Workers Hammer No. 194

Spring 2006


Scrap the Sex Offenders Register!

Anti-sex witch hunt of teachers and pupils

(Young Spartacus Pages)

It is a sign of the reactionary times in Blair’s Britain that Education Secretary Ruth Kelly was almost hounded out of her job in January for being “soft” on so-called “sex offenders”. A member of the sinister, ultra-right-wing Catholic sect Opus Dei, Kelly is currently preparing Blair’s latest attack on secondary education. Yet even she was placed on the defensive by a hysterical media frenzy about “sex offenders” in schools, one of many such moral crusades that have been detonated by the Blair government’s 1997 Sex Offenders Act. Passed just weeks after coming to power, this act (re-enacted as the Sexual Offences Act in 2003) required those branded as “sex offenders” to register with the police. This register is a witch hunter’s charter.

The issue of “sex offenders” is a political football that has been used repeatedly to ignite often violent public campaigns against those who end up on the register, which currently contains roughly 24,000 names. The term “sex offender” grotesquely and wilfully equates heinous acts such as the brutal murder of Soham schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman with harmless activities like teenage sex, or looking at pornographic images. People’s names can be placed on the Sex Offenders Register even if they’ve never had sex with anyone!

The latest witch hunt was started by the “liberal” Observer running a scaremongering piece that “sex offenders” had been cleared to teach in certain schools, igniting hysteria that might make one think child-rapists and murderers were lurking in the classrooms. The pretext was that, until now, not everyone on the Sex Offenders Register was automatically banned from teaching or working with children. Such a ban was restricted to those on List 99, the government’s official blacklist, which numbered 4200. A tiny number of those on the register had been permitted by the education department to teach. This “loophole” was seized upon for a muck-raking media vendetta in which the “respectable” BBC, Guardian and Independent joined the rabidly right-wing Daily Mail, particularly targeting two people who had been cleared to work as teachers. What “sex crimes” had these two people committed? William Gibson, a former maths teacher, had been placed on the register for a consensual, long-term relationship that began in 1980 when his girlfriend was a 15-year-old pupil, with whom he went on to have three children during a 19-year marriage! Paul Reeve, a popular Norfolk PE teacher, received a “caution” three years ago because his credit card details were found on a US pornography website!

Reeve was forced out of teaching and became the victim of a police dragnet codenamed “Operation Atlas”, a trawl through a list of “paedophile suspects” by Norfolk police. The list came from the National Crime Squad, a unit specialising in searching for people using porn websites, known as “Operation Ore”. This trawl was launched in 2002 when the American FBI provided British police with the credit card details of 6500 people in Britain who accessed an American website called Landslide, resulting in an invasion of privacy by the state on a mass scale. Hundreds of computers have been seized and a staggering 3500 people arrested, including Who guitarist Pete Townshend. Some have been convicted and jailed; even those who are merely “cautioned” are automatically placed on the Sex Offenders Register. Not surprisingly, Operation Ore has contributed to a vast increase in the number of people cautioned for possessing child porn images. In the last decade there has been an increase of 2692 per cent in cautions for this! (Guardian Unlimited, 16 January).

We vehemently oppose such police surveillance which is an outrageous intrusion by the state into people’s private lives. We call for an end to all laws against “crimes without victims” such as prostitution, drug use and pornography; we oppose the existence of a legal “age of consent”, which gives the capitalist state the right to determine at what age youth can engage in consensual sexual activity. And we utterly reject the practice whereby looking at porn is equated with violent crimes such as rape, sexual assault and even murder. Down with the “age of consent” laws!

State out of the bedroom!

For us the guiding principle for sexual relations is that of effective consent, meaning mutual agreement and understanding, as opposed to coercion. We believe that as long as those who take part agree to do so at the time, no one, least of all the state, has the right to tell them they can’t do it. Determining what effective consent is can be difficult, and particularly in sexual relationships between youth and older adults such as teachers, there will always be grey areas. As we wrote in an article titled “Labour’s witch hunt against ‘sex offenders’ unleashes vigilante terror”, published during a media-generated frenzy over “paedophilia” in 2000 that resulted in lynch mobs on the streets:

“‘Paedophilia’ simply means sexual desire towards children. To equate this with child murder and rape is grotesque and partakes of the same reactionary bourgeois bigotry which declares all sex other than heterosexual monogamy to be ‘deviant’. We oppose the persecution of those who engage in consensual intergenerational sex, we oppose the reactionary ‘age of consent’ laws and we have a long record of defending against persecution organisations such as the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) and the British Paedophile Information Exchange, whose leaders were jailed in 1984 for advocating the right of youth under the ‘age of consent’ to have sex with adults.”

