• MakeMoreNoise

NSPCC - Speak Out, Get Banned

Updated: Oct 14, 2019

A series of scandals have engulfed the UK’s leading child welfare charity, the NSPCC. The charity had recently gained a reputation for ignoring/dismissing or minimising parents concerns. However, in the past couple of days their social media team escalated matters by apparently asking their supporters to report critics to Twitter for hateful conduct.

MMN have been alerted to another issue regarding the way they have re-framed the definition of childhood sexual abuse (CSA). At best, this reflects an inability to deliver a difficult message in an age appropriate way; at worst, it blames the victim and re-frames CSA as non-consensual acts.

What’s going on? MMN decided to take a closer look.

Sexual Revolution - Part I & II

We are living through what some have dubbed the second sexual revolution. In 2019 Kink-shaming has become a cardinal sin. BDSM has been normalised and a new generation of edge lords are pushing the boundaries of acceptable sexual behaviour. Nappy fetishists, exhibitionists and those practising “age play” are clamouring for space within the LGBT umbrella. Certain sections of the Left have embraced this ideology and brand those who question such practices as prudes and bigots.

It was within a similar climate that the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) operated in the 1970’s. They were a pressure group who sought to legalise paedophilia by re-framing it as a civil liberties issue similar to the gay liberation movement.

In 1976 the National Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty) made a submission to Parliament arguing that "Childhood sexual experiences, willingly engaged in with an adult result in no identifiable damage." Labour top brass Harriet Harman, who was then working as a lawyer for Liberty, argued that "images of children should only be considered pornographic if it could be proven the subject suffered.”

Peter Hain had clashed with PIE in 1975 when he was honorary vice-president of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality. He later reflected that "there was a kind of loose trendiness around the debate that horrified and appalled me. It was crossing a boundary that should never have been crossed in my view." Eventually the group were driven underground as key members were arrested and convicted on charges of child sexual exploitation.

Whilst it's easy to dismiss such attitudes as a relic of a bygone era, in 2013, the Guardian newspaper published an article apparently defending paedophilia. The author quoted Tom O'Carroll - a former chairman of PIE and convicted sex offender. In the article O'Carroll argues that society's outrage at paedophilia is emotional, irrational, and not justified by science, insisting "It is the quality of the relationship that matters. If there's no bullying, no coercion, no abuse of power, if the child enters into the relationship voluntarily…the evidence shows there need be no harm."

Language Police

A child is sexually abused when they are forced or persuaded to take part in sexual activities. This doesn't have to be physical contact and it can happen online. Sometimes the child won't understand that what's happening to them is abuse. They may not even understand that it's wrong. Or they may be afraid to speak out.

- NSPCC definition of sexual abuse.

The definitions of child sexual assault which are more problematic come from the NSPCC Speak Out Stay Safe Programme - which is designed to be delivered by NSPCC volunteers in a primary school assembly. In the short presentations a number of topics are covered - from neglect, to physical assault, bullying and sexual abuse.

At KS1 (ages 5 to 7) children are taught that ‘privates are private’ and that:

“Sometimes people may want children to do things with their bodies which might make them feel uncomfortable or unsure. [emphasis our own]

In the KS2 assembly (ages 7 - 11) a voice over introduces a more thorough definition:

"Sexual Abuse: When a child is being made, asked, or rewarded for doing anything with their body that frightens or worries them – or being made to do this to somebody else.” [emphasis our own]

We have studied the content and at each point sexual abuse is explicitly defined as an activity which frightens or worries a child. Contrast this to their definition of physical assault which does not rely on the child feeling upset or worried and emphasises the actions of the abuser:

"Physical Abuse: This is when someone deliberately hurts or injures a child’s body. This could be by kicking, biting, hitting, shaking or leaving marks."

We appreciate that material must be delivered in an age appropriate manner but this guidance does not reflect the complicated nature of CSA and the impact that grooming can have on children. It focuses on the child's reaction and not the actions of the perpetrator.

"Grooming is when someone builds an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse..Many children and young people don't understand that they have been groomed or that what has happened is abuse. [emphasis our own]

- NSPCC definition of grooming

Abusers groom children to consent to abuse - even to find it physically pleasurable. In the recent Finding Neverland documentary, the testimony of Michael Jackson's victims reflected this reality - and the way this compounded their shame and guilt. It took them many years to recognise what happened as abuse. This is the actual legal definition of CSA - the one that the NSPCC delivers to adults which emphasises that “Sometimes the child won't understand that what's happening to them is abuse. They may not even understand that it's wrong.”

