Not Blaming The Parents

What is disturbing is that many paediatricians and other doctors support Southall. They claim that he is being hounded by a determined campaign to deny the existence of child abuse. This is nonsense. The country is obsessed with child abuse. So far from denying it, we all suspect it or are encouraged to suspect it everywhere.

Minette Marrin, in the Sunday Times, on the case of David Southall. Southall had ‘accused a Shropshire woman of drugging and killing her 10-year-old son who had hanged himself’.

What she says about ‘obsession with child abuse’ may be true, but only to a point: there is an obsession with the figure of the paedophile in our midst – the feared outsider who shatters the innocence of the child and the family idyll. However, the most common perpetrators of child abuse are parents and other close family relatives, and this is largely denied. In many situations, the idea that a parent, or parents, might be responsible for abusing their children is frequently denounced as horrifying. To be permitted to entertain such an idea, one must first of all attribute some degree of guilt to the child. One need not think too hard to come up with a germane example.

One of the paediatricians whose support Minette Marrin found ‘disturbing’ wrote a comment piece on Southall for the Observer:

This present case that has led to his erasure from the medical register concerned a woman whose 10-year-old son had been found dead in the family home from hanging. Her other eight-year-old son was subsequently taken into care because he was allegedly expressing threats to kill himself.

Because of concerns about the possibility of an abusive cause for the first child’s death, Dr Southall was instructed by the family court and social services to interview the mother and explore these issues. This he did in the presence of a senior social worker who took a written account of the whole interview. The mother claimed – and the GMC chose to believe her – that Dr Southall had accused of murdering her son: Dr Southall denied that he had said this or that he had interviewed the mother in an aggressive and intimidating manner and his statements on this were completely supported by the social worker who had been present throughout the interview.

Whilst Marrin exults in the fact that Southall was struck off the register for what she calls ‘monstrous déformation professionelle’, one is still left with the question of what factors could bring a ten year old child to hang himself.

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3 Responses to “Not Blaming The Parents”


  1. 1 WorldbyStorm December 13, 2007 at 8:53 am

    I think you’re spot on. There is such a fine balance to be struck. And a lot of the time it feels as if the media divides into camps in order to weigh in on one or other side. So, much heat, little light. I’m always reminded by the line in Sherlock Holmes where Watson peers out of a train at a bucolic countryside and comments on how peaceful it looks. Holmes dismisses him saying that if he had any idea of the cruelty behind those facades he would think again (I paraphrase – but you get the idea). There is a willful effort – I think – to often divert attention away to the ‘other’ in all these issues. So society broadly becomes a dangerous environment. Only the domestic is safe. Stay indoors, etc, etc…

  2. 2 Hugh Green December 13, 2007 at 2:40 pm

    Love the Sherlock Holmes story. I think when it comes to the media representation of children, it is often in terms of the purest and most valued form of private property. In these terms, the protection of children often seems shackled to a parental right to do with the child as one pleases. So it becomes near impossible for media outlets to produce regular stories on specific questions of parental abuse and cruelty.

  3. 3 WorldbyStorm December 13, 2007 at 10:47 pm

    Now that’s a twist on it I hadn’t thought of before Hugh. Bloody hell. (retreats to think about it a while!)…

    wait… (returns) … possible biological component to those bonds (a telling term in this context) ?


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