HAVE YOUR SAY:
Shopper Rant - I am not a paedophile, honest
12:00pm Monday 12th July 2010
Welcome to the latest Shopper Rant opinion column which asks why even the most innocent contact with children runs the risk of you being called a pervert or paedophile. Join the debate by adding your comments.
HAS anyone else noticed the growing trend to treat anyone who shows the slightest bit of affection towards children as a paedophile?
Just last week I was travelling on the number 63 bus from Peckham to Elephant & Castle when a young couple stepped on board with their toddler son in a pushchair.
As he sat there gobbling down his takeaway chicken and chips (that's a rant for another day by the way), I noticed that he kept pointing at me and giggling.
Shortly afterwards a ketchup-stained french fry was heading in my direction and landed upon my man bag while the standing parents stared blankly into space.
Not one to complain about such a trivial incident, I turned towards the youngster and, after a couple more seconds of giggling and pointing, mirrored his giggles while offering a finger for him to grab.
But when I looked up at the parents - expecting an apologetic smile, or a roll of the eyes for the chip incident - I was instead greeted by a steely stare from the mother and a "what are you looking at, perve?" from the father.
Needless to say, I hopped off at the next stop and made my way to Elephant & Castle on foot.
But as I made my way down the dusty muggy streets of Old Kent Road I found myself recalling numerous other examples of 'paedo-steria' which have come my way.
Two weeks ago a gentleman, who will remain anonymous, called the News Shopper newsroom to report that a "man pretending to be a News Shopper photographer" had attended a summer fete.
The caller then said he had scanned all editions of the newspaper that week looking for the photographs - but could find none of them.
Then came the big moment as the gentleman concluded: "If he was a photographer, the photos would have been in the paper - so it must have been a paedophile".
Of course, as it happened, we had saved the perfectly innocent photos for our next edition - which was duly explained to the caller.
But what does it say about the state of fear in our country, that a fully-grown adult's first assumption of a polite professional photographer is that he is out to harm or take advantage of a youngster?
Are the horrors of Madeleine McCann still too fresh? Or is it the culture of fear which we, the media, create?
These are not isolated incidents. On almost a weekly basis, parents, who are perfectly happy for us to photograph their children, refuse to provide us with their names for the picture caption "just in case a paedophile is reading the paper".
Maybe we should take a leaf out of Michael Jackson's book and mask our children?
Or maybe we should stop them from talking to strangers - even when in our company?
This column in no way reflects the official position of News Shopper or its parent company.
What do you think? Has paranoia over child safety gone too far? Have you had similar experiences to the one described here? Why should perfectly innocent encounters be treated as something sinister? Add your comments below.
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