Len Davis was a lecturer in social work at Brunel University, and a regular contributor to Social Work Today, the in-house journal of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and the Residential Care Association (RCA). He edited and wrote for the magazine’s In Residence column which concentrated on residential care. Another In Residence writer was Peter Righton, who was later exposed as being part of a network of paedophiles who abused boys in schools and children’s homes across the UK. This Social Work Today page from February 1985 pictures Righton and Davis as part of the In Residence team.
Peter Righton used one of his In Residence columns, entitled Sex and the Residential Social Worker, to call for more tolerance of ‘relationships’ (i.e. sexual abuse) between adult residential care workers and child residents. With the benefit of hindsight, it appears that the article may have been designed to encourage ‘like-minded individuals’ to get in touch with Righton, which could have played a part in enabling him to form a national network of paedophiles with access to vulnerable children. In that column, Righton quotes Len Davis:
“This picture is not presented as an argument in favour of unbridled licence. It is rather a plea against the common view that an unofficial shared orgasm – whether between two residents, between a resident and a friend outside the unit, or even between a resident and a member of staff – is the worst disaster that can befall a residential establishment. It is a plea against the squeamish prurience that would bring obloquy, and even dismissal, on the head of a residential worker who, on request, masturbates a young person too severely handicapped to do the job for himself, (for an instance of this, see Len Davis’s article, Touch, Sexuality and Power in Residential Settings in The British Journal of Social Work, Vol 5, No 4).” (1)
Len Davis’s expertise on the subject of ‘touch’ in residential settings was called upon to help a residential care worker walk free after being accused of sexually abusing boys in a Surbiton children’s home in 1978. This was just one of a number of court cases involving sexual abuse in children’s homes where Davis was called upon as an expert witness. He wrote about the Surbiton case in one of his Social Work Today columns (2):
The care worker’s defence was that he was merely touching the boys’ genitals “to check if they were clean”, he also explained “it was a type of therapy to make sure the boys washed properly”. An unspecified ‘incident’ in a caravan was strenuously denied by – “Good grief, I never did that. I gave the the young ones a kiss and a cuddle before they went to sleep.” The court then heard Len Davis’s testimony on ‘the importance of touch in the residential setting’.
I put before the jury some of the problems of residential staff working with disturbed, unsettled, often unhappy and jealous young people. I spoke about the importance of touch, the nature of deprivation and the power of adolescent sexuality, pointing to the sexual rivalries which develop in group living and to the constant risks faced by staff in difficult areas of child care practice. A great deal – probably the outcome of the trial- depended upon the question of the sexual gratification experienced by the adult. The defendant was presented as an untrained worker holding a senior position. .. It was said he always behaved professionally…. I felt unable to reassure the court that guidelines for practice, supervision and staff training in many children’s homes could be considered of a satisfactory standard and it was admitted that decision-making in the grey areas was likely to rebound at some point on any individual who sought to work intensively with touch-hungry children. (3)
The trial at Kingston Crown Court was stopped after five days when Judge Chris Oddie dismissed the case.
What Len Davis failed to mention in his Social Work Today article is that the allegations concerned two separate children’s homes, one in Surbiton which was run by Kingston Council, and one in Croydon which was run by Lambeth Council.
Up to 25 Lambeth Council-run children’s homes are now known to have been infiltrated by paedophiles, police believe that over 200 children were sexually abused whilst in Lambeth’s care between 1974 and 1994. (4)
Len Davis’s article also omits the fact that a second worker at the Surbiton children’s home fled to the continent rather than face the charges against him. (5)
Len Davis wrote Sex and the Social Worker (Heinemann Educational Books, 1983), which was influential in forming social work practice in residential care, and goes some way to explaining why sexual crime against children was frequently ignored and not subject to investigation. Peter Righton is acknowledged by Davis as having read the draft of this book and “making many valuable and challenging suggestions”.
In the book, Davis supported abolition of the age of consent, which was also supported by the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE). He quotes PIE member Peter Righton on this subject: “chronological age by itself is both arbitrary and misleading as an indication of a persons need to be protected from adult sexual advances”.(6)
He also quotes extensively from Peter Righton’s Sex and the Residential Social Worker article, including this passage which says child sexual abuse in children’s homes ‘should not be a matter for automatic enquiry’:
“It remains true.. that staff are much more likely to be forgiven seven times for vicious cruelty to a resident than once for a sexual liaison with him- even when the relationship is fully desired and enjoyed by both… Provided there is no question of exploitation, sexual relationships freely entered into by residents – including adolescents – should not be a matter for automatic enquiry, nor should a sexual relationship between a resident and a worker be grounds for automatic dismissal” (7)
Staff members too have touch needs. Skin contact with residents may consciously or unconsciously satisfy their own longings. And the physical make up of many young children- their size, their skin texture and their openness of expression – provides a massive invitation to intimacy. The onlooker, therefore, whether resident or staff member, may well interpret ‘response’ as ‘ initiation’ and in some establishments physical contact is limited to the very young. In others, however, the climate allows for touch between staff and even older adolescents as part of their developmental and compensatory needs’ … ‘rarely, I would maintain, is the exchange without sexual meaning for either party, but this does not of necessity make it ‘dangerous’ or offer immediate grounds for ‘suspicion’. (8)
Davis defined young people as often initiating sexual contact and ‘seducing’ the adult staff: In relation to a 14 year old boy, where there was an allegation of sexual abuse by a residential worker, Davis states .. there is no doubt in my mind that Keith’s heightened awareness, his detailed knowledge of sexual activities and his particular stage of adolescent development combined to give him unnatural powers of seduction vis-a-vis the young worker compelled to hand in his resignation. (9)
The young people are presenting themselves in a different light- as pulsating, sexual beings exploring their capacities for sensual pleasure (10)
Len Davis suggested guidelines for social workers which would mean sexual abuse would often go unreported. In common with the writings of Dr Ken Plummer, Peter Righton, and other members of the Paedophile Information Exchange, he tried to make a distinction between ‘child rapists’ and ‘paedophiles’, undermined the notion of offenders and victims, and suggested that intervention by police, families, and social workers was worse than the abuse itself. He also suggested it was social workers duty to condone breaking the law and ignoring official policy on ‘matters of sexuality’.
