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Gymnastics New Zealand
Paedophile Hysteria . Index

The Southland Times
September 28 2006

Sleaze and safety

We need to keep recalibrating how well our society is protecting its most vulnerable members from the predations of the sleazy

It's a restless task because it really takes a constant process of assessment and correction, reacting to changing times without losing bedrock values.

Most would agree that the safety of our children is paramount but also that this is not achieved by clumsy superabundance of caution, to an extent that creates excessive mistrust and an amplified climate of fear.

Guidelines for teachers' physical contact with children have lost some of the stringency that was imposed by a 1990s code of practice influenced by the Christchurch Civic Creche case. The Early Childhood Council has warned our children have been getting "quarantined" from men because of sexist recruitment policies linked to the previous decade's "paedophile hysteria".

The shortage of male teachers is troubling and there is certainly a need for careful correction of this imbalace. A telling indication of an easing of outlook is the New Zealand Educational Institute's new guideline that restores, for instance, physical contact like cuddling distressed children, or changing nappies. Obviously there needs to be clear safety details, for the protection of teachers as well as children, but the dynamic had become a tad too uncomfortably constrained. We certainly need to monitor our teachers for trustworthiness but that is not the same as defaulting to a system that sees no place for trust.

Meanwhile, a constriction of rules is developing at Gymnastics New Zealand, an organisation that has become acutely aware of the risk of paedophiles taking photos of young athletes. All spectator cameras taken into the championships in Christchurch are to be registered and labelled.

Was this really necessary? Maybe. It's certainly a delicate call either way. Amid the photographers there's real potential for offence at what they may see as an overheated presumption of ill-intent. It's also entirely understandable that parents would be appalled by the notion that images of their children could become fodder for the debased in private, or even posted on to the internet. If there really is a particular risk at these events, then particular protections may be appropriate.

What is clear, however, is that it would become ridiculous if this became a general practice. This newspaper is routinely able to gladden the hearts of its readers with delightful, endearing photos of young people at sport and at play. Yet on occasion we are scolded for photos that some of our readers insist would excite paedophiles.

No healthy society should avert its proud gaze from its children on the basis of the corrupted values of a tiny minority. If we're prepared to do that we might as well shove them into burqas.

This is not a call to serene indolence, merely appropriate reaction.

In that category, the Crimes (Intimate Covert Filming) Amendent Bill deserves a swift passage into law. It corrects a gap in legislation that fails to allow sufficient penalty for the sly and invasive practice of intimate covert filming, such as with mobile phones. Technology has made this new law an urgent necessity.

The bill defines such filming as "the making of surreptitious visual records of other persons in intimate circumstances, without their knowledge or consent, and in circumstances that the person would reasonably expect to be private."

Nicely put.