Konst & Politik

Staffan Jacobson – författare, konstnär och frihetlig socialist i Lund.

STANLEY COHEN: FOLK DEVILS AND MORAL PANICS. EXCERPT.

Ingen fråga i vår tid är lika inflammerad som den om pedofili. Därför börjar jag med att säga att jag anser att vuxna och barn inte under några omständigheter ska ha sex med varandra. Men det finns mer att säga i denna fråga och det kommer att ta åratal innan allt är sagt. Hur ger vi både barnen och förövarna rätt behandling är en sådan fråga. Omgivningens reaktioner är en annan. Specialisten på moralisk panik, Stanley Cohen, har skrivit bra om ämnets uppkomst, och jag återger hans text här, som finns i den sociologiska  klassikern ”Folk Devils and Moral Panics” (1972), tredje upplagan 2002. Om copyrighthållaren skulle ha invändningar tar jag bort den direkt, men jag tror inte att Cohen själv skulle protestera. Den finns nämligen sedan länge på nätet som pdf i sin helhet, bl.a. här: https://infodocks.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/stanley_cohen_folk_devils_and_moral_panics.pdf

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Stanley Cohen: Folk Devils and Moral Panics.

Preface to 3rd ed. part 4.

 Child Abuse, Satanic Rituals and Paedophile Registers.

The term ‘child abuse’ contains many different forms of cruelty against children – neglect, physical violence, sexual abuse – whether by their own parents, staff in residential institutions, ‘paedophile priests’ or total strangers. Over the last decade, public perceptions of the problem have become increasingly focused on sexual abuse and sensationally atypical cases outside the family. Reactions to the sexual abuse of children rest on shifting moral grounds: the image of the offender changes. A series of stories over the last twenty years about serious abuse in children’s homes and other residential institutions revealed not panic or even anxiety, but a chilling denial.The victims had endured years of rejection and ill-treatment by their own parents and the staff supposed to care for them.Their complaints to senior staff and local authority officials and politicians were met with disbelief, collusion and a tight organizational cover-up.There have been repeated waves of denial, exposure then denunciation. The same pattern applies to appear more suitable than others.those traditional folk devils, paedophile priests.In the mid-1980s, however, a succession of highly publicized child deaths under more ‘ordinary’ circumstances, led to a very different type of panic. Into the familiar criminal triangle – child (innocent victim); adult (evil perpetrator) and bystanders (shocked but passive) – appears the social worker, trying to be rescuer but somehow ending up being blamed for the whole mess. Social workers and social service professionals were middle-class folk devils: either gullible wimps or else storm troopers of the nanny state; either uncaring cold hearted bureaucrats for not intervening in time to protect the victim or else over-zealous, do-gooding meddlers for intervening groundlessly and invading privacy.The Cleveland child sexual abuse scandal of 1987 marked the peak of this period and condensed its themes: the tensions between social work, medicine and the law; social workers as anxious, demoralized and particularly vulnerable as a predominant.

For three months from April that year, a cluster of some 120 children (average age between 6 and 9) had been diagnosed as having been sexually abused in their families. In June, a local newspaper published a story about confused and angry parents who claimed that their children had been taken from them by local authority social workers on the basis of a disputed diagnosis of sexual abuse made by two paedi- atricians in the local hospital. The Daily Mail ran the story on 23 June (‘Hand Over Your Children, Council Orders Parents of 200 nantly female profession.

Youngsters’).The resulting moral panic became a pitched battle of claims and counter-claims. So busy were the key players in fingering each other – social workers, police, paediatricians, doctors, lawyers, parents, local and national politicians, then a judicial inquiry – that there was not even minimal consensus about what the whole episode was about.

Another episode was more fictitious and one of the purest cases of moral panic. Superimposed on the very real phenom- enon of childhood sexual abuse and incest, came the ‘recovered memory’ of childhood incest: bitter debates about the existence of repressed (and recovered) memories of childhood sexual abuse. In these therapeutic interstices, came the story of ‘ritual child abuse’,‘cult child abuse’ or‘Satanic abuse’. In around 1983, disturbing reports began circulating about children (as well as adults in therapy who were ‘recovering’ childhood memories) alleging that they had been sexually abused as part of the ritual of secret, Satanic cults, which included torture, cannibalism and so on. The term ‘child abuse’ contains many different forms of cruelty against children – neglect, physical violence, sexual abuse – whether by their own parents, staff in residential institutions, ‘paedophile priests’ or total strangers. Over the last decade, public perceptions of the problem have become increasingly focused on sexual abuse and sensationally atypical cases outside the family.

Reactions to the sexual abuse of children rest on shifting moral grounds: the image of the offender changes.

A series of stories over the last twenty years about serious abuse in children’s homes and other residential institutions revealed not panic or even anxiety, but a chilling denial.The victims had endured years of rejection and ill-treatment by their own parents and the staff supposed to care for them.Their complaints to senior staff and local authority officials and politicians were met with disbelief, collusion and a tight organizational cover-up.There have been repeated waves of denial, exposure then denunciation. The same pattern applies to appear more suitable than others, those traditional folk devils, paedophile priests.

