|Possible Abusers - the accused on one hand, the accuser on the other|
August 21 was a horrible evening. Blustery winds buffeted the windows and the door occasionally mixed with driving rain, and occasionally not. This was merely the harbinger of the horrors. An eye in the storm that heralded the arrival of the troopers.
There was a knock at the front door that no-one was expecting rang on the door. I had three boys spreading toys around my home - my four year old son and the two boys from next door. To help me oversee this chaos was the father from next door as well.
I left them to answer the unexpected knock at the door. I wondered if it might be my neighbour’s wife arrived home early come over to join the party. Or perhaps my partner.
Nothing prepared me for what was there.
There, huddled in the wintry, wet porch were five people. A shortish man with a rather striking white shirt with odd black decorations on it. A tall man (well over six foot) in dark blue shirt and jeans. A youngish woman, dressed in a unmemorable way, but normal-enough looking. This core of three was backed by a further two men for whom I have no description whatsoever. I guess I never got to processing who they were, or if I did, it was masked and lost by the events that followed. It was astounding enough, in such intemperate conditions, to come to my door to be confronted by five people. Five people as I was to find out, who were exceedingly keen to talk to me.
Seemed a little like overkill for Mormons. At any rate, salespeople generally call by the telephone at this hour – yes, almost exactly this hour, 5.30pm the buggers. Trying to sell me some new telephone service from the middle of
. No, they didn’t look like salespeople. India
However, they started like most of the salespeople do. A shortish man asked asked me to confirm my name. I did so and asked them their business – as I do when they contact me by phone.
The shortish man stepped forward and said they were from the Child Protection Agency and they wished to come inside. My guts wrenched sideways. The Child Protection Agency? What did they want? Isn’t that the service that comes and takes children away from families that they deem are unfit to care for the child. My mind screamed. What was this about? Had I done something wrong? So wrong that I was unfit to care for my son? And how would they know anyway?
Despite my fears, my nerves, I realized that no accusation was being made. I was merely ‘catastrophising’ as one of my friends would put it. I needed to establish what they were here for. Later I would realize that five (as opposed to one or two or three) people showing up at your front door either from or supporting the Child Support Agency is not ‘catastrophising’ – it is a catastrophe.
Despite my head full of fears, I felt for them hunkering down from the wind and the rain and almost gave in to an automatic reaction to admit them into the house. However, my head screamed out in protest. No. Who they f#@% do they think they are and what the f#@% do they think they are here for. My home is my castle isn’t it? The last battle I had was winning the right to remain in the home that my son and I had occupied since he was six months of age some two and a half years after his mother had moved out. I felt invaded.
I asked them to present IDs and for them to state their business. The shortish man and the woman provided plastic coated IDs which I did not examine too closely. They looked like any other office badge. I recall that I was not all that impressed by their credentials. A shrink-wrapped credit card on a belt tag – big deal. However, the tall man presented a
police badge which looked pretty authentic. I’ve been brought up well. How do you address a man who holds a gun? Sir – always. Queensland
I repeated my request for their business. The shortish man told me that they needed to discuss my care of my son. That a complaint had been lodged about the nature of his care.
I heard this, but I guess I had already guessed as much. I was not too shaken by this. I gathered my wits. I told them that this was extremely inconvenient, that I had a houseful of people. They were unmoved. I told them I wanted to defer this to another time and I wanted a lawyer present. They pressed on.
At the time, I felt that they told me that I had no choice. Reading a pamphlet that they gave me later in the proceedings, it appeared that I had the option of both – that is to delay the meeting until another time and to have legal representation. In fairness to them, the event was extremely overwhelming for me. (“No-one expects the Spanish Inquisition!”) Perhaps I am maligning the representation they made to me. Perhaps they simply encouraged me to proceed now rather than defer and go for lawyers. The brochure seems to suggest that it is better to cooperate in the first instance than make things difficult. Part of me understands that. Methinks the lady (or man in this case) protesteth too much. If I had something to hide, I would duck for cover. If I remained open and grounded, I might be able to deal with this right now.
