a paedophile would be dreadful. It’s something which is difficult to shake should it become public knowledge. That said, I have spent 20+ years working in child protection, for NGOs, health and at the pointy end.

    I’m not concerned that they are checking people on a regular basis. It should be on a regular basis.

    I’m not remotely concerned about being checked each time I apply for a job. The fact that the database can be incorrect is something they should account for and they should have a proper appeals mechanism. In NSW (Australia) for instance people can appeal to the Administrative Decisions Tribunal. The appeals and the outcomes are available online (with names removed) and are very interesting.

    Mistakes are made. People are embarrassed or feel harassed. However, the outcome of ‘refusal’ in NSW is not public, it’s not broadcast on television. People may well feel distressed and they can appeal.

    I’d agree that some people are refused on odd grounds, but a great many are not.

    That it is not foolproof is to be expected (some of you should probably not be allowed to drive but you still have a license :))

    What is required is the ability to appeal quickly and easily.

    These checks are screening tools. They’re not the be-all-and-end-all. They are necessary and necessarily should be done properly.

    It takes very little by way of a check into the history of child abuse (yes, I did my own research – MA (Hons)) to show that such tools are necessary and they need to be done properly.

    They’ll never be foolproof (what is?) but mistakes should also be able to be quickly resolved.

  28. *sighs* Actually I quite like Philip Pullman and his books. I just like Johnny Ball more.

  29. Yep also with Bugs

    Around 20-30% of adult women admit to being sexually abused as children or teenagers

    What are you calling abuse? You didn’t specify whether the abuse was from adults or other children. I groped a girls boob in high school and she was pretty angry. It was stupid, I was 15. Would that be counted in your 20-30%?

    So multiple things really – teach kids the “stranger danger” thing, insist that they never be alone with an adult, and teach them martial arts.

    I’m all up for teaching kids martial arts and all, but mainly because I think its a good thing to learn. I think teaching kids to never be alone with adults is the same as teaching your kids to be paranoid about everyone in the world. I can recall about a million times I was a child, alone with an adult. Eeep! Imagine that!

    Teachers cleaning my grazed knee in the bathroom! Who knows what they could have done! My grand dad telling me a story when I stayed a whole night at his house. The Shock the Horror! The stranger who held my hand and walked me to the desk at the front of the supermarket while I cried because I’d lost my mum. What a horrible filthy man he must have been, helping a distressed child.

    The problem here is not that there are paedophiles in the world. There always was and always will be. The problem is that everyone is being treated as if they’re guilty when we live in society based on the (very fucking good) theory of innocent until proven guilty.

  30. As a parent, I’m in school about as often and in similar circumstances (public presentation in school hall or classroom) as a visiting writer.

    If the rules dictate the writers need a CRB check then someone in similar circumstances must pose a similar risk and I and all parents must be CRB checked before we can visit schools. Which would be nonsense, but consistent.

    My wife had to be CRB checked as her Adult Education office is on a school site (in separate building). So all the people taking Adult Education classes at the site really should be CRB checked…. (and so on)


  31. Cory @24: Those 12,000 people weren’t branded paedophiles.

    If you look at the original reference, it says that 12,000 people over five years had been wrongly stated has having a criminal record, which could be anything from a police warning after a minor infraction up to a long prison sentence.

    Furthermore, that was over 14 million checks, so suggesting an actual error rate of just under 0.1%. Still high enough that extra, manual checking is needed, but nowhere near 10%.

    Original data at:

  32. It’s not about protecting kids, it’s about shielding the education bureaucrats from litigation.

    It is the new system of public administration based squarely on a foundational viewpoint of misanthropy.

  33. #18 Apoxia wrote: “Around 20-30% of adult women admit to being sexually abused as children or teenagers. There are many, many, many people who sexually abuse children out there in the community. You probably walk past/talk to one every day.”

    You know, I just -don’t- believe this horseshit; I honestly never have. It reminds me of the “truthy” observation that “men think about sex every 60 seconds” or some such misandric nonsense. I’ve seen claims of statistics like this that ranged from 4% to 10%, but now it’s somehow finally capped at 20-30%.

