lifestyle

Right now it feels like pedophiles are everywhere.

David Farnell, baby Gammy’s biological father.

By MIA FREEDMAN

On Sunday night I watched the 60 Minutes interview with pedophile David Farnell, father of baby Gammy, who was convicted on 22 charges of child sex abuse against little girls as young as four years old. He now has a baby girl of his own in his care. It was disturbing.

On Monday, I watched 4Corners where more pedophiles were exposed. Priests this time, who systematically abused children for decades, ably assisted by the Catholic church who systematically covered up their crimes. It was devastatating to see the utter destruction of victims’ lives.

On Tuesday, I watched a documentary on ABCTV called Code of Silence about child sexual abuse in Melbourne’s Orthodox Jewish community that was also deliberately covered up for years.

should children be left alone with men
Father Kevin O’Donnell was shielded by the Church. Image from ABC’s Four Corners.

On Friday, I woke up to the news that UK Entertainer Sir Cliff Richard’s home had been raided by police as a result of allegations about the sexual abuse of a boy aged under 16 in the eighties. While no charges have yet been laid and Sir Cliff refutes the allegations, it comes soon after the convictions of Rolf Harris and Hey Dad’s Robert Hughes who are both now serving jail time for sexually assaulting young girls during their careers as entertainers.

Strangers, trusted clergy and children’s entertainers. So much abuse. So much of it hidden until recently.

I am exhausted. I am sickened. I am despairing.

I am also anxious.

Because right now it feels like pedophiles are everywhere. In our schools, our churches, our synagogues, our neighbourhoods, our homes. Even in our childhood memories of our favourite TV shows and entertainers.

And as a parent, I don’t know how much more vigilant I can be.

My youngest children are 5 and 8 and we’ve always talked about what to do if they get lost in a crowd. I’ve drilled it into them since they were old enough to understand the concept of being lost.  “What do you do?” I ask them. Their answer is readily prepared. “I find another mother with a child and tell her I’m lost”.

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David Cyprus, from Compass’ Code of Silence.

Like most women, I devote a lot of time  to thinking about hypothetical situations. As terrifying as they are to consider, playing them out in my mind – and in a measured way with my children gives me some small comfort. Or perhaps it’s the illusion of control. Still, I tell myself they would know what to do if we were separated in public. These days when we talk about it though, they have one question. “Why a woman and not a man? Why don’t we tell a man that we’re lost?”

My husband and I look at each other. What do we say? It’s one of those moments where the weight of 1000 awful stories sit heavily in your mouth. Where the words you choose are too important to get wrong. We don’t want to teach them to fear men. We don’t want them to think that all men could harm them.

And yet…..

And yet statistically, we must teach them to be wary of men. We must be wary ourselves.

And almost every mother I know is wary. Extremely so.  Here are just a handful of recent examples from my world:

  • Rolf Harris.

    The single mother whose radar pinged when the old man who lived upstairs in her apartment building took a keen interest in her 4yo son, making him paper airplanes and trying to engage him in conversation from the balcony upstairs when the little boy was playing outside. “He may have been harmless and hopefully he was but I was always on alert and I told my son never to go into his apartment or talk to him if another adult wasn’t around.”

  • The mother of three who was at the zoo with her family and became aware of a “creepy guy” who seemed to be getting a bit too close to her kids and ushered them quickly away towards another enclosure. “My husband said I was over-reacting but I don’t care. This is my job. To protect them. I’m not going to give a stranger the benefit of the doubt when the consequences for my family could be so dire.”
  • Robert Hughes.

    Journalist Tracy Spicer wrote a column recently about how she doesn’t want her kids sitting next to a man on a plane.  It’s a numbers game, she maintains. “Sure, almost 90 per cent of child sexual abuse is committed by someone in, or known to, the family, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics” but of those children who ARE abused by a stranger, 92% of perpetrators are men according to that same data.

And it’s not just a fear of other men, it’s a paranoia about how the men we know, love and trust could be perceived. A girlfriend called me the other day wondering if she had to let the other mother know that she had to pop out to an appointment and her husband would be looking after their son and the little boy who was over for a playdate. “Do I have to ring the kid’s mother to let her know?” she wondered.

Another friend’s husband refuses to walk the young babysitter home, even though it’s just a block away. “It’s not cool to put a young girl in that situation. What if she misunderstood something I said or….” So my friend walks the girl home.

Writer Sam de Brito has always railed against the idea of all men being seen as potential predators. In a recent column on the subject he writes: “When it comes to men and children, we are often viewed as the terrorist living next door, the suspect who sleeps down the hall. In the court of public opinion this “pervert presumption” means men are creeps until proven innocent. Cases of grandfathers and fathers questioned by police because of overzealous bystanders have had much publicity.”

Now that he’s a dad though, and with his daughter now entering the world of stranger danger, Sam has begun to see this issue in a very different light. Keen for some insight, he contacted author and expert in the field of men’s issues, Stephen Biddulph to discuss the current paranoia about men. Biddulph had this to say:

“For decades, in fact centuries, people were in denial that such things could happen – priests sodomising little boys, TV stars molesting pre-teen girls, and so on,” Biddulph says. “I’ve been in dozens of therapy groups where, as it gradually came out, one-third or half of the room had been sexually abused. And that’s equally the case among professionals themselves – psychologists and social workers. It was like a plague.

“Only a serious cognitive dissonance could explain the denial that took place – when kids told their parents, who simply said ‘that’s not possible, you are a terrible child for saying so’.

“So when it finally all came out, and we shifted to the vigilance we should have had all along, it became necessary to suspect everyone,” Biddulph says.

Sam Di Brito

In essence, Biddulph is saying that it’s not that we’re being hyper-vigilant now, it’s that we always should have been. That this new shift towards heightened awareness is simply a correction. Our current attitudes aren’t the mistake. The mistake was the complacency and naivety we’ve had towards men until recently.

I’m not sure if this makes me feel better or not. It certainly justifies my vigilance and the vigilance of every other mother I know.

How do you teach your kids lessons about stranger danger? Do you think that children (and parents) need to be particularly wary of men? 

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