It’s the video.
A man takes long strides past a shop window. He’s holding his wrist, or looking at his watch. His steps are firm, purposeful, his head is up, looking around. He doesn’t appear to be in a rush.
He’s not their dad. He’s not their uncle. He’s not a family friend, or a professional paid to care.
He’s your worst nightmare.
Allegedly, this is a man who came to lure two small kids away from safety. Away from the adults who were meant to be keeping watch over them.
A man who came to take them and hurt them.
These children live in Perth. They are a four-year-old girl and a five-year-old boy. They were at a vacation care centre, like thousands and thousands of other kids have been over the last month as Easter holidays have rolled out across the country.
Just like my kids have been.
Watch the WA police brief the public on the incident below. Post continues after video…
It’s the horror story of the day. Tonight, a 52-year-old man has been charged with three counts of sexual penetration of a child, and two counts of deprivation of liberty in connection with this case. We can hope that he has been stopped.
The children he allegedly assaulted were discovered alone in a park at lunchtime yesterday, about one hour after they went missing. A stranger – a very different kind of stranger – wondered why they were playing alone, and questioned it.
Allegedly, no-one had raised the alarm at the Care Centre. No-one had noticed they were missing.
I repeat – your worst nightmare.
There is nothing – save for the fact that those little children are safe today – comforting about this story.
The ripple effect of what happened yesterday will roll on. Hopefully, police have stopped the perpetrator. Hopefully, Care Centres around the country will be asking themselves – “could that have happened here?” They will counting their charges more carefully today. Hopefully, procedures and checks will change and tighten.
The children, and their families, will have been changed forever.
But there’s something else that will happen as the word spreads. Parents will feel a horrible dread. And then a familiar, nagging guilt.
We can't be with our children all the time.
We can't physically stop this from happening.
Parents know that no matter the headlines, no matter the fear and paranoia that spreads when the worst happens, they have to continue to trust that their children are safe with other adults.
School holidays are long. Work holidays are not. Wages need to be earned, bills must be paid, talents need to be used, children have to be taught, parents have to have lives.
Stories like this one make us question everything and everyone around us, makes us vow to hold our kids closer, to ‘never let them out of our sight’, but the truth is, we have to. We want to. And we will.
I have to believe that my son is safe at preschool. I have to believe that the teenagers who rule my daughter’s after school club (and yes, her vacation care) are carefully-recruited, diligent and capable. We have to believe that our sporting coaches, our music teachers, our babysitters and carers and relatives and and yes, our partners, are not going to harm our children.
Without that trust, there’s nothing but a smothering fear that our kids can’t ever be safe unless we are there, our eyes upon them.
Yes, this is our worst nightmare. Yes, monsters exist. But they are mercifully rare. And always outnumbered by the good, the trustworthy, the responsible.
Remember that when you are dropping them off tomorrow, when you are taking them to sport on Saturday, when you are leaving them for moments of sanity and space.
What happened in Perth yesterday is an horrific aberration. It's not usual, or common place, or inevitable.
The monsters don't get to make the rules of how we live our lives.