Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Boys convicted of attempted rape: branded criminals for 'playing doctors and nurses'

Wonder what people think of this one, today's lead story in the Telegraph:


Boys convicted of attempted rape: branded criminals for 'playing doctors and nurses'
24 May 2010

Two boys have been convicted of the attempted rape of an eight-year-old girl even though she admitted in court that she lied about her ordeal. The defendants, who were both 10 at the time, are the youngest people ever to be convicted of the sex offence.

Their case immediately provoked a debate over whether juveniles should appear in a Crown Court, either as defendants or witnesses, especially in a sex offence case where they may be too immature to understand the allegations involved.

The jury was not told that the trial judge had admitted to having misgivings about allowing the case to go ahead. Mr Justice Saunders conceded that the Old Bailey case would have been dropped if the victim had been an adult, because the evidence the girl gave via videolink was so contradictory. The judge also admitted that the system involving child witnesses was far from “ideal”, noting that the victim had been subjected to a string of leading questions which she may not have understood. He said he would write to the Lord Chief Justice suggesting “lessons” should be learned from the way the case was handled.

The girl had told her mother and police that the boys had “done sex” with her in a field near her home in Hayes, west London, last October. Under cross-examination, she denied that either boy had raped her, agreeing that they had just been playing a game.

One of the boys’ barristers suggested that they had been playing ''you show me yours and I’ll show you mine’’, or ''that age-old game, doctors and nurses’’.

After two days of deliberations, the jury cleared the boys, now 10 and 11, of rape but found each guilty of two counts of attempted rape by a majority verdict. The defendants, who both denied the charges, could face lengthy custodial sentences and will be put on the sex offenders’ register, though the judge conceded: “I am not quite sure how it applies to children of this age.”

Senior lawyers and children’s charities described the trial as “horrific and absurd”. Felicity Gerry, a barrister and author of the Sexual Offences Handbook, questioned the decision to take the boys to court, saying sex offences were different from crimes of violence, such as the murder of James Bulger by two schoolboys.

“A lot of children may know that to kill a three-year-old with an iron bar or to drop concrete on a child is wrong, but proper sexual awareness only comes with greater maturity,” she said. “One might think [these defendants] would benefit from good social intervention rather than prosecution.”


The jury was not told that, after the girl had given evidence, the judge expressed misgivings about the process, saying: “I don’t think anyone who has sat through this trial would think for a moment that the system that we employ is ideal. However, the reality remains that we have a witness who said one thing and has now said completely the opposite ... if you had an adult witness who said what this girl said the Crown would not be proceeding.”

The judge rejected an attempt by the defence to have the case stopped, ruling that it was up to the jury to decide whether the girl had told the truth. At the end of the trial he said: “I will at some stage be sending my views about the procedure to those who are most concerned with it.’’

The Ministry of Justice said it would examine the case and any communication from the judge to see if there were issues which needed to be resolved. Both defendants, who cannot be named, were released on bail for psychological reports to be compiled before they are sentenced.


Andy said...

Frank Furedi, Marxist professor and contributor to Spiked, writes on the rape trial here:

"The conviction at the Old Bailey in London of a 10-year-old boy and an 11-year-old boy for attempted rape is bad enough. That the children were convicted despite the fact that the eight-year-old defendant admitted in court that she had made up the story of her ordeal is even worse. But what was worst of all was the very public exploitation of these three children for the purposes of working out adult fantasies.

This sordid spectacle had nothing to do with justice. As the trial judge Justice Saunders acknowledged, the case would have collapsed if the defendant had been an adult, because the evidence provided by the young girl was so inconsistent. That’s another way of saying that in these proceedings, what really counted was not the evidence on offer, but adult prejudices and the imperative of sending the ‘right message’.

What makes this case particularly important is that it exposes the insidious consequences of the disintegration of adult control over children. In recent decades, parents and adults more broadly have come under tremendous pressure not to discipline children. Punishment has become a dirty word in child-rearing manuals, smacking has become stigmatised, and parents who raise their voices to their children are denounced for being ‘emotionally abusive’.

Teachers, too, face tremendous pressure to pretend that they don’t see any misbehaviour in their classrooms. They have very few effective means of disciplining youngsters. Consequently, most of the time children’s behaviour is relatively uncontained by adult behaviour. By the time they are 10 or 11, far too many children know that if they use the f-word in public or misbehave on the streets, the grown-ups around them will pretend that they heard and saw nothing.

The flipside of grown-ups’ paralysis towards containing children’s behaviour is a new reliance on formal processes to compensate for the loss of adult authority. So when the situation with a certain child appears to get out of hand, we issue an anti-social behaviour order or, as in this Old Bailey case, carry out a showtrial. Through such a showtrial, the prosecution can pretend that it is punishing individuals who are ‘criminally responsible’ rather than admitting what it is really doing: disciplining children. As is the case with all showtrials, the aim was not just to punish the so-called offenders but to send a message to a wider audience."

