The doublethink that allows tabloids to campaign against online porn

A teenage rapist was excused by a judge because he had been "corrupted" by online filth. Where's the evidence?

Two fourteen-year-old children, separated by an ocean but united in the pages of the Daily Mail.

One, a British boy, tied a “Hello Kitty” apron around the eyes of a five-year-old girl and made her perform a sexual act on him. Wearing his school uniform in the dock of Cambridge Crown Court, he listened as Judge Hawkesworth blamed “the world and society” for allowing him to become “corrupted” by his exposure to sexualised material on the internet - further evidence of the need for the Daily Mail’s ‘Block Online Porn’ campaign.

The other, an American girl named Kylie Jenner, is famous for being the younger half-sister of Kim Kardashian, a woman who achieved fame through the release of a sex tape in 2007. Kylie can be seen with her sister in the Mail “stripping off” to “pose in bikinis.” She is pictured “displaying her … trim figure for her two millions (sic) Twitter followers to ogle at.”

There are those who are concerned about the sexualisation of children, and there are those who think that it’s fine to print pictures of a 14-year-old girl posing in “skimpy bikinis” and “tiny wetsuits” to sell newspapers, but only an institution as morally bankrupt as the Mail could hold both views simultaneously. Only the sort of editor one can imagine stalking the newsroom with sparkling white semen stains decorating the crotch of his handmade trousers, sneering contemptuously at his own readership, sickened by the girls he pimps to them, his skin coated with a stickiness that no amount of scrubbing and showering can rinse away.

Judge Hawkesworth himself is now a victim of this schizoid doublethink. On Wednesday he “spared” a teen “corrupted by internet porn”, his sentencing a convenient hook for the Mail’s campaign; but by Thursday an article described him as a “soft sentence judge” - a headline later altered (note the URL) to refer to a “cheap sentence”. Hawkesworth’s fate is to be cast as a heroic villain, a dangerously-liberal conservative judge who endangers the children he protects.

The Judge deserves some scrutiny though, as this isn’t the first time he’s come to national attention for unusual rulings. In 2011 he gave a suspended sentence to a 26-year-old man who had groomed a 14-year-old school girl for sex, ruling that he was “simply a young man who was unable to control his sexual urges.” His argument invoked the myth of the self-guiding penis; the idea that men are helpless ballistic spunk missiles, a careless whisper away from deploying their payload over some innocent bystander. It’s an idea usually espoused by men trying to excuse their crappy behaviour; people like Brendan O’Neill, whose penis forces him to wolf-whistle at passing girls, and writes many of his columns.

Judge Hawkesworth blamed impulses in this latest case too, sympathizing with a young boy who, according to the Mail, “later admitted he regularly looked at hardcore pornography on a laptop at home.” “I’m satisfied it was impulsive and I believe you have become sexualised by your exposure to and the corruption of pornography,” the judge is reported as saying: “Your exposure at such a young age has ended in tragedy. It was the fault of the world and society.” Not the parents, nor the school, nor even the town – nothing so crudely specific.

The phrase, “sexualised by your exposure to and the corruption of pornography,” is syntactically dubious and semantically void. ‘Sexualisation’ is one of those terms like ‘big society’ that has become synonymous with “something I can’t adequately describe.” It is a mythical mental health issue invented by campaigners who feel that it’s ‘common sense’ that children are be damaged by sexually explicit material, but who are unable to define either the damage or the causes beyond terms that are so vague as to be meaningless.  In effect the judge seems to have invoked a new mental health condition for the purposes of giving the child a lighter sentence.

This condition - new to medicine - is brought on by exposure to a class of entertainment that covers everything from erotic fiction writing to water-sports via knee-jobs and macrophilia, but which emphatically does not include topless women (or 14-year old bikini models) in tabloid newspapers. It leads to the generation of ‘hormones’ – unprecedented in teenage boys - which in turn persuade  patients to do things like coercing a 5 year old girl into performing a sex act. If this model is true, and a majority of teenagers view porn, then only some miracle is preventing horny youth gangs invading nursery schools up and down the land.

“The case has fuelled demands for stricter controls to be put in place to stop children accessing online porn,” according to the Mail, who cite no examples. They fell foul of a PCC complaint by some bloke recently, and ended up removing an article that falsely inflated public support for an automatic internet filter. Still, their editorial line – one of them at least - has strong support from powerful politicians; people like the rising Conservative star Claire Perry, an MP who campaigns on her opposition to the sexualisation of children. I asked Perry on Twitter what she thought of the Mail’s regular bikini shots of Kylie Jenner. She didn’t reply. 

 

Kim Kardashian: "a woman who achieved fame through the release of a sex tape in 2007". Photograph: Getty Images

Martin Robbins is a Berkshire-based researcher and science writer. He writes about science, pseudoscience and evidence-based politics. Follow him on Twitter as @mjrobbins.