    I don’t know why some people need to believe that the world is chock full of folks that want to do irreparable harm to children.. maybe these people need a “bugbear” so that they can have a common enemy with their fellow man. It’s worked so often in years past (witches, drug fiends, communists/reds, terrorists). Why we certainly can’t stand up and be -for- pedophiles, so why does that automatically make us -for- these paranoid fools?

    I’m sure there are pedophiles out there; I’m also sure that measures are already in place to deal with them just as they have been for ages. We don’t need a “war on pedophilia” with which to dump millions of dollars (that we don’t actually have at our disposal) in order to gain an unknowable and unprovable gain of protection.

  34. Cory, after #29 pointing out your gross misinterpretation of the facts to suit your own argument I’ll definitely be taking your posts with a grain of salt from now on.

  35. In theory it’s not a terrible idea but since when has London and England in general become such a prying, no rights society. Every article I see on Boing Boing is about a new camera that goes up in the city or someone being harassed by the police for taking a picture. All these articles have kept me from visiting London. I know it’s not horrible there but it does not come out in the best light. I think this is all going to backfire in some way and it won’t be pretty.

  36. @21 thanks – that adds a useful meta-structure to the thought cloud I’d had around all of that.

    Paedophilia is problematic. The effects of it are fully and immediately evident in the wake of a physical assault – groping / rape / whatever – the victim feels instantly as if their ability to control their environment has been torn away, and the permanence of that can vary according to the situation.

    Undergoing funny strips and touches in the gym by phys.ed. teachers also impacts, but not necessarily as quickly. The individuals realise what was happening at a certain stage in their growth, and a hole emerges in their self-confidence.

    It’s all bad, and I live to see around me the few victims I am aware of, and the utterly devastating impact it has had on their capability to live happy, fruitful lives. They don’t have that capability. Traumatic events as adults can possibly be managed, but as children, the fertile fears and anxieties creep around the personality rendering the entirety fragile and angry. It’s kind of irrecoverable.

    Teaching assertion has an amazing effect: kids become more confident, and in the event of any difficulties, the perp. can be so taken aback that they retire from their intentions completely.

    Martial arts can be useful – buys time to get away. Of course, a 7 year old can’t make a KO blow, but they can poke someone hard in both eyes.

    The trouble with all of this database mallarkey is opportunism. It leaks out of the box. That’s why being careful with kids and knowing their associates, maintaining awareness and giving them self-determination is so important.

    Opportunism, and collections of organised paedophiles. They are extremely dangerous, and tend to migrate to child-caring areas.

  37. I have mixed feelings about this. I have five siblings, and in our family there were seven instances of abuse, one from a person working in a neighbouring property, (who kidnapped me at the age of three and asked me to perform oral sex on him… something I thought was a nightmare until I talked to my mother some years later…) one from a neighbour, two from a school employee, two strangers, one from an employer. They ranged from indecent exposure to inappropriate touching, to systematic sexual abuse.

    In a group of six women friends discussing safeguarding children from harm in a faith group, all but one had multiple experiences of sexual abuse in their childhoods. I do not think figures are exagerrated. Ask any group of females in a trusted group of friends, and they will report the same. I have friends who were assaulted by the relatives of friends, and random strangers.

    The lie that most sexual abuse is perpetrated within the family is what leads most people to doubt the figures: most general abuse and neglect is perpetrated within the family, but only 3% of sexual abuse is perpetrated by blood relations.

    Most sexual abuse is perpetrated by people known to the victim and not strangers, but it is just the not-a-stranger-but-not-related people like workers or visitors to schools, parents of friends, neighbours and casual acquaintances who are likely to be the perpetrators.

    I want children to be protected from abusers, but the current CRB checks and the more stringent checks sugesed for authors, seem completely over the top… particularly since they treat women and men as equally risky. The truth is that although examples exist of sexual abuse of children by women, they are incredibly rare. Most sexual abuse is perpetrated by men.

    Someone in the comments said that it hasn’t yet got to the point where parents have to be screened to go into class, but that is exactly where it has got to in the UK. If a mother who is known to the school and the children, and is statistically very, very, unlikely to be sexually abusing children, has to be checked in order to go into school and help with a jumble sale, it seems unlikely that Phillip Pullman, who is a man and therefore statistically far more risky for a school, will get away with not being checked.

