Adding new insult to old injury

Whose side is the children’s minister on – the abuser or the abused?

Two very different events have brought sexual abuse into focus this week: the report of the suicide in custody of a sex abuse victim, Joseph Scholes; and the extraordinary letter in which Margaret Hodge described another victim, Demetrious Panton, as “an extremely disturbed person”.

Joseph’s tragic death is a vivid illustration of just why we need a minister attending to issues of protecting vulnerable children – a position which was created in June, and to which Margaret Hodge was promptly appointed.

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When love hurts

Men now want and expect more parental responsibility – but have they changed enough to handle it?

The death of four little boys killed by their father will be every separated woman’s nightmare. Those strong enough to read the details of how Keith Young drove his sons to a remote spot and poisoned them in his car will have been chilled. Not by how extreme Keith Young’s behaviour was – although it was – but by how much of the situation sounded like the ordinary stuff of a bitter divorce. Maybe they will be asking: is it ever safe to allow angry men to have sole contact with their children?

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Put them on hold

Deregulating directory inquiries is a dogmatic exercise in privatisation – with no benefits to the consumer

This week we taste the fruits of the government’s latest contribution to improving our quality of life: opening up directory services to competition. Government-speak calls this “market improvement” intended to make life better for “consumers”. The reality is that it’s a pointless privatisation. A simple act has become a complicated issue of consumer choice increasing the frustrations of daily life.

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A toast to George Best

The British press has got a new bogeyman: poor old George Best. He was found drowning his sorrows in his local pub and – not surprisingly – brawled with what turned out to be a News of the World photographer. Now it’s open season on him. Doctors are queuing up to tell us how there were many far more deserving recipients of a liver transplant. Presumably his rapid death would have been their preferred option.

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Thank God that’s over

Half-term is hell – parents and children need proper summer holidays, not odd weeks off

School holidays, especially half-term ones, are one of this society’s great unrecognised sources of inequality. For a few parents, today will be the first day back at work after one of the many unofficial holidays they now take. This half-term will probably have been spent in the UK but in February they, like Geoff Hoon, are likely to have been skiing. In October they will probably have a late holiday in the Mediterranean or a city break in Europe. Their kids, lured by the change of scenery or exotic venues, won’t be too difficult.

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Slaves in Soho

Violent gangs have taken over the UK sex trade – an unacknowledged result of intervention in the Balkans

If Tony Blair took a short stroll from Downing Street to Soho, the heart of London’s sex trade, he’d find human rights abuses right under his nose every bit as terrible as those in Iraq. Increasingly, coercion, human trafficking and violence dominate the UK’s sex industry. Yet strangely, this domestic human rights issue fails to arouse crusading zeal. Women in the sex trade, however unwillingly they arrived there, don’t attract any high-minded concern.

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Not so wacko Jacko

Western values counsel that we can buy anything and be anything, so why balk at Michael Jackson?

The general consensus about the Michael Jackson interview on ITV on Monday is that it revealed how truly mad he is. It did the opposite for me, making me wonder more about the craziness of the culture that produced him. For Jackson’s wacky life is the embodiment of many dearly held western beliefs: that you can be anything you want, buy anything you want, create any lifestyle and indulge any needs you have. It’s an unsettling thought as we inch towards a war to defend those values.

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Perverts and narcissists

Channel 4′s cashing in on a Chinese artist eating a dead baby is a greater outrage than the cannibalism itself

Channel 4, which last month brought us the first “performance” autopsy, is now offering us the chance to see pictures of a Chinese performance artist eating a dead baby’s flesh. Last year they also attempted to make us laugh at the sexual abuse of children. Around each there have been complex intellectual debates, especially amongst the liberal intelligentsia, but somehow the simple question always gets overlooked: whatever happened to limits and taboos?

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