However, I am not so naïve as to believe that innocence shines through. A lot of woman (and men) have been burned at stakes for cause of base allegations. I would like to believe that innocence will always win through, but I regret that I do not believe that myself. I (like most people I presume) have been falsely accused in the past. I felt crushed by the accusations, I felt bereft, left adrift. Visions of men going to death row, and later proved innocent by DNA or other evidence flashed through my mind. Even
, without capital punishment for many decades, has its own equivalent in the case of the death / disappearance of Azaria Chamberlain. Her mother, Lindy went ‘down’ for the crime, and three years later, Lindy was released from jail and exonerated of having committed the crime. It was determined that the evidence against Lindy was insufficient to clearly demonstrate that she had done it. Sure, she had an attitude that many didn’t like – but having a nasty demeanour is not evidence of having committed murder. Maybe the dingo done it after all; maybe not. Australia
I felt like I had no choice. I was outraged at the ‘force’ that was present. I do not mean ‘The Force’ (with a capital T and F) of Star Wars which my son so enjoys.
Reluctantly, I admitted the Storm Troopers to my house. I told them that in view of the kids and neighbour down in the living room and play room, I would only allow them to interview me down in the backroom of the house. I admitted five people into the cramped area of my entry-hall and back bedrooom. Six of us were cramped in the recently cleared back room and its doorway. A smallish room, it was currently filled with a largish foldaway couch bed, a desk and one chair, a queen-size mattress up against the wall, some boxes and other miscellaneous household items stored against the walls of the room. Me and five others stood in a little cluster.
In an environment that became increasingly surreal, it was explained that that allegations had been made that I had sexually abused my son. The DCP (Department of Child Protection) was here to investigate those claims. I sputtered my outrage, repeated my disbelief that they could simply enter a citizen’s home, deny legal aid, and then make such accusations. The tall policeman rather foolishly offered “It is not like we have entered unannounced.” I laughed in bewilderment. “What are you talking about? You most certainly did come unannounced. I’ve just asked you to come back another time given that this is the announcement and you’ve declined to do so.” I still have no idea what he meant, but I guess he means that I did technically invite them into my home. Seems like semantics to me.
I asked who had made the accusations. I was told that the privacy act prevented them from revealing the accuser. White hot rage ran through my mind. What system allows an accuser to throw accusations from behind a curtain. Innocent until proven guilty – except in cases of child and domestic abuse. Don’t get me wrong. I think that child and domestic abuse are the most heinous of crimes. They are clear examples of the abuse of power of one (a parent in the former, a partner in the second) over the other. However, the same curtain protects those that would throw false accusations. Is that not a crime of abuse in its own right?
As I write this, the government is appealing the decisions of a judge who has ruled that the withdrawal of Mohammed Haneef’s visa by the government was not appropriate. After the charges against him for aiding and abetting a terrorist effort (the attempted car bomb attack on a Scottish airport) were dropped (some weeks after his being detained) due to exceedingly weak evidence, his visa was revoked by the Australian government and he was shipped out of the country. The government representative defending the government’s decision to appeal ring in my ears: ”better to be safe than sorry.” I agree with the sentiment, but there is a line in the sand where the accusations or allegations are a little thin. This was the case in Mohammed Haneef. What would be the case here?
What were the accusations I asked. I was told the following…
…”Zachary has reported that you touch his penis and that your son touches your penis while you take showers together.”
I heard the words, and felt that I was watching a television show rather than experiencing the theatre in person. The man and woman from the CPA looked at me passively, virtually no expression. I guess in retrospect it could have been with disgust, but it seemed more ambivalence. I did not feel that I was judged – even if the entry and forced responses to questions seemed extreme.
The accusations were repeated. I think my mouth was probably opening and shutting like a gold fish. I was gobsmacked. The allegations were broken down and I was asked to address each in turn.
“Do you take showers together?”
“Do you touch his penis?”
“Sure.” Just as the ‘aha’ thought passed through their heads – perhaps more in my imagination than in reality, I went on to add “when I’m washing him.” I wondered in my head how sad our world is if that was a big deal, and an indictable offense. I feel for fathers (and other men like myself) who become scared to cuddle and kiss a little girl because it may begin to look ‘suspect.’ I consider that an outrage. That our pedophilia-phobia has brought good caring men to their knees, has led them to withhold their affection for children for fear of some ‘good neighbour / citizen’ launching a case that the behavior was inappropriate. Who for f#@% sakes, decides what is appropriate and what is not?