Andy said...

Here is the conclusion to the Furedi piece:

"Adult obsessions with sex are recycled through the discussion of children. As a result, society tends to sexualise children through interpreting youngsters’ behaviour as if it is driven by adult motives. The adult world – including many child experts and policymakers – often see sexual motives behind normal children’s behaviour. We live in a world where six-year-old children are expelled from school for inappropriate sexual behaviour, where a 10-year-old boy is put on the Sex Offenders’ Register for touching a girl, and where playing ‘doctors and nurses’ is increasingly interpreted as the precursor to an act of sexual violence.

Sadly, ‘inappropriate sexual behaviour’ by young children has become a new policy obsession. Typically, the difference between ‘inappropriate’ and ‘appropriate’ behaviour is in the eye of the beholder. New guidance for social workers says they should recognise that children are at risk from their peers and that they should not interpret sexual play as ‘normal’. Social workers are advised not to have any kind of ‘high threshold’ before taking action. But the truth is that there are a great many forms of behaviour and experiences that are entirely harmless in the context of children’s lives, yet which would take on a more sinister meaning if they were carried out by an adult. Today, officialdom is falling into the trap of rediscovering the dark side of adult behaviour in the playpen.

One final point. This showtrial is not just a classic example of how not to treat children. It is also symbolic of the broader infantalisation of English justice. The spectacle at the Old Bailey had nothing to do with a normal courtroom drama. The transformation of the court into a make-believe primary-school classroom – with specially lowered chairs and break-times for the kids – was fuelled by an adult fantasy that pretends justice is the equivalent of the real thing. The adults played their bit – with the judge leaving his wig and gown at home – as they went through the motions of treating the proceedings as if they were a proper trial. The mothers of the boys sat by their children as if they were waiting in a dentist’s surgery.

But in truth, this make-believe court scene was part of a ritual which criminalises children who play doctors and nurses and which incites eight- and 10-year-olds to act out the role of ‘rape victim’ and ‘sexual predator’ for a watching adult audience. In their hearts, everyone involved in this mock-trial knew that everything about it was fake."

Andy said...

Interesting that Furedi and Peter Hitchens here, come to similar conclusions on the trial:

"My guess is that the police and the CPS were frightened of being publicly martyred by our sex-obsessed culture, which combines an almost total neglect of children with a sickly sentimentalisation of them. They swallowed the conventional wisdom that James Bulger and Baby Peter were the victims of failed state intervention, rather than of unrestrained, fearless human evil.

Then there’s the trial itself, the process of justice turned into a nursery game, so as not to frighten the little ones. On this occasion, two other children – too young to face adult justice – were on trial. But it could have been an adult. This foolish episode, rather than being seen as an over-reaction to a nasty but forgettable episode, is now being used as an argument for yet more steps to make it easier for children to give evidence.

This is just an attempt by Left-wing reformers to use the trial as an excuse to get what they want anyway. It doesn’t follow at all, and is very dangerous. Children who make criminal accusations – and the adults who encourage them to do so, often for their own ends – should learn very quickly indeed that the law and the courts are utterly terrifying. They should have to stand in gloomy, intimidating courtrooms, in the ­presence of the person they accuse. They should be cross-examined rigorously.

Judges should wear wigs and deliver freezing lectures on the wickedness of telling lies. There should be no teddy bears, video screens or bottles of syrupy fluid for them to clutch and suck. Because children are suggestible and they can lie, even while holding teddies and slurping blackcurrant juice, and those lies can send an innocent person to prison for many years, and how else are they going to understand this?

This isn’t playtime. It’s a nasty, unforgiving game called ‘Shall we ruin the defendant’s life, or not?’ Those who think this is hard on the children have a simple solution. Don’t pros­ecute on the basis of what they say. If a child’s testimony can’t stand up in hard conditions, then it shouldn’t be taken seriously in law.
But above all, this case was about the rape of innocence. There was a time not at all long ago when children knew almost nothing of sex. Now they can’t avoid it if they watch TV, and are incessantly taught about its most loveless aspects in schools.

In one particularly ghastly moment in this trial, we learned how a police officer asked one of the boys what he knew about sex. The boy replied: ‘I don’t know what it means.’ Asked how to make a baby, he replied: ‘We need a man there and need a woman and that’s it. I don’t want to tell you this.’

Those words ‘I don’t want to tell you this’ move me profoundly. Despite all the filth and slime by which he had been surrounded, at school and on TV, the boy had still preserved an essential modesty about things that he instinctively knew should remain private. And what kind of country is it whose police officers think they have to mouth phrases from a sex-education manual? I will tell you. It is a mad country."