From the British Journal of Photography:
One day after Malcolm Dike took pictures of a sunset from his window, two Community Support Officers questioned him over claims that he could be a paedophile.
A member of the public reported Dike’s actions to the police, as his flat overlooks a youth centre, and it was feared that Dike was taking pictures of kids. ‘It was absolutely outrageous – I have been taking photos for years and never had any problems before,’ Dike told the Daily Mail. ‘My home overlooks the Oasis Youth Centre and apparently whoever complained was afraid I might have been taking photos of the children. That was completely untrue, of course, but the police have no right to come round here asking questions anyway.’
I’m floored. This paranoid, busybody behaviour is setting us against one another in ways we’ve never previously conceived. In the last 10 years many of us have come to the opinion that photographers are either terrorists or paedophiles, and that photography should be tightly controlled (or prohibited) – all without a shred of evidence to back such attitudes up. We prohibit photography on public land, we assume that anyone photographing a building wants to blow it up (and terrorist photography scouts are an as-yet undiscovered phenomenon), and anyone with a camera near children wants to take sexually objectifying pictures of them. I’m fed up with said ‘member of the public’ and sickened by the tin-pot police substitutes who actually gave this more than a second’s thought.
Our over-inflated fears about terrorism and paedophilia are continuing to attach themselves to photography and photographers, for reasons which still don’t make any sense to me:
An ugly incident marred this year’s International Birdman competition. As thousands watched human-powered flying machines being launched from Worthing pier, a man took some photographs of children on the promenade west of the Lido.
Fortunately a concerned citizen spotted him and alerted one of the event’s stewards, who immediately called the police. They were on the spot within seconds, according to Sharon Clarke, Worthing’s town centre manager. “What it showed was that with everyone working together, things can be stopped immediately,” a reassuring thought for the anxious readers of the Sussex-wide evening paper, The Argus, which led its front page on the outrage.
Officers arrested the offender and seized his camera. They then contacted Suffolk police, who searched the man’s home in Ipswich and took away computer data. So far, there seems no reason to suppose that anything untoward was found, but a Home Office laboratory is to conduct an in-depth examination of the material that was impounded.
It’s a strange world we live in when taking innocuous shots of children in a festival crowd can be presumed to be evidence of paedophilia. Of course it doesn’t mean that wasn’t the case, but the fact that it should be the initial presumption is just bizarre. It’s another symptom of the social malaise which led to the creation of the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), with its free hand to make such presumptions without hard evidence of anyone in jobs which may involve contact with anyone the ‘authority’ deems ‘vulnerable’. Which came first, the Home Office’s pushing ‘protection’ as a solution, without a significant problem, or are these fears about paedophilia a reflection of other insecurities in society? We need to understand the causes of this moral panic in order to stop it and stop demonising an increasing number of innocent adults.