That we had to wait until Jimmy Savile was dead to hear from people he had abused and exploited - says many bad things about how our society works - but that we are hearing about it at all is a good thing. Allegations of abuse in North Wales have re-surfaced and we have heard much about gangs of men exploiting young women from Children's Homes in the North West of England. On top of that we now have allegations about Cyril Smith - that he assaulted young boys who were in care.
What all of these cases have in common is men abusing young people and children; children who found themselves vulnerable and open to abuse with no one really looking out for their interests. Whilst it is vital for the sake of natural justice that the victims of these offenses do see some justice and do recognize - at long last - that they do matter - there will be unintended consequences to all this. Men will be trusted even less around children and young people and may well be put off getting involved with supporting young people and children in Schools and clubs!
I am a middle aged man (yes apparently I am still middle-aged) and I volunteer at a youth club and I go into a primary school to teach karate (as part of my job). I'm not trying to big myself up here - lots of people do far more than that. My motives for the voluntary work are that I frankly feel sorry for young people facing what appears to me to be an increasingly complicated world where old certainties (or apparent certainties) appear less so, at a time when the roles of both men and women are less clear and finding work is a bit harder and the future less re-assuring. To add to their problems - young people are mistrusted and branded as 'hoodies' and yobs and yet the young are our future - the workers: the providers, they will govern and decide how we run our communities in the future and we should want to make them feel valued members of society.
I teach Karate in a very nice little primary school in Surrey and I am only one of very few men that go in there. The majority of the teachers and staff are women and the children's default salutation to those in authority is 'Miss'. I get called 'miss' - because almost all the authority figures in the school are women.
The boys and girls who live with single mums and who do not have male role models at home will not find many male role models even in this very well run school. I imagine this is harder for the boys - how are they meant to act? To pretend there is not an expectation on boys and girls to take up particular roles in unrealistic. So how should a boy know how to behave if he does not meet many men in his daily life?
That there are so few males in Primary Schools (which I think is generally the case) is partly to do with men not seeing it as something they want to do - but it could be that many men might want to take primary school teaching up as a profession but fear the unspoken assumptions that might be made about them because of theses cases of men abusing children and young people. Of course some women have been found guilty of the same thing - but most cases seem to involve men.
I don't know what the gender balance is in other organisations - such as youth clubs and the Scouts and so on - but it is important that children and young people come into contact with both men and women in their daily lives.
It would be good to be wrong about this but the more these stories come out the more I feel conspicuous as a man getting involved with young people at all. I cannot be the only one?
Let's have more men in Primary Schools and getting involved in youth work and the Cubs and Scouts and all of these things. Put proper safeguards in place, of course, to protect both young people and the adults but let's get the balance right. Do the CRB checks, of course and, thank goodness - we don't have to have several CRB checks every year, anymore - but let men get involved in the lives of young people.
If children grow up without seeing men in their lives then they will be less able to cope with the wider world when they grow up. Young men will know less about how they are expected to behave - young women less able to identify with the men in their future lives. Justice must be done but we should be careful about the unintended consequences.