…in reacting to sexual encounters between adults and children which those involved may, in the first instance, appear to be appropriately categorised as offenders and victims, social workers should consider any differences of approach when the exchanges have been reciprocally desired and reciprocally enjoyed. (11)
Fortunately, the majority of sexual abuse cases with which social workers are involved – whether incestuous or not – while making an emotional and physical assault upon the child, do not put him or her at risk of bodily injury. Sometimes, when working with young people, social workers may need to question the very term ‘sexual abuse’ … the most damaging experience may be the clumsy professional intervention or the exaggerated reactions of family, friends, neighbours or teachers. (12)
It is quite apparent that in matters of sexuality, a social worker’s professional duty is almost bound on occasions to include, first, condoning or even encouraging breaches of the law, and, secondly, ignoring agency policy. (13)
Davis, like Dr Ken Plummer, writes of ‘victims’ in inverted commas. Davis suggests that institutions should avoid getting the police involved in cases of sexual abuse.
In general the avoidance of suspension seems preferable unless the person wishes to go off duty. .. From the young person’s point of view it seems important to indicate that nobody is ‘ telling’ anybody to go off duty. It must be remembered that frequently adults and young people who have become linked in this way have previously had – and still have- an established relationship and its destruction by formal and sometimes legal action can leave the young person with unbearable guilt about the part he or she played. Caring for someone and then knowing that you have lost him or her a job, blighted a career, even forced a person out of their accommodation and broken up a family are heavy burdens for the ‘ victim’ to carry and often they have to be carried for a long time. (14)
.. we can clear our minds of much suspicion, of the need to punish and of the desire for excessive control. I am not celebrating the post-permissive society, lauding unbridled sexual activity and suggesting free sexual exchanges in residential care. I am advocating a hard look at institutional frameworks with a view to lessening the embarrassment, guilt and harshness of response which surround too many aspects of sexuality in residents and staff members. But I go further than that, placing a responsibility on staff – again, both practitioners and managers – to display a far greater degree of kindness in working with events which on first examination may appear to merit retribution. (15)
My experience is that from the moment of investigation, societal violence may often be so strong that all involved are damaged or destroyed in the process. (16)
As this 1983 Social Work Today profile shows, he was a ‘freelance social work consultant’ as was Peter Righton. Both specialised in residential care.
People who promote paedophilia may not be paedophiles themselves, but they provide paedophiles with the intellectual justification to perpetrate crimes against children.
In the UK it is a crime to incite racial hatred – why doesn’t a similar law apply for inciting sexual crimes against children?
(1) ‘Sex and the Residential Social Worker’ by Peter Righton, Social Work Today, 15th Feb 1977
(2) ‘A Case of Indecent Assault’ by Len Davis, Social Work Today, 13th Feb 1979
(3) p.84, ‘Sex and the Social Worker’ by Leonard E. Davis (Heinemann Educational Books, 1983)
(4) ‘Paedophile network abused 200 children’ by Jason Bennetto, The Independent, 19th Feb 2000 Full article
(5) ‘Man flees country after sex charges’, Surrey Comet, 16th December 1978
(6) ‘The Adult’ by Peter Righton, p.242, Perspectives on Paedophilia (Batsford, 1981)
(7) ‘Sex and the Residential Social Worker’ by Peter Righton, Social Work Today, 15th Feb 1977
(8) p.25, ‘Sex and the Social Worker’ by Leonard E. Davis (Heinemann Educational Books, 1983)
(9) p.67, ‘Sex and the Social Worker’ by Leonard E. Davis (Heinemann Educational Books, 1983)
(10) p.30, ‘Sex and the Social Worker’ by Leonard E. Davis (Heinemann Educational Books, 1983)
(11) p.68, ‘Sex and the Social Worker’ by Leonard E. Davis (Heinemann Educational Books, 1983)
(12) p.65, ‘Sex and the Social Worker’ by Leonard E. Davis (Heinemann Educational Books, 1983)
(13) p.107, ‘Sex and the Social Worker’ by Leonard E. Davis (Heinemann Educational Books, 1983)
(14) p.87, ‘Sex and the Social Worker’ by Leonard E. Davis (Heinemann Educational Books, 1983)
(15) p.91, ‘Sex and the Social Worker’ by Leonard E. Davis (Heinemann Educational Books, 1983)
(16) p.102, ‘Sex and the Social Worker’ by Leonard E. Davis (Heinemann Educational Books, 1983)