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NICOLA BARRY.

This week, Channel 4 had a two-parter about disabled Greek children dumped in institutions by their families. It was called `Innocents Lost'.

Yes, the country we flock to for a nice sun tan abandons its unwanted children in cages until they rot and die.

Channel 4 producers only made their amazing discovery this year.

I made exactly the same discovery eight years ago. And guess what? Channel 4 made a documentary about it then, too.

What short memories these telly types have. It must be all the gin and tonic.

Back in 1989, such abuses still had the ability to shock.

Someone - anonymous - told me about what he had seen on the island of Leros in the Dodecanese, someone who couldn't recall the horror without breaking down. He called it a wasteground for outcasts.

I remember how the Greeks responded as the story went around the world. The Health Minister was livid.

On the first few TV reports the men and women imprisoned on Leros were naked and in chains.

By the third and fourth they were wearing denim, jeans and shirts ... just for the cameras.

These were people who had never worn clothes in their lives before.

I still have the photos; children with legs at right angles to their frail bodies; old men and women, their bodies twisted and deformed, their arms and legs manacled to beds.

Who knows how long they had been there?

Long enough for someone grossly deformed to grow up, grow old and die - without moving from their bed.

The people on Leros didn't take baths. They were hosed down every morning by gumbooted guards. Like so many cattle. Barely human.

The Greeks are a disgrace. I found myself thinking this again while watching `Innocents Lost'.

BUT then the memory of last week's horror in our own children's homes made me forget Greece.

Naice old Edinburgh, land of the fur coat and the nae knickers, of scones and douce afternoon teas.

Yet, the details of what Gordon Knott and his fellow social workers did to the kids in their care made the behaviour of the Greeks seem almost human.

How is it that our most vulnerable so often end up in the care of the most harmful?

Everybody knew something was wrong in those homes. Still - nobody said anything. In this case not for 20 years. Those in positions of responsibility turned a blind eye.

Social workers! Wouldn't you like to crucify the lot of them?

But - before you do - ask yourself a few questions.

Haven't children's homes always been at the gutter end of child care ... the place where we - as a society - have been happy to dump the children we didn't want? Echoes of Greece.

Is it not the case that we have never rated the people who work in these places? That we decided to pay them peanuts for a job which actually requires unlimited patience and extraordinary skill.

SALARIES are a measure of the value society places on a job. So, the homes employed anyone they could get and the children paid the price.

Isn't it also the case that we never believe children's accounts of abuse? Look at Cleveland.

A recent TV documentary revealed that most of the 121 children torn from their families 10 years ago are now back in care.

We preferred to believe the scandal of Cleveland was wrongly accused parents - not abused children.

As usual, we were wrong.

Is it not also the case that we think of sex offenders as monsters? To distance them from us?

In fact, they are our sons, brothers, fathers - that nice guy next door who works at the children's home.

How often do paedophiles, who have committed horrific offences against children, turn out to be regular church goers, pillars of the community?

Not the animals we fondly imagine.

The Gordon Knotts of this world are highly-plausible, presentable men.

But we refuse to recognise them as such.

Research has shown that paedophiles are more likely to have jobs than other types of offenders.

They are less likely to have a criminal record. Always remember, 80 per cent of all sex offenders are still in the community.

ALL we do is bay for the blood of the few who get caught. Monsters! Lock them up and throw away the key!

But that isn't what happens. They get out and they always re-offend.

That is why they need treatment, why they must be dragged kicking and screaming through the horrors of the crimes they have committed.

It's time we stopped looking upon the work done in children's homes as a social service.

It is an industry, a serious profession.

Above all, it is no place for people who have gone blind because of too much child sexual abuse.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Barry, Nicola
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Dec 11, 1997
Words:796
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