Child abuse advocates and experts have rubbished Australia’s most-read website, news.com.au, for running a story advising readers how to spot a paedophile. They say the checklist was inaccurate, irresponsible stereotyping.
The article, published yesterday, warns the reader of nine different “types” of child molesters and the behaviours they supposedly exhibit. These behaviours are as varied as being a teacher, dating a single mother or simply being overly eager to babysit.
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Social media went berserk in protest and forced news.com.au to expunge a passage recommending people not allow child abuse sufferers near their children.
The story, by veteran journalist and former political adviser Candace Sutton, originally warned:
“Paedophiles are often the victims of child molestation themselves. If you know this about a person’s past, beware. It’s all very well to feel sorry for a person, but don’t let them anywhere near young people you know.”
That passage has now been removed, with no acknowledgement from the site. A short biography was also uploaded, claiming Sutton has decades of experience covering the crimes of sex offenders.
Despite the removal of the passage the article maintains that “the damaged” — or more specifically, the victims of child abuse — are more likely to become paedophiles themselves.
University of Western Sydney professor of criminology Michael Salter told Crikey the article was irresponsible on several grounds. “It’s really sad that the level of public discussion around child abuse has been brought back down to stereotypes,” Salter said. “Sex offenders are a heterogeneous group — they have almost nothing in common.”
Salter pointed out that almost every male is, in one way or the other, covered by the list as a person to look upon with suspicion, and that stigmatising large groups of men — who are overwhelmingly not paedophiles — is not promoting the right message to anyone.
“We need to make sure that all kids feel confident in identifying and speaking out when they feel uncomfortable, but to be stereotyping men who take photos or children or work with children … will just drive healthy, responsible men away from contact with children,” he said.
Cathy Kezelman, president of Adults Surviving Child Abuse, says the article was wrong to assert that child abuse victims often go on to molest children. Both Salter and Kezelman say the incidence of child sex abuse victims going on to become abusers is incredibly small.
“This sort of information is presented in a way that minimises the trauma of those that have experienced (sex abuse),” Kezelman said. “We need to present information in a very balanced way and be careful to not perpetuate myths as well … To reduce the incidence of offences, we also need to understand sexual offending behaviour. To generalise in this way is not helpful.”
According to Time magazine, about 4% of the population may be paedophiles, but the number is very hard to pin down.
News.com.au editor Luke McIlveen has not responded to requests for comment.