A protest in 2016. Getty
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Fewer teachers, more pupils and no more money. Schools are struggling

With grammars and universal school meals, both main parties have decided to answer policy questions no one is asking.

If you ask people in Britain what the ­biggest political issues are, schools don’t make the top five. Yet last week Labour set its first party political broadcast in a fictional classroom where a teacher described Jeremy Corbyn’s plans for schools’ future. Without a Labour government, the teacher opines, there will be no more libraries, or teachers, or school trips. Though the scenario is a flagrant breach of the law – teachers must remain politically impartial – education isn’t a bad place for Labour to start its campaign. Schools really are quite screwed.

Three things are hitting hard. Schools have less money, fewer people want to be teachers, and an avalanche of under-sevens is hitting the playgrounds and won’t stop for several more years.

How did we get here? In 2015 the Conservatives pledged to keep school funding at the same rate per pupil over the lifetime of the parliament. Yet while the money coming in has remained flat, schools have faced huge hikes in costs, particularly staffing. Big increases in mandatory pension contributions and National Insurance have taken their toll; so has the apprenticeship levy. The
Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that all told, schools will have lost about 8 per cent of their budget by 2020. That’s £3bn of savings that must be found. Or, more bluntly, the starting salaries of 100,000 teachers.

It is worth remembering at this point how huge the schools sector is and how many people are affected. About half a million teachers work in the 20,000-plus state schools. A further 300,000 people work in allied professions. There are eight million children and an estimated 12 million parents. Lump in their grandparents, and it’s fair to say that about 20 million voters are affected by schools in one way or another.

The budget squeeze is leading many of these schools to drastic measures: firing teachers, increasing class sizes, cutting music from the curriculum, charging parents for their child’s place on a sports team, dropping transport provision, and so on. Begging letters to parents for donations have become commonplace; some have asked for contributions of up to £60 a month.

On top of money worries, teachers are abandoning the profession. In 2015, an additional 18,000 went to work in international schools – more than were trained at universities over the same year. They joined the 80,000 teachers already working in British schools abroad, attracted by higher pay and better working conditions.

Graduates are also snubbing teaching. With starting salaries increasing at less than 1 per cent a year since 2010, new teachers are now paid about 20 per cent less than the average graduate trainee. Changes to higher education are also such that trainees must now pay £9,000 in order to gain their teaching qualification through a university. The government has missed its target for teacher trainees for five years now, and there is no coherent plan for hitting it.

No money and no teachers is less of a problem if you are in a demographic dip. We had a bizarrely low birth rate at the turn of the century, so we currently have a historically small proportion of teens. Unfortunately, the generation just behind them, of seven-year-olds and under, is enormous. Why? Because the “baby echoers”, born in the 1970s to the baby boomers, had children a bit later than their parents. Add to that the children recently born to immigrants who arrived in their twenties when the European Union expanded in the early 2000s, and Britain is facing an El Niño of toddlers. By 2025 a million extra children will be in the school system than in 2010.

To keep on top of the boom the government has been creating schools like a Tasmanian devil playing Minecraft. But 175,000 more places will be needed in the next three years. That’s the equivalent of one new secondary school per week from now until 2020.

In fairness, the government and councils have put aside money for additional buildings, and roughly the same number of parents are getting their first-choice school as before. The free schools policy, which delivers new schools, has not always been well managed, but it is now more efficient and targeted. However, many more children combined with squeezed budgets and fewer teachers typically leads to bigger class sizes. Most classrooms were built to house 30 pupils. Exam results may not get worse, but no parent wants their child working on a makeshift desk improvised out of a windowsill.

Instead of addressing these challenges, both main parties have decided to answer policy questions no one is asking. Theresa May wants more grammar schools, ostensibly because they will give more choice to parents – though these are the only schools that pick pupils, as opposed to the other way around. And she says they will aid social mobility, though all the evidence (and I really do mean all) suggests the opposite.

Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, is offering free lunches to all seven-to-11-year-olds, which sounds worthy until you realise that children from low-income families already get free lunch, and that feeding every child a hot sit-down meal is virtually impossible, given the limited space and kitchen facilities in most schools. Plus, the evidence this £1bn policy would make any significant difference
to health or attainment is pretty sketchy. Labour has also sensibly talked about cash and promised to “fully fund” schools, but it isn’t clear what that means.

What’s missing so far from the Conservatives and Labour alike is a set of policies about teacher recruitment or place planning. The sector needs to know how schools will be built, and where the teachers will come from for the extra kids. In other words, the message to both sides is – must try harder.

Laura McInerney is the editor of Schools Week and a former teacher

Laura McInerney taught in East London for six years and is now studying on a Fulbright scholarship at the University of Missouri. She also works as Policy Partner at LKMCo.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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