In the mid-1980s, however, a succession of highly publicized

child deaths under more ‘ordinary’ circumstances, led to a very different type of panic. Into the familiar criminal triangle – child (innocent victim); adult (evil perpetrator) and bystanders (shocked but passive) – appears the social worker, trying to be rescuer but somehow ending up being blamed for the whole mess. Social workers and social service professionals were middle-class folk devils: either gullible wimps or else storm troopers of the nanny state; either uncaring cold hearted bureaucrats for not intervening in time to protect the victim or else over-zealous, do-gooding meddlers for intervening groundlessly and invading privacy. The Cleveland child sexual abuse scandal of 1987 marked the peak of this period and condensed its themes: the tensions between social work, medicine and the law; social workers as anxious, demoralized and particularly vulnerable as a predominant.

For three months from April that year, a cluster of some 120 children (average age between 6 and 9) had been diagnosed as having been sexually abused in their families. In June, a local newspaper published a story about confused and angry parents who claimed that their children had been taken from them by local authority social workers on the basis of a disputed diagnosis of sexual abuse made by two paediatricians in the local hospital. The Daily Mail ran the story on 23 June (‘Hand Over Your Children, Council Orders Parents of 200 predominantly female profession.Youngsters’).The resulting moral panic became a pitched battle of claims and counter-claims. So busy were the key players in fingering each other – social workers, police, paediatricians, doctors, lawyers, parents, local and national politicians, then a judicial inquiry – that there was not even minimal consensus about what the whole episode was about.

Another episode was more fictitious and one of the purest cases of moral panic. Superimposed on the very real phenomenon of childhood sexual abuse and incest, came the ‘recovered memory’ of childhood incest: bitter debates about the existence of repressed (and recovered) memories of childhood sexual abuse. In these therapeutic interstices, came the story of ‘ritual child abuse’,‘cult child abuse’ or‘Satanic abuse’. In around 1983, disturbing reports began circulating about children (as well as adults in therapy who were ‘recovering’ childhood memories) alleging that they had been sexually abused as part of the ritual of secret, Satanic cults, which included torture, cannibalism and human sacrifice. Hundreds of women were ‘breeders’; children had their genitals mutilated, were forced to eat faeces, were sacrificed to Satan, their bodies dismembered and fed to participants – who turned out to be family members, friends and neighbours, day-care providers and prominent members of the community. Claims-making for various parts of this story joined conservative Christian fundamentalists with feminist psychotherapists.

One form of sexualized violence against children does not generate counterclaims about its existence nor any moral disa- greement: the abduction and sexual killing of children, especially girls. This strikes a depth of horror in us all. There is a panicky sense of vulnerability – both in the sense of statistical risk (these events seem to be happening more often) and emotional empathy (How would I feel if this happened to my child?). The script becomes more familiar: child disappears on way home from school; the police set up investigation team; school friends, neighbours, teachers interviewed; frantic, distraught parents make appeals on TV; members of public join police in searching fields and rivers .

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These offenders are pure candidates for monster status. The July 2000 abduction and murder of 8-year-old Sarah Payne led to the News of the World ‘crusade’ (its own word), a series of classic texts of monster-making. The 23 July front page reads: ‘NAMED AND SHAMED.There are 110,000 child sex offenders in Britain … one for every square mile. The murder of Sarah Payne has proved police monitoring of these perverts is not enough. So we are revealing WHO they are and WHERE they are … starting today.’The lists of names and the rows of photos reflect what the paper assumes and constructs as the primeval public anxiety: ‘DOES A MONSTER LIVE NEAR YOU?’ Check the list, then read on:’WHAT TO DO IF THERE IS A PERVERT ON YOUR DOORSTEP.’ The paper called for information about convicted sex offenders to be made publicly available and itself published over the next forces whipped up by the News of the Worldtwo weeks photos, names and addresses of 79 convicted sex offenders. Many obvious and worrying issues were raised: how the list was constructed (partly from Scout Association records: Scouting Out the Beasts, the paper explained); how downloading child porn or the seduction of a 14-year-old schoolboy by his mid-thirties female teacher belong to the same category as the sexual murder of a child; the counter-productive effect of driving already monitored offenders underground; the media’s own freedom to publish.The special dangers of vigilantism and lynch mobs soon appeared with crowd protests calling for named and shamed offenders to be moved out of neighbourhoods or council housing estates. Attention focused on the Paulsgrove estate near Portsmouth – where each night for a week crowds of up to 300 marched upon houses of alleged paedophiles. Public figures had to express sympathy with the parents and share their moral revulsion but also distance themselves from the mob. This was easily done by repeating the inherently negative connotations of lynch mob and mob rule, the primitive, atavistic. The rational polity is contrasted to the crowd: volatile, uncontrollable and ready to explode.

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Detta inlägg publicerades på 23 december, 2020 by i * KRÖNIKAN.

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