d7e11002cd980b7e96b55a95b0ac8b0e[1]A paediatrician asks a mother to video her mentally disabled daughter enduring one of her regular spasms in order that he can make an effective diagnosis; a side-effect of her child’s condition is that the spasms cause her to rip her clothes off. Upon being told this, the physician whose job it is to tend to the medical needs of children informs the mother he cannot view any such videos. Despite the fact that visual evidence of the spasms will enable him to treat them correctly and possibly ease the girl’s suffering, he cannot look at it because he fears possession of such material will result in him being placed on the sex-offender’s register. The mother also hesitates at capturing her daughter’s spasms on video for fear she will be charged with making offensive images; sending them to the paediatrician could land her with an additional charge of distributing offensive images. Therefore, a woman who gave birth to a child born naked and a man whose profession sometimes requires him to examine children without clothes on both back away from helping a sick child because of fear. This is a true story, told to me by someone who was told it by the mother of the child. What an absolutely ludicrous, not to say tragic, scenario.

This is an extremely smug century. A consensus is afoot that we are sophisticated, liberated and no longer hindered by the repressive sexual pressures that stifled personal freedoms in the past. If the products of this culture have an imagined nemesis, it is the Victorians. Women couldn’t vote and were second-class citizens encased in constricting corsets; homosexuals were locked away and broken by the prison system; black people were oppressed colonial cheap labour, barely better off than when they were slaves; the poor lived in squalid hovels with no social safety net other than the workhouse. Weren’t the Victorians terrible and aren’t we so much better? Are we?

Last year, a BBC documentary on Lewis Carroll aired, in which the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ author’s pioneering photographs received extensive coverage. Carroll – or as he was known beyond Wonderland, Charles Dodgson – specialised in somewhat sentimental portraits of children that enraptured their parents, most of whom were present when Dodgson’s elaborate set-pieces were staged and captured on camera. Many of these images featured children unclothed, something that at the time was supposed to emphasise the virtuous innocence of vulnerable cherubs whose lifespan hovered in a permanent state of uncertainty. Sensibilities today see such images rather differently.

One overlong segment of the documentary was devoted to an image of an unidentified naked pre-pubescent girl whose identity was speculated as being that of the real Alice’s sister, Lorina Liddell; nobody could even say for certain that Charles Dodgson had actually taken the photograph. But this formed part of the predictable discussion on whether or not Dodgson’s penchant for participating in a late nineteenth century vogue for photographing children pointed to him being a paedophile. The squeamish icing on the twenty-first century censorious cake, however, was that the programme-makers wouldn’t even let the viewers see the photograph in question. A Victorian photo of a girl who will have been dead for at least fifty years – and that’s if she lived to a very ripe old age – couldn’t be shown on television in 2015 because it was deemed to be offensive to the sensitive sensibilities of our oh-so superior age.

‘Victorian Values’ is a wide-sweeping term that is only ever used dismissively; it is supposed to represent everything bad that has gradually been superseded by more enlightened thinking and living. Yet, as hypocritical as the Victorians’ attitude to flesh and pleasures thereof allegedly were, they were not terrified of the flesh of children – and they were not expected to see pleasure in it at all, unlike their ‘sophisticated’ successors over a hundred years on. Of course, there were some adults then who had unnatural sexual desires towards children, just as there were before the Victorians and just as there are today; but the key difference between then and now is that the nineteenth century acknowledged paedophilia as a rare symptom restricted to a minority rather than a commonplace perversion inherent in the majority.

Today, one has to prove the absence of such feelings because their absence is not accepted. It is a given, a presumption that they are in all of us, simply waiting to be exposed. A series of laws introduced over the past decade seem designed to catch us out, to coax these feelings into the open, like some form of thought entrapment; and if they happen not to be in us, they have to be implanted in us because they’re supposed to be there. These laws encourage instant suspicion and rushes to judgement, and they persuade people to think the worst of everyone. They negate rationality, provoke paranoia and self-doubt, inspire mob mentality, and more than anything, they generate a primitive brand of pseudo-religious, finger-pointing fear unprecedented in a secular society.

The Victorians were supposedly so averse to the sight of naked flesh that they covered piano legs because they resembled the indecently-exposed legs of ladies. How silly, eh? But they weren’t horrified by the sight of children as nature intended; we are. And that’s progress.

© The Editor

10 thoughts on “AS NATURE OFFENDED

  1. I would have thought the paediatrician could have sought a legal opinion from his NHS Trust’s legal department before making a decision. He will be chaperoned when intimately examining young children. Why could he not be chaperoned while watching the film (yes, silly as that sounds).? Or can’t they write to the CPS to ask an opinion?

    I get your point about overkill, but logically, unless you can identify an offender before they have offended, (yay! welcome to the world of pre-crime) you have to protect children from everyone in order to protect them from that particular one. Sorry, but I think you’re wrong on this – we at least recognise paedophilia exists and are trying to do something to protect children – the problem is we are inefficient and cack handed. Human, in other words.i


    1. As the heterosexual law of consent was raised to its current level in the late nineteenth century, there clearly were laws already in place to punish those who hankered after illegal liaisons. What has changed over the past decade or so is increased media coverage of genuine offenders and the offence itself, something that has also given long-overdue voice to those they’ve preyed upon and in turn spawned endless legislation.