Here on the Gold Coast with level 5 water restrictions, the hotline taking calls regarding water restriction violations recently admitted that 90% of the calls were unsupported, or against those that had special allowances. One poor woman reported that she had dispensation to water at times outside the ‘regular’ level 5 hours, and that she had on numerous times come out to find her hose slashed. To add insult to the physical injury to her hose, she had been ‘reported’ to the water hotline by at least one friendly neighbour.
I was brought back to the ugly present (this situation was no gift) with a smack to my dignity so complete that it defied comprehension. “Does he touch yours?”
“Does he touch your penis?”
“No” I responded. What more could I say. Outrage blazed through my mind, but I knew that it had no place in this environment. There was nothing more I felt that I could say. However, my mind continued to turn. What might have led Zac to say that? It certainly was true that he had tried to touch my penis. I had told him early on that it was not on, that it was private. The fact that his grab was far from gentle probably merely added a tone of authority to my voice.
If a child slips in the shower-recess, grabs for something to stop from falling, ends up grabbing his father’s penis, the father smacks the child’s hand, the child let’s go with surprise and a cry, and then proceeds on down to crack his head on the shower track, is that child abuse? What is the abuse? That the father let the child grab his penis? Or that the father smacked the child (can anyone do that anymore – I gather it is outlawed in
now), or that he allowed the child to crack his head open on the shower floor? Gee, it’s tough being a father. New Zealand
Zac is also fascinated by the way that water from the shower pours off it – I mean off my penis. If he is fascinated in aqua-dynamics, is that an indictable offense? I encourage his enquiring mind. So how do I handle this? I try to direct him to the fact that water is flowing off his penis, but he’s not interested. This one (my penis) is closer to his eye level. Perhaps he is already bored with his own; this one is different from his.
Back to reality. They went on to report in more detail the allegation. It was alleged that Zac had told someone (who?) that we played with one another's “willies”, that we played puppets with them, that we had names for them.
Huh? Puppets? All I could think of was puppetry of the penis, and I was pretty sure that my son wasn’t moonlighting on that show. I pointed out that as I spoke only French with Zac, we never used the word ‘willy’. I had no idea where the concept of puppets came from, I had no nickname for my penis or for that of my son, and I never used the word willy.
I asked again who had made the allegation. They said that they could not tell me that information. I asked how they could come here on the basis of testimony presented by a four year old to an anonymous accuser. Who was the accuser? How would the accuser know or understand exactly what Zac was trying to say.
Could this be more about the projections of the accuser than the statements of the child. Like the old Benetton ad showing a black man handcuffed to a white man.
In the UK, a group claiming to represent anit-racist interests forced authorities to pull the billboard from public display. Where’s the racism? Perhaps the black man was the cop? Perhaps it was a black and white prisoner handcuffed together? Perhaps it was two consenting adults just having some fun? The stimulus is amibiguous – why should one person’s perception have a greater sway over other possible interpretations. Is the glass half full or half empty?
I asked if they had checked into all the details of the accuser and the alleged perpetrator. I questioned why they had showed up five of them. I’m a professional man, a white-collared worker. Molester’s are reportedly hard to spot from others; but generally those that run guns and are dangerous are reasonably easy to identify. I’m not a dangerous man. I’m a short man who can run reasonably fast; but I’m not a gun-runner, a drug-user, a bikie, etc. Why the show of force?
And the accuser? Could it be someone that just had a grudge against me? If the accusations were as stated, was there any corroborating evidence? Were there any background checks conducted into the accuser or the alleged perpetrator. Was there a different possible explanation? Had it been eliminated?
They hedged. I asked again, “What background checks have you conducted?”
“We do complete checks on all the people involved.”
“Have you already done that? Have you conducted those background checks? Do you know of any story between the accused and the accuser?”
Silence muffled by affirming kinds of sounds. As a university lecturer, I’ve seen it all before. The answer is ‘No,’ but the people in front of me do not want to admit that. They mumbled that all checks would be checked out. Ah, the tenses say it all – not the past, but the future, future conditional to be exact. Not impressive at all.
They changed the tack. I was asked why I thought Zac might have said these things. I really had little idea. My mind to be honest was partly at a blank. Partly, the phrases and so on that I had been told seemed incomplete, very unclear, exactly what I would expect of a little four and a half year old boy. Who knows what he was thinking? I barely know what adults I know well are thinking let alone my young son. What was the ‘adult’ who made these accusations thinking? Ask him!