The Speak Out Stay Safe guidance makes no mention of this. Adults are given the legal definition and children a different one - in which abuse is defined as something which worries or upsets them. This could be seen to place the blame on the victim for their own reaction. Critics are concerned that this definition is effectively re-framing childhood sexual abuse in a way that implies a child is able to consent to sex with an adult.

This could simply be a badly worded attempt at delivering a difficult subject in an age appropriate manner. However, in recent years the media has consistently and persistently re-framed adults raping children in a way that sanitises abuse. For example, victims who are coerced into sex with adults are often described as “child prostitutes” - implying that children are able to consent to sex with adults.

More recently The Charity Commission published a 142 page report into the behaviour of executives at Oxfam, after it was revealed that aid workers had abused children as young as 12 - demanding sex in exchange for aid. The report found that senior management oversaw a culture of bullying which allowed abuse to be minimised; whistle blowers harassed and allegations covered up. However, when Sky News reported on the matter, the headline re-framed the story as a “sex scandal” - even though many of the victims were children. Time and again the media seems to be forgetting what the law says. Children are unable to consent to sex and all sex between children and adults is rape.

Back in the NSPCC

In light of the conflicted definitions of child sexual assault, the workplace culture at the NSPCC deserves greater scrutiny. In recent days, some interesting details have come to light.

Transgender activist and glamour model Munroe Bergdorf was appointed as an LGBT Ambassador for Childline, without it seems, the person responsible performing adequate background checks.

Bergdorf was subsequently dropped as an ambassador, after evidence emerged which showed she had been encouraging children on social media to contact her privately, without their parents' knowledge. She’d also made homophobic comments on-line, referring to a friend as a “hairy barren lesbian.” In a statement the NSPCC confirmed “her statements on the public record...were in breach of our own risk assessments...specific to safeguarding and equality.”

Tweet from Munroe Bergdorf's account encouraging young people to message privately

The media reframed the decision as the result of bullying from transphobic hate groups, omitting all mention of safeguarding or equality concerns. Despite knowing about her safeguarding breaches, 150 NSPCC employees signed a letter condemning the NSPCC’s decision to drop her.

Later it emerged that James Makings, the person responsible for hiring Bergdorf, had linked his fetish social media pages to his LinkedIn profile, where he described his role as 'Celebrity and Talent Manager for NSPCC & Childline.' His social media fetish account showed him masturbating in a toilet in work, wearing a rubber suit in a video titled “cub pisses and wanks in rubber.” His account has subsequently been locked and evidence deleted, although cached copies have been saved as evidence.

Chris Godfrey, the commissioning editor at the Guardian, reframed the ensuing public outcry as bigotry, tweeting that "transphobes are now targeting the gay man who hired Munroe Bergdorf at the NSPCC because they've found pictures of him online in fetish gear. The assumption is that because he is a gay man who is into fetish gear cannot be safe around kids. This is homophobia at its most vile."

The NSPCC responded by sending this tweet to their 220K Twitter followers:

Tweet from NSPCC account

24 hours later Make More Noise's Twitter account was permanently suspended without warning or explanation. We had previously compiled a thread outlining our concerns with the NSPCC’s “Speak Out, Stay Safe” programme. You can find a copy in the appendix.

The actions of the NSPCC raise serious questions about the way that third sector organisations are allowed to operate. Senior staff in the UK’s leading child welfare charity do not seem to understand the basics of child safeguarding or appropriate sexual boundaries. Professor Rosa Freedman is a human rights lawyer who summarised the issue thus:

“The criticisms being levelled against the NSPCC are not about individuals being homosexual or transgender, just as the criticisms being levelled against Oxfam are not about individuals being heterosexual white men. The criticisms levelled are about organisations taking responsibility for ensuring that people working with children uphold the organisation’s policies on child safeguarding. Publishing photographs of your genitals whilst in an NSPCC building violates child safeguarding standards and goes against the organisation's values. Encouraging children to contact you privately violates child safeguarding standards and goes against the organisation's values. That is not to say that either individual has harmed or would ever harm a child – the issue is not about what they have done but about whether they uphold or contravene the organisation's child safeguarding robust policies and procedures."

Considering the report published about Oxfam by The Charity Commission, organisations should be more mindful of their conduct. The NSPCC is the only child welfare charity in the UK with statutory powers to issue a care, supervision, or child assessment order - which can result in a child being taken into care. As such they have a duty to behave in a way that embeds best practice throughout their corporate structure. Instead they have used their position to smear whistle blowers as bigots - creating an atmosphere in which it appears wrong doers are protected and those raising concerns are demonised. Eventually red flags become green lights and it is in just such an environment that predators thrive.

At the time of publication James Makings remains in post and the NSPCC have not responded to evidence of inappropriate conduct. Twitter have yet to reinstate our social media account or provide any justification for their decision.

D.J. Lippy

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