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Written on December 6, 2009, and categorized as Secret and Invisible.
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The word paedophile has become shorthand for ‘pervert’ or ‘deviant’ or even ‘criminal’. Perhaps it has replaced the word ‘gay’ which on the street, as any child knows, means weak, bad or useless. Kids don’t even connect the word with sexual orientation, it’s just slang.

But it’s not just kids doing this, and I think it indicates that something more profound is happening than mere carelessness with language.

Some months ago, I took photos of some council workers right outside my living room window.

They were doing "maintenance" work they shouldn’t have been doing, and which was damaging the grass which fronts the building, and despite being asked to stop by myself and other residents, they had refused.

So I went down to explain why, but was met with the proverbial middle finger. They were not listening, so I pulled out my Nokia N95.

Producing a camera phone was a protective / defensive act on my part, so I understood their indignation when I did that, and I was prepared for it. But to my amazement, they rounded on me, and called me a paedophile.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I have heard children using this word in similar fashion, but these were grown men, calling another adult a paedophile.

I strongly rejected their use of the word, and said, "so, what, you’re a bunch of kids are you?" but they just didn’t get it.

A brief power struggle ensued. When they saw the camera, they were exposed. Photographic evidence was potentially going to land them in trouble, so to them, mine was a threatening act. Calling me a paedophile was their attempt to disregard my authority to challenge them. Using this language was their counter-attack. By calling me names associated with disgust and crime, they were trying to deny me the right to use my camera.

Still, they were in my environment, messing it up, and I was entitled to use non-violent means to stop them. I was indeed photographing these people without their consent, but with their full knowledge, going about their work in a public space, i.e. the grounds of the estate where I live. Not wanting to get too Daily Mail about it, but my council tax pays their wages.

The situation deteriorated to the point where the most aggressive worker was demanding that I destroy not just the photos but also my camera. I ignored him; though unpleasant, the fuss had at least stopped the work. I called his boss, who turned up in twenty minutes and resolved the situation.

My lasting observation was that these low-paid public employees may be under-educated, but they are not stupid. They belong to a broadly disenfranchised, unrecognised group of working classes, which by now has a slender grasp of the concept of human rights, including their own.

I don’t think while using the word that any of these workers consciously made the connection with crimes against children, but they did understand the link to protection of the vulnerable, and they knew they were using a ‘nuclear option’ connected with sexual behaviour, and that it was the most derogatory of insults.

Misguided and inappropriate their use of language may be, they are keenly aware of the mechanisms of power. They are simply using the language of the aggressive neo-liberal state to defend themselves.

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Written in response to this photograph from Mark Hunter (read the comments).

Posted via email from Dean Whitbread

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