    I think the major risk of the system is that it is wasteful, in that you need multiple CRB checks for multiple organisations, you can’t be checked by one and have that apply to all instances where you have contact with children, and that it provides a false sense of security. Most people who sexually abuse children are not caught, and of those that are prosecuted, few are convicted.

    In any case, if someone is so divorced from morality to be able to sexually abuse children, it seems unikely that they would baulk at providing false information for their CRB check. These measures will merely prevent those who have are known to have offended from working with children… and even that isn’t absolutely sure, if they have indeed changed area or name.

    My feeling is that we are afraid to face up to the reality of sexual abuse of children and really examine what it tells us about our society, preferring knee-jerk, bureaucratic solutions which can be pointed to as evidence that something is being done, rather than actually putting effort into discovering the root of the problem of sexual abuse and solving that.

  38. Government ministers aren’t to be vetted – they’re to be trusted apparently.
    Why would you not trust someone with multiple homes, a moat and a duck island?

  39. Of relevance to the many ill-informed comments regarding databases and there accuracy, I have two things to point out and a little exercise for anyone to try.

    1. As a long time developer of billing systems and rating engines for the fixed and mobile phone markets let me point out the accuracy issue regarding the automatic capture (i.e., no typing involved) and calculation of data. It is known by all telecom watchdogs that at BEST a phone bill is +/- 4% accurate. Over time it tends to balance out to this figure.

    2. On a large manual data input project involving millions of personal records and using the BEST copy typists available (budget was a limiting factor here – this is an important note) we were looking for 98% accuracy. We considered ourselves LUCKY when (through random sampling analysis) we achieved 91.7%. These were the customer data records of their bank details that could not be electronically transferred.

    Try this exercise: Take the lead story from a newspaper or a single page from a book. WITHOUT correcting your errors, type this out. How accurate were you?

    There is also an issue regarding corrupted data that has not been mentioned. All of these add up to a significant margin of error in data accuracy. The greater the number of records, the higher the likelihood of errors.

  40. And what’s wrong with listening to Philip Pullman?

    Well, what’s inherently right about listening to him? Arguments to authority aren’t really logically valid: it’s the reasons behind a person’s thinking, their logic, that counts.

    Pullman thinks Satan is the hero of Paradise Lost, a fallacy that most Miltonists, and many general readers, would catch. Pullman is also outraged over these laws, which is quite justifiable: they’re over-the-top, ineffective, what everyone’s said above. So he’s right and wrong, just like the rest of us. If ipse dixit doesn’t work for Aristotle anymore, it sure as hell doesn’t work for Pullman.

    Rhetorically, though, Pullman does seem to find Evil Authority Figures everywhere.

    It seems to be fuelled by the same combination of prurience, sexual fear and cold political calculation

    could have been lifted right out of the HDM trilogy, from one of Lord Asriel’s speeches against the Magisterium. Great rhetoric, but like Milton’s Satan–whom Pullman misreads and fetishizes–Pullman’s words seem often as much about Pullman as about their ostensible subject.

    /Pullman rant from disgruntled English prof.

    That said, these laws are crazy. I’m with Pullman on this one.

  41. I thought this was already in effect? I had to be CRB checked to work at a College, and if I went to another I’d need a new check performing.

    The craziest thing is, the area I work in has the longest turn around for CRB checks to come through. Checks lasting over a year are not uncommon.

    And during that time, you can’t work. So thanks government!

  42. The only solution to onerous laws such as these is to simply not work with children. One day, when there are no more teachers, no boy scout leaders, no karate instructors, no school nurses, maybe then society will get the point that treating a person as a potential criminal simply because of their chosen vocation is perhaps not the best idea. I’m studying to be a college professor. I will not under any circumstances ever consider teaching children for a variety of reasons, but most importantly because I am male, and all it takes is one spoiled-brat student to make up one lie to ruin your career, wreck your life, and have you branded forever, even if/when the lie is proven as such you will still carry the stigma of being accused.

  43. you can’t really call it a phobia can you? “I have an irrational dislike of my children being molested” – I think the correct term is lowermiddleclassrightnutdailymailfearmongering.

  44. Aren’t there cameras everywhere in the UK already that are supposed to be preventing crimes already?

    I watched the program “Who’s Watching You?” and one town in the UK even had loudspeakers on the cameras so that if you were caught littering the person watching the video from the cameras could yell at you over the loudspeakers and tell you to pick up the litter.

