Today there is a major outcry about what appears at face value to be extremely lenient sentencing of a paedophile and some extraordinary comments made by the prosecution about the child victim’s behaviour.
The prosecutor Robert Colover was also criticised after he reportedly told the hearing: “The girl is predatory in all her actions and she is sexually experienced.”
I listened to the phone-in on BBC radio 5Live where people with a great deal of experience of sexual abuse – some of them professionals in the field, others victims – were almost unanimous in their condemnation, with a few arguing somewhat unconvincingly of the new ‘knowingness’ of young girls. Nowhere though, was there any consideration of the perpetrator – beyond that fact that he is forty one years old and therefore unarguably culpable.
Maybe they are right but, for myself, I would like to know all the facts before taking a position. That’s because I have known numerous mentally vulnerable men who have been victimised by children & I actually don’t know how many may have got as far as this did. One was lured into a school by a group of twelve year olds and taunted about the size of his penis until eventually he dropped his trousers to show them. He was arrested. The girls claimed he had set up CCTV in the girls’ toilets and he agreed – he thought it was a compliment on his skills with gadgets. Luckily, it was possible to demonstrate his vulnerability – a combination of Asperger’s and severely impaired intellectual functioning – so that, while the outcome of the court proceedings registered his guilt with regard to exposure, the sentence reflected his lack of wilful intent.
So what about the language used? Let’s be clear – this was used by the prosecution not the defence so why? What did he know that we don’t? And let’s be clear too that whether or not someone is sexually experienced is a fact not a judgment. I just hope he said that the girl’s behaviour (as opposed to the girl herself) was predatory because that too is a matter of observation, albeit with a degree of leeway. Nowhere in this argument is there a case for blaming the child; however ‘knowing’ or ‘precocious’ (another word that came up on the radio phone-in) a child may be, the onus for responsible behaviour lies with the adult – at least where the adult is the one with the greater power. If neither party has full competence though, how is culpability to be decided? Maybe the best we can do is to apply the law in a way that recognises all the vulnerabilities, and my wish here is for better information by which to understand both the comments and the judgment before in turn judging each in ignorance.