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Sunday, 13 December 2009

Safeguarding of Children and Information Systems

I approach this subject with some trepidation because whatever I write may be subject of misinterpretation as crimes against children is understandably a highly emotional issue. I feel I should though as fear is a motivating factor in the introduction of preventative measures and information systems are increasing seen as the solution. And because it is again headline news in the UK.

Again two different approaches are highlighted. In the United States "Megan's Law" allows a map based search to be made on neighbourhoods to find out the addresses of people convicted of sex offences that involve children or are otherwise serious. In the UK the approach is to only allow adults to have contact with children outside a family and friends environment if they have had their details checked by police and no concerns have been raised. This website goes into the details.

I just want to make one quick observation today.

There are serious social consequences that result from either approach. Megan's Law must push those affected to the margins of society. Police checks have the consequence of treating all adults, especially male ones (but not exclusively after the Plymouth case) as guilty for wanting to have contact with children until proven innocent. This discourages male adults from becoming involved with children's activities. I used to lead a youth group for a number years on a voluntary, unpaid basis. I would wonder if it was worth the hassle and suspicion now. The point I want to make and will continue to make throughout this blog is that crime prevention often produces unwanted side effects. It is the responsibility of the policy makers and the police to maximise the positives and minimise negatives. I am not convinced that the balance is properly being found in the UK and I am uneasy about the US solution. A major part of my argument is - do either work in the way they are intended? or are either or both a political rather than a policing solution? But that is for later blogs.

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