  45. That sounds like a great idea, to be honest. Maybe if citizens could take turns pressing the shouty button, so veryone gets a go.

  46. Growing up on the farm we often had to herd the cattle into the shoot so they could be loaded on the truck and sent to the slaughterhouse. Sometimes I had to do that all by myself, at 10 years old. The easy way for a ten year old human to herd several 400lb. animals is to hold a couple of sticks in either arm with a bit of cloth on the ends. They see that moving around and it frightens them.

    The trick of course is that you don’t want to spook them too much. So you walk slowly and take it in stages. Works every time. Cattle are pretty stupid.

  47. It’s worth noting that if J.K. Rowling comes out against this plan and joins Pullman, et al, the program will undoubtedly vanish overnight.

  48. As with any risk management process, you weigh the chance of a mistake (far less than 1% from the above article) and its potential impact (someone can’t visit a school) against the chance of someone being a criminal (more than 1% of the population) and its potential impact (rape, murder, etc) and the law is shown to be significantly better.

    <1% x "Can't visit schools"
    >1% x dead/raped/molested/etc

    No comparison. The potential harms are simply too great and the potential inconvience is a foolish reason to fail to protect children.

  49. I’m sure Mr. Buttle will have it all straightened out before they actually reach the slaughterhouse.

  50. Lets be clear about this while the majority of sexual abuse is committed by friends, family members etc, abuse has and does go on in sports clubs, scout groups and schools. Therefore it is important that we make sure that people who want to work with children are suitable to work with children. However there are two major problems. Firstly each local authority or organisation is expected to run their own criminal record check. Mt wife was worked as a ‘supply’ teacher covering for teachers when they were taken ill. She covered schools in six local authorities in a 35 mile radius of our home. However each local authority insisted in running their own check. No wonder the agency that ran the checks was overworked! There has to be a better system. Finally police checks are only the begining of the process and not the end. We need to ensure that our schools are safe places for children so we need to train teachers to identify abuse and be prepared to listen to children when they want to share thier problems.

  51. “I know lots of people who have been CRB checked as they are teachers, childminders, coaches at the village footie team or the tennis club, or they are scout leaders etc and so far I have not heard of one case of a false positive.”

    WaveyDave, it’s not a question of how many CRB checks yield false positives; it’s how many “positives” are false.

  52. “I assure you, Mrs. Buttle, the Ministry is very scrupulous about following up and eradicating any error. If you have any complaints which you’d like to make, I’d be more than happy to send you the appropriate forms.”

  53. think of the children…Think Of The Children…TOTC…Totc(y)…totcy…totsey…tottsey..
    “don’t get all tottsey on me”…”yeah, the other candidate was gaining but we tottseyed the mofo with a bullshit pedo rap”…”another tottsey bill to keep ’em busy while we empty the treasury”…

  54. Just to clarify, this is already required in many places in the US.

    Granted, the background checks are generally one-size-fits-all, although I had to consent to fingerprinting and a background check before temping at a K-12 district in New Jeresey a few years ago.

    I believe field trip chaperones are now required to go through a similar screening process.

    My parents taught religious ed. at their Catholic church, and were also required to go through the same exact process (although the paranoia in that case has some considerable historical justirication)

    I’m generally not one to buy into this sort of hysteria, although it actually does seem at least somewhat justified in this instance. The bureaucratic absurdities present in the proposal need to be eliminated, along with the requirement for one-off visitors to be extensively checked. However, there have been enough cases of abuses in schools to warrant background checks for staff members and regular visitors.

  55. Right, this is what happens when you let your country become a police state.

    All that’s left now is to rename the Home Office to Central Industrial and you’re good to go!

  56. I’m supposed to have LiveScan fingerprints (straight to the FBI) because I sub an adult yoga class at the YMCA a couple of times per year. I’ve never even seen a child there.

  57. Takuan@43: Did I just get to witness firsthand the play-by-play creation of a meme?

    Or would that be “anatomy of a meme?”

  58. Antinous@47: Well, obviously! Who’d want to send their child to a place where they have to screen for pedophiles? ;P

  59. @tsuli #32, more careful reading will reveal that Cory was not, in fact, grossly misinterpreting the facts.

