opinion

"I can't stop thinking: Does the 12-year-old girl know she was his real target?"

Really, how do you comprehend any of the details of the Stephanie Scott murder case? Now we find out from police investigators that the smiling 26-year-old Leeton school teacher we have seen in so many photographs; a woman who was one week away from getting married was not the intended victim of her murderer 25-year-old Vincent Stanford.

The intended victim was a 12-year-old girl that school cleaner Stanford had become obsessed with. The young girl was known to play at the school after hours and on weekends – as so many kids do. I’ve seen it a million times.

“Mum, we’re just going to school to play a bit of basketball.”

“Mum, we’re just going to school to play.”

“Everyone is going to school to play, can we go?”

"A young woman. Happy. About to be married." Image via Nine News.

Children want to play together on their weekend. If they are a bit older meet up and talk on a bench on the school grounds. They are safe at school even though it's the weekend. It's school. Children and school go together like a horse and carriage. Innocent. Meant to be.

The very opposite of sick men with sick violent fantasies.

Last year on April 5 the 12-year-old girl didn't go to school to have a play. She had gone away for the Easter weekend with her parents. Stanford did not know this and had come to school on that public holiday even though it was his day off because he had plans. No one could see these plans. They were in his head and have only come to light after he pleaded guilty to the murder and aggravated sexual assault of Stephanie Scott this week.

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Stanford and his plans went to school on that Easter Sunday. So did Stephanie. A young woman. Happy. About to be married. Making sure the lesson lists for her students were up to date for the substitute teacher while she was on her honeymoon.

Stephanie making plans for her wedding. Her last call to the bus company to check on times for her wedding guests was around midday. Stanford making plans too.

The 12-year-old girl Stanford had been planning to attack didn't come to school that day, but Stephanie did. Just writing that sentence is incomprehensible.

Do the parents of that little girl know Stanford had plans for their daughter?

Do the parents of that little girl know it was their daughter who had been targetted?

Does the 12-year-old girl know? I so hope not.

Had she spoken to Stanford as she was walking to the tuckshop, maybe being nice as girls are told to be? Maybe helping him in the school yard? Maybe she never even had contact with him, but he had been watching her. He had chosen her.

What was in Stanford's head is the nightmare every mother fights against thinking about when her child is late coming home from the park - or the school - or anywhere for a play.

And I say mother deliberately because it's women who live with the fear of violence from men inside them all the time - that's why we double check that windows are locked at night when our partners don't even give it a thought or we carry our car keys in our clenched fists as pathetic little weapons at night on our way home, while men make their way in the dark probably thinking about whether they should have some toast later. We live with that fear because we have heard the stories, sometimes we have been victims already ourselves.

Then we have children and you try to beat that fear with logic. With stats that say that the biggest threat to your child is someone they know. A relative, a family friend. Stranger danger is not the big worry. Put it into perspective.

But your child is late. And the fear grows.

Don't be silly, you say to yourself. They've just lost track of time.

20 minutes. You open the front door and look down the street. Not there.

Moving toward 30 minutes. That's half an hour.

You call mobiles. No one answers. You get that sweaty feeling on the outside and the cold feeling inside and still you tell yourself.

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Don't be silly. Don't be silly. You're being a drama queen.

Then a little flushed being comes in the door. Happy, apologetic and totally oblivious to your terrible imaginings. To the dark world of your worst imaginings you are trying to protect them from.

They are safe. You were silly. They are a child doing childish things as they should.

To think that a human actually planned to hurt a child on that Easter weekend is something I simply can't understand.

How do these men walk amongst us?

Then to know that Stanford actually murdered and raped a woman on that Sunday is incomprehensible. How do these men walk amongst us?

When I was in high-school a race car driver came to talk to us about car safety. He was giving us a talk about what we should do if we were in a car with someone driving too fast.

"You are feeling something in that car aren't you?"

"Yes," we said.

"What do you think it is?"

Someone piped up.

"Fear."

"Yes. And you need to tell them to stop and that you want to get out because that fear you are feeling is real," he said - and this is what stuck with me: "There is always a reason you feel fear, don't ignore it."

There is a reason a woman feels fear. There is a reason fear wins over logic when you are a mother. Men like Stanford are that reason.

These men look like everyone else. We have no idea what is going on in their head as they watch a couple of kids laughing and playing basketball on the school grounds on a warm Saturday morning.

We will never know what would have happened to that 12-year-old girl had she gone to play in the school grounds that morning as she so often did.

We do know Stephanie Scott was raped and murdered by Stanford.

There is a reason women feel fear. There is a reason they carry it around with them all the time. There is a reason a chill runs through a mum when her child is late coming home.

Still, we have to let our children go and play and we have to remember that men like Stanford are the rarest of men.

But on days like today that can be hard to believe.

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