Police consider paying for child abuse tip-offs
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.