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"I thought I caught a child sex offender outside a primary school, I still don't know if I did the right thing."

When Anna came face to face with a child sex offender, it wasn’t what she expected.

By ANNA JAMES.

It’s probably the one of the most confronting situation a person can deal with: face to face with a child sex offender.

And there it happened – 9am on a Tuesday morning.

Like every other Tuesday morning, I was hightailing it to the train station, gulping an Up and Go. Half running half walking down the street, I spotted a hyper-yellow tricked out ute parked outside the local primary school. Amused, I peered in to the car to see what kind of person would drive such an ostentatious car, and I really wish I hadn’t.

The driver had his footy shorts on the ground and he was masturbating.

Three things struck me instantly. Firstly, the man would have been in his 20s – around my age. He looked like a normal gym-going sandy haired bloke that I’d meet at a bar. He was far removed from the decrepit trench-cloaked, stereotypical paedophile that I had built in my mind.

Secondly, he was parked on a brightly lit main road at a time where mothers ferried their kids to school. This was no late night car park attack, which again, challenged my stereotype. The time and place of the incident indicated that the man clearly didn’t care who saw him. Perhaps he wanted to get caught.

And finally, I realised how ill-prepared I was to deal with this situation. I’d never in my life envisioned how I would react to a man abusing a child, in any shape or form. I’d never had that discussion with my friends and it was not mentioned during the Stranger Danger demos at school. Hauntingly, for one of the most horrifying situations a person can face, there is no plan of action.

The man didn’t notice me as I paused outside of his window in horror. He was utterly engrossed. Thankfully there were no children around, despite him being mere metres from the playground. Stunned, I began to run towards the train station.

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What if he snatched a kid? This thought stopped me in my tracks five or so metres in front of his car. I bolted around and walked towards him. The man was still masturbating furiously completely zoned out. He didn’t see me coming towards him. I managed to climb behind his ute and take a photo of his number plate. Then, I ran all the way to the station where I called the police.

 Would you know what to do if you came face to face with a child sex offender?

When I arrived to my office, I explained to my colleagues what I had just witnessed. They debated what they would have done. Many would have confronted the man (one suggested with a baseball bat). Few said they would have stayed next to the car until the police had arrived. A surprising number of girlfriends would have ran straight out of there. One called me an idiot for going back.

Being five foot nothing, I’m never inclined to take the Hulk approach and staying with the offender until the police arrived didn’t feel safe. I thought I had done the right thing, but I’m no longer sure.

The fact is, no one is prepared to manage this situation, and we need to start that discussion.

I never heard back from the police despite my insistence that they contact me with any news. Three years on, I still replay the incident in my head, reassessing how I could have handled it better.

 What would you have done if you had seen the same thing?