    Cory (or rather Charlie) was pointing out the discrepancy between the 0.1% detected error rate and the 10% best-guess true error rate.

    In other words, out of a hundred people falsely tagged as potential risks by this system, only one will succeed at an appeal. The other 99 will end up shouldering the burden of the false accusation, impoverishing both their lives and the lives of the children (who can no longer be) around them.

    (Presumably out of a hundred people tagged as safe, ten will nevertheless be a risk; which is also a problem.)

    How good the 10% guess is is of course a separate question; however, Charlie has a citation for it.

  60. Ah, good point. I’d almost forgotten where the word “meme” came from in the first place. Didn’t Dawkins coin it? I guess I could just look that up myself.

  61. “A real meme comes to your house and eats you.”

    Hah! My pedophilia paranoia has now been replaced with fear of the man-eating meme.

    Is a real meme anything like the “creature from the id” from Forbidden Planet? You could call that a meme-made-real, i guess.

  62. You know your society is truly fucked when people forget that there are innocent reasons for doing things. It used to be fine to sit and watch children play; it lifts the heart and reminds one that joy has not left the world (when the heart has sunk and one is feeling pretty joyless).

    These days I wouldn’t dare. Even when I was on the way home the other week and my friend called to me from the park where his little daughter was playing, and I went over and hung out with him for a while until it was time to go home (around the corner), I felt nervous. A couple of the other parents gave me (and him) funny looks. We’re too old to be the parents of little kids, you see (even though he really is one) and therefore unless some kid calls us “grandpa” periodically we’re automatically Up To No Good.

    Britain really isn’t worth visiting any more. Not because the plus side has decreased, not at all: because the risk and cost are too high. Not enough protection for civil rights, too many cameras, and automatic suspicion if an old bald guy takes delight in the presence of children. I guess we’re supposed to just yell at them to get off the lawn, and that makes us better.

    Nuts to you, UK. No, the US isn’t much better, but I’m kinda stuck here.

  63. no one expects the Real Spanish Inquisition. Real memes live and want to grow, reproduce, expand and survive. To an Ebola virus or a meme, you are meat.

    Consider the incredible evil wrought by the simple: “oh what a good idea; let’s listen to this priest”

  64. “You know your society is truly fucked when people forget that there are innocent reasons for doing things.”

    Xopher: Most heartbrokenly, wholeheartedly, THIS.

    As some have said already, the solution to protecting children from abuse is empowering kids and paying attention to them. What a scandalous concept: actual parenting?! real teaching?! When kids are empowered emotionally, and armed with the knowledge of what is appropriate and what their personal boundaries are, even if they encounter a molestation attempt, it would not meet with success and would likely be immediately reported. It would not even necessarily have a long-lasting traumatic impact.

    Sure, a criminal record check is reasonable for someone working with kids repeatedly, but this is absurd and depressing.

    TOTC? Laws like this make me weep for the children.

  65. Apropos Alphagirl @75 — more to the point, what sort of children are we raising in this brave new world?

  66. Wouldn’t it be easier to just summarily execute everyone the State has sanctioned for indecent urges? I mean, in the interests of efficiency.

    “Let’s see here – is Mr. Stross here a convicted paedophile? Well, he’s alive, so I guess not. You pass, congratulations sir!”

  67. Even more efficiently, you could simply execute everyone. No more background checks, no more need for them, no more children!

  68. Hitler Youth, young Red Guards, Russian Pioneers, all were rewarded for denouncing parents.

  69. I’d like to add another voice against this. Somehow, I think the text that follows isn’t going to make anyone here too happy, however, so I apologize in advance. I, too, was raped as a child. Like another poster here, this sort of check would not have stopped the abusers.

    I differentiate between those with an attraction and those who act, between those who act and those who force. I encountered all in my childhood, and the key difference was that rapists do not stop. The others did.

    I’ve come to resent greatly the assumption that children are sexless until 18, that people with an attraction to children are equivalent to some sort of inhuman monsters. The individuals who brutalized me, yes, they were horrible people. There were individuals who did not, or engaged in play where I had control (and desire), but either discouraged me from going too far or stopped themselves…there’s a difference, and it’s not that dissimilar from the contrast between healthy sexual relationships and rape in adults.

    I wish to express that I am talking about control, not legal consent.

