Po­lice con­sider pay­ing for child abuse tip-offs

Kapi-Mana News - - CONVERSATIONS -

The war against child abuse may gain a new weapon – money. The po­lice pro­pose to start pay­ing for tip-offs about child abuse, in the same way they have paid for in­for­ma­tion about other crimes.

There is some­thing re­pel­lent about pay­ing for in­for­ma­tion about such an ap­palling crime, but the po­lice have made a rea­son­able case for it. The prob­lem is that too of­ten the wider fam­ily or the com­mu­nity knows that a child is be­ing harmed, but do not alert the po­lice.

The po­lice be­lieve that money would help them crack the wall of si­lence in such cases. If they are right, then it’s hard to ar­gue against it, as the new Chil­dren’s Com­mis­sioner An­drew Be­croft says.

It’s an in­dict­ment on all of us that pay­ments like this have to be con­sid­ered, as he says. ‘‘But if it leads to more dis­clo­sure of abuse and it’s done with safe mea­sures in place and it saves a child’s life, who can be against it?’’

It’s cru­cial that the money be used to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion and the in­former would not be a wit­ness at trial. Pay­ments to wit­nesses raise se­ri­ous ques­tions about re­li­a­bil­ity and trust­wor­thi­ness.

If their pay­ment be­comes ob­vi­ous there will in­evitably and rightly be ar­gu­ment in any court case. Since po­lice in­tend to pay only for in­for­ma­tion, the threat to a fair trial should be avoided.

How­ever, that isn’t nec­es­sar­ily the end of the ar­gu­ment. Pay­ments to an in­for­mant might be shared with a ve­nal per­son pre­pared to be a false wit­ness in a court case.

At the very least, pay­ment sets up a pos­si­ble prob­lem - and there is lit­tle doubt that de­fence coun­sel will raise tough ques­tions in court.

That is as it should be. Wit­nesses in court must be tested and their ev­i­dence put un­der close scru­tiny.

On the other hand, paid in­for­mants are a nec­es­sary and long-es­tab­lished prac­tice in other ar­eas of the law. Tips have helped se­cure con­vic­tions for a wide range of se­ri­ous crimes. Why should child abuse be any dif­fer­ent?

One of the most trou­bling as­pects of child abuse is that it is so of­ten winked at. ‘‘It takes a vil­lage to raise a child, and it takes a vil­lage to abuse a child,’’ as was said in Spot­light, the re­cent film about the Bos­ton Globe‘ s ex­po­sure of abuse by the Catholic church.

Pay­ment might help un­ravel the ties of fear, ap­a­thy, con­form­ity and in­dif­fer­ence that al­low the abuse to flour­ish. Some­times the end does jus­tify the means.

In this case, the bal­ance seems to lie one way.

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