Like any right-thinking Australian, I was outraged to learn from a newspaper that our oldest bank has broken the law on 23 million separate occasions. ‘What if one of those transactions involved me?’ I thought, before rushing to check my statements. And when I learnt that the bank who’s current advertising slogan is ‘Help, it’s what Australians do’, and whose TV commercials boast a long-standing commitment to alleviating the struggles of ordinary Australians, has more recently been extending a helping hand to international terrorist organisations and paedophile rings, I seriously considered closing my account. But the same article also told me that almost all those 23 million offending transactions involved a vanishingly small number of Westpac accounts and I found this qualifying quant somewhat reassuring. Just as, after being told that the drought and bushfires which have wreaked such devastation in our rural communities are the consequences of climate change and, ergo, my fault, I was relieved to hear Australia’s chief scientist say that whatever the Sydney Morning Herald and the ABC may want you to believe, there is no evidence directly connecting climate change to drought, and there is nothing statistically historic about the bushfires. Just as, after learning that women attending Australian universities have a 25 per cent chance of being sexually assaulted, I was relieved to learn that a significant number of the assaults which informed that statistic, and which prompted sections of the media to talk about the ‘rape culture’ of our campuses, were acknowledgements by female students that they had merely been looked at by men (not male students) in an unwelcome manner as they travelled to and from those campuses on public transport.
The wonderful thing about statistics, and the reason you can’t trust people who trade in them as far as you can spit, is the way that, in the right hands, the same data can be extrapolated to reach radically different conclusions. But there is a statistical sideshow to the Westpac scandal which no additional data can mitigate, and about which we should be far more worried than we are about any kind of corporate malpractice. Westpac’s negligence may have enabled only a small number of evil bastards to profit financially from the abuse of children. But the banking royal commission has links with another, still ongoing investigation which tells us that the number of Australians who subscribe to the kind of websites offering such entertainment is very large indeed. And that, according to Federal Police assistant commissioner Debbie Platz, ‘Australians are driving the market’ to the extent that ‘the government could give us their whole budget and we will still not eradicate the problem.’
What does this tell us about modern Australian society? I’m no Richard Dawkins, but it seems to me unlikely that the sexual needs of the human species – or any geographically-isolated branch of it – can change in any substantive or observable way over a few decades. Yet it is not so very long ago that the problem of child abuse was dealt with and contained pretty effectively by our police and judiciary. This is partly because in those pre-digital days if you discovered you had paedophilic urges you were faced with a very simple choice. You could act on those urges by physically abusing a child, and very probably be sent to jail, where you would be subjected to the mercy of your fellow prisoners. Or, having recognised that such urges were an aberration, and that acting on them would probably destroy your life, you would decide never to do so, and take care to conceal that aspect of your personality for the rest of your life. Critically, the only way you could ever have come into contact with other people who shared your tastes would be if you happened to share a jail cell with one. But such was the innocence of the analog age. What the internet has done is enable potential paedophiles not just to indulge their appetites to a large degree without physically touching a child, but also to identify themselves not as sick individuals, but as belonging to part of ‘a community’, and one that is growing at a truly terrifying speed.
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