    I’m not saying it’s an ideal situation, but that there’s a great deal of difference between forced sexual acts and these other experiences. I would have been devastated as a child to see the one group imprisoned or executed. With the second group, I have mixed feelings; I understand it was partly my fault, and I also feel some of the guilt should be shared by those who felt this was acceptable behavior and did nothing to stop it. I was also not able to prevent them from doing it again, which has been harder to deal with than the actual events.

    Despite this, I feel treating all adults as rapists is lunacy. Telling your child to never be alone with an adult…well, if I had been told that, the abuse would’ve continued. This was something that was just accepted by that part of the family; it was building a relationship and trust with an adult that lead me to confide in them, and finally end the nightmare when I felt I had no other options but suicide (I was nine at the time).

    As an adult, I have no children. Partly because I had it drilled into me by therapist (likely full of it, I now realize), that I was doomed to become a menace to my own children. By the time I got past this, I was no longer able to have children.

    That’s one of those myths right up there with the “it’s worse than death, the child is ruined for ever”. Bull. I survived, I healed, I had friends, laughed, read, did well in school, had lovers, jobs, settled down and started my own business. Damn sure I couldn’t have done this from the grave. It’s affected me, yes, but most of the time, I’m glad I made it through.

    I’m very aware any appearance of impropriety now can destroy my life. So I simply avoid interacting with children at all. It’s tough. I like kids (and distasteful as this is to me, I realize I am compelled to add the caveat: “but not in a sexual way”; no, I prefer partners my own age or older). I love to teach. But I would never pursue this as a career now. I would love to volunteer to read books or tell stories at the library. I will never do this, or any other activity where I’ll increase the risk of this.

    Apologies for the length of the post, it seems to have just spilled out.

  70. Will parents and other relatives of children also going to require the checks? They are, after all, the biggest threats.

  71. How sad that nobody recalls – in either the post or the comments – why these checks are now made.

    This is the explanation on the website of the Independent Safeguarding Authority (my bold)

    Following the murders of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells by Ian Huntley (a school caretaker) in 2002, the Bichard Inquiry was commissioned. One of the issues this Inquiry looked at was the way employers recruit people to work with children and vulnerable adults.

    It asked whether the way employers check the background of job applicants is reliable enough. It also asked whether employers should be responsible for deciding whether a job applicant can be safely employed.

    The Inquiry’s recommendations led to the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, which recognised the need for a single agency to vet all individuals who want to work or volunteer with vulnerable people.

    Lest we forget ?

  72. I now recommend that anyone in contact with animals get a zoophile check and anyone in contact with women, a heterosexual check. Come on Britain, I know you can deliver on this!

    Those dangerous heteros rape anything with a vagina, as we all know. In the unlikely event I’m wrong (and I’m not, let’s face it: heteros rape women given the opportunity), you at least have to be hetero to rape a woman, so it stands to reason that we should screen for this sort of thing. However, the only way we can really check to see if the person is hetero is to see if they’ve raped anyone women yet, or ask their friends what they think. If these background checks turn nothing up, we’re left waiting for them to leer or wink at a woman, or physically show their dangerous lust, but there is still hope that everyone will report any inkling of heterosexuality around women so that we can remove access and investigate the person before it is too late. I know this system is imperfect, some heteros can slip through the cracks and rape — they all have a first time — so I’m sure all Britain will support me in the complete monitoring of all electronic and traditional communication. It’s necessary to protect our women. Won’t somebody think of the women?

  73. All the pedophiles in the world are rejoicing at seeing your society collapse in fear, as they were never invited to the party anyway. The UK is doing an excellent job of destroying itself. Your children are going to grow up with lots of problems. Violence in the UK is sure to be at a record high by this new generation that you’ve alienated and destroyed.

  74. I thought things in American were paranoid. My goodness, how can you people allow the paranoid govt to continue this? Pretty soon ALL parents will have to get screened or be forbidden from picking their kids up from school (why? because they can potentially interact with other kids in the school building.) Why not have anyone with a dog need to be screened (why? kids love dogs, and everyone KNOWS the only reason a pedo would have a dog is so kids can come up to them to pet the dog..and than NAB) Might as well also have anyone that uses the bus get screened to, as I am sure poor little children may be riding the bus also.

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