Among the people who almost certainly took comfort from the tone of the national discussion of events in Cleveland in the summer of 1987 were three middle-aged men from a housing estate in Congleton, Cheshire. As emerged in their trials earlier this year, these men had repeatedly been making sexual assaults of the most extreme sort on very young members of their families, sometimes in a spirit of revolting cruelty. One man had raped his sobbing five-year-old daughter, as she was held down by her mother, and buggered his three-year-old son. The other two had indecently assaulted and buggered children between the ages of five and nine. It is reasonable to suppose that these men would have applied the Cleveland affair to their own situation quite thoroughly. While sexual assaults on children are no doubt sometimes unpremeditated, the literature is full of cases where the activity is a highly conscious project, often the project of a lifetime, even when the behaviour that is planned is of the most cruel and selfish variety. Men do, in real life, get married in the spirit of Humbert Humbert - sometimes with much younger and more defenceless targets in view than Lolita. They do - pace the incredulity expressed about certain diagnoses of Dr Marietta Higgs - deliberately get themselves accredited as fit to foster children with the intention of abusing their charges. In the case of Congleton it appears that some fifteen other adults may also have been involved in child sex: it was a 'sex ring' - a vague expression which is nevertheless surely correct in its implication of group commitment to a particular sexual practice.
LRB 10 November 1988 | PDF Download