They then told me that they would need to speak with Zac. If the Child Protection Agency wanted to see a protective parent, they got to see one now.
“How do you possibly think that Zac is going to happily assimilate the presence of five complete strangers, and respond to questions in any meaningful manner? He’s going to be fairly intimidated by you guys all standing around. Hell, I’m pretty intimidated by you five. What do you think Zac’s going to feel?”
The white-black, shortish guy from the CPA said he was going to remove himself. The woman said it would be just herself and the tall policeman. The policeman showed some good sense and suggested that he sit down on the couch and did so.
Nevertheless, I was dubious. I would have to walk Zac through the gauntlet of three strangers into a room little used in our house (only cleared last weekend) to be sat down, alone, with two more strangers. I told them my concerns. The woman explained that it would be just 60 seconds. I wondered what they could find out in 60 seconds from a 4 year old. Seemed they would have to go to pretty direct questions. I wondered at the effect such questions would have on Zac. How would he respond to such questions? My concerns were not for me. My concerns were for my small, innocent child. How would he respond to two complete strangers asking him questions about stuff that I have told him is completely private? The situation confronting me was one where I feel I am being forced to make him discuss this private stuff with complete strangers. My son trusts me, and I have to entrust him to these people. Not because I trust them, but because I’m scared, I’m powerless, I have no choice. The only way I can see of getting through this in one piece is to keep going.
I’m reminded of the first time I climbed on a rollercoaster with my son. Even though he was keen, I realized that once we are in the seats, we were committed. If he didn't like it, there was nothing that I was going to be able to do. I huddled up to him, I laughed, I made light of the event – and he went through the whole experience easily. He showed fear on the first descent, but after that giggled and laughed his way around. And rapidly worked out the shortcut for getting back on to go around again.
This ride, the Child Protection Agency Rollercoaster Ride, is different. I did not ask to be on this ride – and more importantly, neither did my son. I did not have time to ready him for this journey, nor could I sit by his side for this ride. My brave little man had to go it alone on this one. I felt tears come to my eyes. I returned to thoughts I had had during the separation when we (his mother and I) had to be individually assessed in terms of our relationship to Zac. I called the process barbaric. That a little boy’s life should be judged in squirly rooms by ‘experts.’ Experts in social science (like myself) note that our science is marked more by disagreements than agreement. Finally, the consequences of this ride might reverberate for months or years after the ride – and it might be a very long time before Zac would come to realize the full importance of being sat in the seat with the Child Protection Agency officer and the Police Officer – if he ever came to link it back to this moment. I had no idea.
Perhaps I was catastrophising – but as I’ve already noted, and as I was beginning to understand, the time for dismissing my fears as distant hypotheticals were gone. Schrodinger’s box was thrown open, and it did not contain one potentially dead or alive cat. The possibilities were gone. I had five very alive, very complete strangers gathered in the small space of the entry-hall and backroom with real allegations.
How would this interview (god, please do not let him be harmed by it) be helpful for Zac? I was giving him up to answer questions about sexual behavior of others – which I daresay he can barely understand and presumably will not understand for many years to come – or at least, so I hope. What did they hope to learn?
Another catastrophe raised its head. When you’re in the middle of one, it is easy to move onto some more. What if they were not simply ‘strangers’ to me, but really strange. I mean stranger than strange. Perhaps this was their way of abusing children – and others. I really had no idea who they were. They were faces – a sea of indistinguishable faces. I don’t even know the names right now just 24 hours after the event. I would not even be able to recognize them if they walked past me now. Sure, the policeman’s badge had appeared genuine – but surely that can be faked. How weird this was. A service that is presumably for the protection of children was doing a pretty damn good job of getting me to put up a protective wall.
I returned to an earlier question perhaps in a hope of seeing some positive light to all of this dark experience. What did I think Zac might have been referring to in his accusations? I suggested to the Child Protection Officer that if in the interview with my son, she heard evidence that she thought truly indicated that there might be some abuse going on, she had my full support in tracking that down. As a concerned parent, I would want to know if there was abuse.
“Who do you think that it could be?”
