Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Baby P: Controlling the control freaks

Ten percent of children abused? Could be.

I knew a social worker in child abuse prevention. He or she was committed and dedicated to his/her work, but gave it up abruptly out of frustration, because he/she was sitting at some traffic lights, glanced at the car alongside, and recognised a male abuser sitting there with a car full of children. My friend had worked for months to get this man out of one family, and he had simply moved into another relationship with a new set of step-children in his sphere of influence.

How do we address this problem? Convicted paedophiles can be required to notify police of their whereabouts; does this need to be extended to in-family abusers? There is a grey area between out-and-out predatory paedophiles and the more common control freaks who bring a family into a state of subjection with a combination of emotional, physical and sexual dominance.

If we are to affect this problem, we are going to have to invest much more generously in social work departments. More important is resources to support women in the sphere of influence of these control freaks. I know from experience that it is an incredibly frustrating job trying to help these people, who suffer intensely, yet find it difficult to separate because they believe they "love" the guy, and at the same time they believe he will kill them, the children or himself if they do leave.

My impression is that it is a disorder of will: the passive partner's will has been subjugated by the will of the controller. Peer group support from womens' refuges is vital: are they funded adequately? Finally, the power of community and neighbourhood bonds can be strengthened by provision of community spaces and community workers.

Would it do any good to teach 14-year olds the basics of relationship forming, giving them information of the early charm and later controlling characteristics of a potential abuser?

Is it worth while putting these suggestions forward? I doubt it very much. There is an institutional inflexibility in the health and social service hierarchy. They have their own special language, their own hidden assumptions, and like many institutions they are impervious to suggestions, especially radical suggestions, from outside. In a way, they are control freaks, imposing their will on those who they perceive to be under them.

I do not feel good, leaving it like this. Is there any enthusiasm out there to get us to write to our MPs advocating reform of child abuse prevention services?

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