I had a bit of a lie-in this morning, so I was still in bed as I watched the newspaper review on Sky News. I say that by way of apology if I don’t quote accurately comments by reviewer Martin Daubney, described on his Twitter profile as “Journalist/broadcaster/public speaker. Campaigner on men & boys' issues” and co-founder of the Men and Boys Coalition. He mentioned the opinion piece written by Jane Moore in The Sun, “Quick reminder: not all men are crazed perverts”, and said that recent news stories had created “a toxic time for masculinity”. No. It isn’t a toxic time for masculinity. It is a toxic time for abusers. And that is a good thing.
In her column, Jane Moore reports on a father who checked into a double room at a hotel with his daughter. It was the only room available and they had gone to Macclesfield to visit his dying mother. Suspicious staff at the hotel called the police. After talking to the pair, the police were satisfied that everything was okay.
Jane Moore’s point is that this was wrong: she acknowledges that there are paedophiles, but says that “rather than robotically adopting the ‘all adult men sharing a room with a young girl must be a paedophile’ mindset, a modicum of common sense must be factored in?”
The girl’s father is quoted as saying: “one minute I was brushing my teeth, the next I was being told I was a paedophile.” No. I doubt very much that this happened. I imagine that Cheshire Police more accurately told him that they were checking.
Moore says that the hotel has since apologised and said it had “got it wrong”. No. They did not get it wrong. They got it right. And Travelodge need to have the courage to stand up and explain WHY it got it right.
As Moore says: not all men are paedophiles. But some are. And paedophiles do take children and young people – the girl was 14 – to hotels to abuse them. Hotels can’t turn a blind eye to the fact that the facilities they provide are used by some to abuse others. They need to be on the look-out for suspicious behaviour.
In her column, Moore says the hotel should have observed the pair’s body language, the way they interact, or “quietly taking him to one side to prove their matching surname.” No. No, no, no, no, no. Hotels are not the police. Hotel staff are not trained to investigate and have no power to detain guests. In this case, everything was normal and above board. But imagine the scenario if hotel staff tried to question a paedophile who had taken a victim to a hotel. He – and the victim – would be off. The opportunity to arrest him and recue the girl would have been lost.
And having the same name is not a guarantee that a person is not an abuser: it is the sad reality that most abuse takes place in a family context. Moore is an experienced journalist. I can’t believe that she doesn’t know this.
As a parent, it is not nice to be questioned by the police about your motives towards your children. A few years ago, I was questioned by the police at Heathrow airport en route to Turkey with my young son. As they were growing up, I tried to take each of them away for one weekend a year to a destination of their choice and he had chosen Turkey. At 4.30 am or 5.00 am, they wanted proof that his mother had consented – the fact that I was happily married to his mother didn’t make any difference. The fact that my wife was fast asleep and not answering the phone made the situation worse than it could have been.
But I am glad that the police took the action they did. They were acting to protect my child. I love my children and want them protected. I will do all in my power to protect them. As uncomfortable as the experience was, I am glad that the police were on the look out and also doing all that they could to help to protect my son.
The father in the case reported by Moore should reconsider. Yes. It is uncomfortable to be questioned by the police about the welfare of your children. But they are acting to protect her. Imagine this alternative scenario: What about a case in which hotel staff who are suspicious about a man and girl checking into a hotel do not take action because they don’t want to risk being pilloried by the media. But the man is a paedophile and the girl is raped.
Which of the two scenarios has the potential to cause more damage? The police asking questions of an innocent man to ensure the protection of his child? Or a girl being raped and abused because hotel staff adopted the attitude that “it’s none of our business”. If I was the father, I would be thankful that hotel staff are aware of the dangers and prepared to do the right thing to protect children.
Which brings me back to Martin Daubney’s comments. It was his comments that prompted me to write this post. I hadn’t read Jane Moore’s column until I started to research it.
Daubney was challenged by this morning’s co-reviewer, the former Apprentice contestant Michelle Dewberry, who pointed out that it wasn’t a toxic time for masculinity, or a toxic time for men; but a toxic time for abusers. She is right. As a man – I’ll leave others to decide whether or not I’m a masculine man – I am delighted that abusers are running out of places to hide.
Just a few years ago, they could hide in plain sight. Nobody was interested. Then they had to hide in the shadows. Now, light is being shone in the shadows and abuse is coming to light everywhere. That is a good thing.
But not for Daubney. He explained that he works in schools and talks to students about issues such as this. He said that youngsters now “have to think twice about sending a text in case they find themselves on the front pages.” Well, good!
A normal text is hardly going to land anybody on the front page. And if people are sending texts that might land them on the front page, then it is good that they think twice before sending it.
I am not bothered one way or another whether somebody finds themselves on the front pages. I do care about whether people are being abusive or acting inappropriately. And if men and boys are being forced to “think twice” before sending a text, or acting in a particular way towards a woman or girl, then so be it. If they were acting normally, appropriately, respectfully, and gentlemanly, there would be no need for them to think twice.
If this is a sign that abnormal cultural norms are beginning to change – I doubt it, but I live in hope – and that this is the start of women and girls being able to live their lives free of the fear of abuse, then that is a good thing.
As Moore and Daubney said: “not all men are perverts.” But unfortunately, some are. And those of us who aren’t need to stand up and say “enough is enough” and help to create a toxic time for those who are.