Workers Hammer no 174, Autumn 2000

We also oppose the criminalisation of those who look at child pornography which, like all pornography, is simply images and words designed for pleasure. This was the subject of Capturing the Friedmans, a documentary depicting the true story of how two innocent individuals were framed up, jailed and had their lives destroyed by false accusations of raping dozens of children, simply because the father had received images of child pornography through the post!

Ruth Kelly has proposed new measures that will ban anyone convicted or cautioned of any so-called “child sex offence” or “serious offence against adults” from ever working in schools. Ominous noises are now being made about “sex offenders” lurking in the NHS as well!

Dozens of teachers have been hounded out of their jobs and even jailed for nothing other than consensual sexual encounters with teenagers. This was the subject of the November 2005 Channel 4 documentary Sleeping with teacher. Among others it featured Scottish music teacher John Forrester, whose partner was a student when the relationship began and both were shown as a happy couple expecting a baby; Lucy Hayward, who was jailed for two years and placed on the Sex Offender’s Register for a fling with a 15-year-old pupil (who seduced her) who wasn’t even attending the school where she taught at the time. There was no suggestion that these relationships were anything other than consensual.

Criminally, the National Union of Teachers has endorsed Ruth Kelly’s new measures, saying they are “fully in line with the NUT’s approach”. The reformist left — the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), Workers Power and the Socialist Party — have refused to utter a word against this reactionary moral crusade that made front-page news for days on end. In April 1998 the SWP denounced paedophilia as a “sick product of a sick society”, while at other times doing some liberal handwringing over “innocent” people being caught in the web. But today the SWP’s alliance with the mosques in Respect precludes even that. According to Weekly Worker, Salma Yaqoob, a prominent leader of Respect, actually welcomed the government’s crackdown on “sex offenders” as a “positive move” on the BBC’s Question Time (quoted in Weekly Worker, 26 January 2006). The bottom line for reformists (and bourgeois liberals alike) is that they look to the capitalist state — the butchers of Iraq and Afghanistan — as protectors of children.

Marxists oppose these puritanical witch hunts by the state, which are the latter-day version of Christian fundamentalist crusades against “sin”, but are today dressed in “secular” and even “liberal” and “human rights” garb. A case in point is Labour’s proposals to crack down on prostitution which is being marketed as “protecting women from exploitation”. The purpose of these morality drives is to regiment the population and to bolster the repressive powers of the state. The state is not a neutral arbiter, but the instrument for the suppression of the exploited by the exploiters. As such it plays a key role in enforcing the oppression of women (and youth) alongside organised religion and the patriarchal family, which remains the central instrument for the subjugation of women under capitalism. The family is critical for the ruling class to pass on its property to “legitimate” heirs and to instil obedience to bourgeois codes of morality.

For women’s liberation through socialist revolution!

In capitalist society, one of the main functions of the family is to impose on the working class the burden of rearing the next generation. In Britain today the shift from an industrial to a service economy has drawn unprecedented numbers of women out of the home and into the workforce, where they are often concentrated in the lowest-paid part-time jobs. The dramatic increase in the number of one-parent households has been met with reactionary crusades against “absent” fathers and “lack of role models”. This reflects the fact that the nuclear family is expected to play a conservatising role in the upbringing of children. Today the working people, particularly women, face the choice of paying for expensive childcare or staying at home to look after the children and thus living in dire poverty. Either way, working-class parents and children face a climate of constant fear, that every minute of the day “the kids are in danger” — of rape, sexual assault, drug addiction and much more.

The supposed mortal threat to all children has been a central theme of repeated moral crusades of the past decades: the truly bizarre tales of “Satanic ritual abuse” in the 1980s and early 1990s that originated with evangelical Christians in the US and were swallowed by social work departments here; the 1990s scaremongering over children’s homes being “infiltrated” by “organised groups of paedophiles”, which led to frame-ups and prosecutions of hundreds of care workers. These puritanical crusades are also the thin end of a wedge stigmatising all those whose sexual behaviour differs from the presumed “norm” of one man on top of one woman for life. Human sexuality is complex. No amount of state repression or surveillance will change the fact that children do, in fact, develop sexual attractions towards other children and adults, including their teachers.

We seek to win workers, youth and the oppressed to the perspective of building a revolutionary workers party that will fight against all aspects of oppression and state terror, as part of the fight to mobilise the working class to overthrow the capitalist system and to establish societies where the workers own and control the means of production. The family cannot be abolished. Under socialism, it will be replaced by communal childcare and housework; birth control, abortions and quality health care will be free and available to all and youth will be able to live independently of their parents. Only then will relations between people in all spheres, including sex, be genuinely free and equal, devoid of any economic or social constraints, and in the words of Frederick Engels, there will be “no other motive left except mutual inclination”.