By TERRY SWEETMAN
There could be a dangerous sex offender - a child abuser - living quite near you. Then again, maybe not.
It's all a bit hazy because the statistics of child abuse are not nearly as bad as our worst imaginings.
It sometimes seems that predators lurk at every school gate but Australian Government statistics show there were 5828 substantiated cases of child sexual abuse in Australia in 2010-11. Of them, 350 were in Queensland.
Court records confirm that the vast majority of them happen within the family (which seems a misnomer) and within the home.
It is unsavoury to score offences against children, but in the same year that there were 350 substantiated cases of sexual abuse in Queensland, there were 2702 cases of emotional abuse, 3254 of neglect and 1375 of physical abuse.
They, too, were predominantly crimes within the family.
- And yet those who caused the harm of children due to emotional abuse or neglect, are not on an online shaming hit-list!
Nationwide (in 2011-12) sexual abuse was the substantiated form of maltreatment in "just" 13 per cent of 48,420 substantiated cases of abuse.
And, according to the Australian Institute of Criminology, 11.1 per cent of children were sexually victimised by "strangers''.
Yet, we seem to have become morbidly fixated with the "dangerous stranger'', the sleazy, insatiable, uncontrollable, and mentally warped creature best caricatured by the late unlamented [name withheld].
[name withheld], a serial child abuser, was hounded from the prison gates to the state border and beyond until, eventually, death removed him from our minds.
It was one of the most disgraceful episodes of mob thuggery we have seen.
It was, ominously, given tacit encouragement from then National Party leader and now Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney (Facebook) who urged the hounding to continue until [name withheld] was locked up in an institution.
It achieved nothing except make a few hotheads feel like heroes and to move a perceived threat from one town to the next and eventually to the next state.
The whole ugly business did little more than chew up a lot of police time as they struggled to ensure the safety of a terrible man from harm at the hands of some who weren't a whole lot better.
There was much tut-tutting about vigilante action but now the Queensland Government is thinking about taking steps that could facilitate it.
Police Minister Jack Dempsey thinks Queenslanders should be allowed to receive information about dangerous sex offenders.
The justification for this seems to be that they do it in Western Australia.
- Just because someone else does something, doesn't make it right! Hitler killed millions! Would you think it was also okay to kill millions because he did it too?
They do a lot of things differently in WA. For example, it seems to have a disproportionate number of child sexual abusers, with 598 cases substantiated in 2010, despite having a population less than half of that in Queensland.
When its sex offender register website went live last year, it received 60,000 visitors in the first week with 20,000 seeking more information.
An online posse of 60,000 in pursuit of 598 offenders seems to take the exercise beyond community protection to public prurience.
Dempsey says there have been no instances of vigilante action in WA but are we to believe not one of those 20,000 curious citizens did something to harass an offender?
- But it does happen, as you can see here.
Are we to believe not one of them wrongly shared that information and muttered in a neighbour's ear?
Are we to believe that requiring a driver's licence and an address from those making inquiries is any more of a safeguard than demanding they have opposable thumbs?
Are we to believe that the provision to punish those who "create, promote or increase animosity toward or harassment of a person" could not be easily evaded by those who would deny legal intent?
More importantly, is there any evidence that even one child has been saved from abuse?
(To my surprise, the Institute of Criminology quotes one study that found child sex offenders actually have low rates of recidivism compared with other types of offenders. While people are peering at the weirdo down the street, they could be taking their eyes off Good Old Uncle Bob.)
- We have three Australian recidivism studies, here, here and here.
Despite the approval of Ian Levers, boss of the Queensland Police Union, I would think the service needs the extra burden of safeguarding exposed sexual offenders like it needs a return to serge tunics.
And, if I were a minister trying to economise on police resources, I wouldn't be putting my hand up to assume more responsibilities.
If allowing people to prowl through police files would make a jot of difference and save one child from abuse, I'd go along with it.
But this is just another meaningless hot button for the Government to push as it taps into the most base fears and ignoble instincts of people.
I wonder what happened to the liberals in the Liberal National Party.