      The problem as I see it is that this increased awareness has placed every (generally) male adult in a position where they have to deny something that shouldn’t even be assumed of them, almost in the way it was once obligatory for Americans to open a debate by declaring they were not and never had been a member of the Communist Party. The onus appears to be on the individual to prove their innocence rather than for someone else to prove their guilt; and that has led to ridiculous situations such as the one I opened the piece with. I don’t how it was resolved in the end, but the fact it arose in the first place seems characteristic of how a needless fear has permeated all levels of interaction with children in this country. And I often wonder how we got here.


  2. There’s a paradox in the ‘Victorian values’ issue – although that may wll have been the message broadcast from on high, down on the ground it was a very different reality……

    As part of an investigation into a family parentage mystery, I researched in great detail some mining communities in late-19th Century southern Yorkshire which, alongside its target results, revealed much about the prevailing local culture.
    According to registration documents, most of the females married at 16 or 17, and more than half of these gave successful birth within 6 months of the wedding – allowing for a higher than current rate of miscarriage, it is reasonable to estimate that 75% were pregnant when the marriage was contracted. Add into this the fact that the average age of female puberty at that time was around 16 and that, even at peak fertility, only around 15% of sexual events lead to conception, then it becomes evident that almost all young teenagers of the time were basically at it like rabbits – there is no other statistical explanation of the data.
    When you also consider the social conditions of large families in small, overcrowded housing, long hours of six-day working and almost no capacity for leisure, then these ‘Victorian’ teenagers must have grasped every available opportunity of rare privacy and environment to play at ‘hide the sausage’. How early this hyper-activity started I cannot deduce from the data, but it seems safe to conclude that a considerable amount will have begun before the magical age of 16. I’m not knocking it or praising it, merely reporting the facts. This is not, of course, paedophilia, just getting a slightly early start. But buttoned-up Victorian values, it ain’t.

    On the paedo issue, I can’t agree with Windsock that it must be worth the constriction on the very many in order to protect the very few, if only because we can’t tabulate the value of what we’re losing.
    I am a 60-something non-parent, but I love helping any kids to develop, just as I was helped to develop by a huge range of entirely innocent adults when I was a child. Yet now I feel constrained from repeating that process, particularly with the kids of strangers – in the supermarket, for example, I would find it natural to engage with any young child, smiling, winking, chatting, anything to help them learn to interface with more adults than just their direct family, but now I don’t do that for fear of misinterpretation, and that’s when they’re shopping with Mum. If I encountered a young child alone, I would always engage with the child, mainly to make sure it was safe and untroubled, but again the current witch-hunt acts as a disincentive to taking on that basic community responsibility.
    So what’s worse, the very marginal risk from a tiny number of paedophiles or the huge benefit of having every other adult in the land looking out for, and positively helping, every child to develop into a rounded individual ? That’s the poser.


    1. I see your point Mudplugger, but I am in the same position as you – approaching 60 and childless – and it doesn’t stop me engaging with young people. I usually engage with their parents too, if they are there, but I do take precautions – I’ll only do this in publicmwhere other people can see.

      You’re ultimately right – it’s about balance. But some of the stories we have had – Soham, the Moors, Maddie, Jamie Bulger have only increased our fears for children – maybe when news was more local and did not travel nationally, we had a better perspective.


      1. I suspect there’s two issues which have now profoundly affected the perspective. Firstly, the tabloid sensationalism which seems to suggest that there are millions of evil paedos in your own neighbourhood, desperate to abuse your own child, every minute of every day.
        Second is the culture of blame and claim – if any transgression can be even tenuously linked back to the slightest lack of foresight by any official body, there’s immediately someone to blame, and therefore someone with deep pockets against whom the ambulance-chasing lawyers will be only to happy to front a no-win-no-fee claim. Put those two together and you get irrational national hysteria, which is sadly what we’ve got, and for which ultimately all the kids are paying the price.

        And you’re at even greater risk than me – everyone knows that all gays are paedophiles, so it’s patently obvious that any interaction you may have with any child, no matter how apparently innocent, will have only one, very sordid, objective. (Note: Tongue firmly wedged in cheek). Take care out there.

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      2. You’re right. I have one very sordid objective. To show parents and their children that gay men won’t be pigeonholed and stereotyped, and we love children too – much like Sting sang about Russians!

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    2. As far as the sex lives of the Victorians go, I suppose we also have to remember how short life could actually be for them when compared to how long it has the potential to be for us. So little time, so much to do!


  3. It’s remarkable that so many people seem to believe that old trope about Victorian blushes over piano legs. I do appreciate you said ‘supposedly’, Petunia, but this kind of thing is so often trotted out by the unthinking. People really will believe any old claptrap.

    When I arrived in China a dozen or so years ago, in many homes telephones were decorated – they sat on a little lacy mat, and the receiver was covered by a matching strip of fabric attached with two little elastic ties. Needless to say, this didn’t appeal to my sensibilities, but I now realise that I should have recognised Chinese prudishness over such a phallic object and drawn the conclusion that the covering of telephone receivers was evidence of the brainwashing necessary to maintain the one-child policy.

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