When the Village is Afraid

Autumn has me feeling thoughtful

Autumn has me feeling thoughtful

It takes a village to raise a child.” – African saying

A few months ago, my friend and I were at a crossing near my home. A child of around 10 rode his bike through the crossing: this despite the fencing which is clearly designed to discourage people from doing just that.

You shouldn’t ride your bike like that, my companion, a middle-aged man, said. It isn’t safe.

“Well, you’re a pervert!” the young lad replied.

When I was a kid, growing up in a Detroit suburb, I knew pretty much everyone in my block. Not just my own friends, but their siblings, and their parents, too.

This meant that if a child misbehaved at or near someone else’s home, she or he ran a high risk of being told off by the other adults in the neighbourhood: not just their own mum, or dad.

The recent crisis in Rotherham, plus the ongoing one around celebrities from the 80s and earlier, has us all distressed: adults and children alike.

But what happens when natural concern about cruel and unnatural acts sometimes becomes a case of smoke always = fire? When the living and the dead alike are seemingly convicted by popular opinion, the tabloids, and our fears?

Remember the “Satanic Ritual Abuse” scare of the late 80s and 90s? Allegations of supposed child-abusing “Devil worshipping cults” flew thick and fast, resulting in dozens upon dozens of children being taken away from their parents.

Parents who, it later turned out, had done nothing wrong except to get caught up in someone else’s religious agendas. And no, I’m not talking about Satanism: just the opposite, in fact. What was the basis for these false allegations? In part, people seeing what they wanted to see. What they expected to see. A situation which, I believe, had more than a bit of similarity to the McCarthy trials of the 1950s.

In the 80s and 90s, people with fundamentalist agendas believed – or said they believed – that there was a Satanic coven in every other town and village in the UK, whereas US Senator Joseph McCarthy saw “a Red under every bed”.

Are there Satanists? Sure, a few. Read a bit about them, though, and they come across more like exceptionally materialistic Yuppies, than people who believe in an actual Devil. Did they abuse children? Again, look into the scare of the 80s and 90s in this country, and all the allegations turned out to be false. There was one group who dressed up, in order to scare and then abuse children.

But they weren’t Satanists. Just sick, sick bastards.

Were there Russian spys in America in the 1950s? Of course. Did the McCarthy trials turn up any Reds under any American beds, or in the sewers*? So far as I know, none.

They did find people who belonged or had belonged to the Communist Party. But having political beliefs which are not the norm, and spying on your country for another one are not the same thing – not last I checked.

A lot of people lost their kids, and reputations, during the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare, here in 1980s and 90s Britain. A lot more, I suspect, lost their livelihoods, reputations, and friends, during the American horror that was the McCarthy Era. So many, in fact, that a well-known playwright wrote what many feel was his best play about it.

Am I saying that child abuse doesn’t take place? Of course not. But consider the effect of fear, and scare-mongering, on the current generation of children, and the generations to come. And on us: the alleged adults.

Consider, if you will, my friend. He was called a “pervert” by a young kid, simply because my friend dared to give that child what was, in effect, safety advice.

Now tell me that this Village of Great Britain isn’t afraid, or that there’s never lots of smoke, but no fire.

We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom …” – John Proctor**, “The Crucible” (1953) by Arthur Miller

*My favourite Urban Myth. They’re down there, all right, those Commies. Or, if they aren’t, it’s only because they’ve been eaten by the alligators.***.

**One of 19 people hanged during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Giles Corey wasn’t hanged. Corey, a man of over 80 years of age, was crushed to death under a door covered with stones, after he refused to enter a plea.

***which are also supposed to populate the American sewer system.

About Sheila N

Enough about me. Art by Tom Brown.
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2 Responses to When the Village is Afraid

  1. Tina Stevens says:

    Sadly, this sort of thing has existed, in one way or another, throughout history. As communication takes quantum leaps in technology, it’s easier for the paranoid to make themselves heard and cause pain and ruin where none should exist. Take, for example, my nieces recent (and current) troubles. No problems actually exist, but paranoia and abuses of power have made her life miserable. Of course such perversion exists, but we all need to be more informed, less paranoid and more responsible about what we perceive and what is actually true. I know I am afraid to even speak in any way to any child for fear of being accused of something. It’s frustrating and dangerous in so many ways.

    • sjn25 says:

      “Don’t look back in anger, or forward in fear, but around in awareness.” A favourite quote from American humourist James Thurber, and which seems apt.

      As you say, both frustrating, and dangerous.

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