I didn’t see it then, but I now see how easily a witch-hunt can escalate. I’m ashamed to say that my thoughts revisited an earlier fear I had had, a fear when the mother of my son began to involve a new man in her life. I knew nothing of this man. No-one knew much about him, and neither Zac’s mother, nor her partner, nor anyone else that did know about him was willing to talk to me about him. In that marsh of no information, my fears rose up. More catastrophising. No amount of assuring myself that pedophilia is an extremely rare event would re-assure me. Ironically, what did re-assure me is that Zac’s mother had rejected me – and I know I’m a good man – and I knew that she would be extremely unlikely to tolerate anyone that did not meet her extremely high standards. She of course loves her son, and I reassured myself that she would not tolerate anyone behaving outside of her standards, and I was sure that these standards would almost certainly exclude sufficient contact to virtually any other that would allow them to abuse their relationship with Zac.
I expressed my doubt that there was any case for any abuse going on at all. The allegations that I had heard for a case of abuse seemed fairly slim. They came from the mouth of a four year old and were not at all clear. I didn’t tell them, but it seemed that their ‘open minds’ to the responses of my son, were actually minds open to anything that might possibly be construed as abuse. The playing in the shower it later occurred to me probably referred to us playing with his toys. It seems dreadful that such cases must rest on the testimony of one so young, so innocent, so naïve. Moreover, I consider it criminal that one so young should even by involved in this process, but I guess there is little alternative in cases of genuine abuse.
“Who would that be?” I was asked
The Grand Inquisitors had me surrounded in their court (despite this being my home, I felt it was their space), I began to reveal my thoughts. No instruments of torture – just the force of five, coercion through communication. I gave one – to me – evident possibility. What other male (why did I assume the perpetrator would have to be male?) has close contact with my son. None in my presence. So I revealed my suggestion, not because he was a likely perpetrator, not because I suspected him, but because if anyone was harming my son, and if it is someone close to him, and if it wasn’t me, then he would be my best guess. They asked me for his name. I baulked and ultimately refused to give it. I wouldn’t wish what I was going through on anyone unless I had a strong conviction of their doing ill.
I said that I would leave them to conduct their interview of my son, and then, and only on their advice that there was evidence of abuse would I continue to pursue this line of thought. For now, I had nothing more to say.
In the middle of this, my partner Jeanette, arrived home. I had seen her from the corner of my eye walk through the front door and had watched her back pass up the hallway. Seeing her simply heightened for me how alone I was. She later admitted that she did not see me for the forest of grumps as she described them.
I went and got Zac. Not surprisingly, the other kids wanted to come down the hallway, and I explained they could not. Zac was reluctant to go without them. Peter and Jeanette looked at me questioningly. What could I say? What did I say? I think I simply told them it was the Child Protection Agency, and they wanted to speak with Zac. I felt no shame or fear in telling them. My fear was entirely for my son and for his and my ongoing relationship. I did later realize that I didn’t want to give them much of anything at that moment. I simply wanted their support – and I assumed it was there for me.
Peter is my longest friend from the Gold Coast. He was my flatmate when I first moved to the Coast, and recently bought the house next to me. He has two boys around the age of my son, and I’m delighted that they all play together so well. I’ve looked after their kids, and they’ve looked after mine. Only later did I think of how Peter must have reacted to the statement. Did the thought pass through his mind that there’s no smoke without fire, and that it would be risky to leave his children with me in the future..
Jeanette is my partner, my lover. She adores my son and me. However, what would she think. Similarly, can there be smoke without fire?
I walked with Zac, hand in hand, down to the back room. (Can that be construed as child abuse? If a man holds the child of a 4 and a half year old? When is it ‘wrong’ for the man to hold the child’s hand? When the child says so? Or when someone in the community sees it and says so – perhaps to the Child Protection Agency).
We passed through the gauntlet of three men failing manifestly to look inconspicuous in the entry-hall by the front door. We entered the room, and I closed the door to at least block the view of the three goons outside. Zac began backing away from the man and woman to me immediately. I imagine he was initimidated – as I had guessed he would be. I began to try and introduce the man and the woman to Zac, but the woman spoke to him directly over me. “Hello Zac, my name is…”
Zac nuzzled in towards my thigh more firmly. shook his head, turned in to face me. (His face right at the groin of my pants – is that child abuse? Every child does it, and parents and others just happen to be that height – but what would these strangers think?).
I suggested, rather abruptly I suspect, that she might like me to introduce them. I could not help thinking that for people who acted for the protection of young children, they showed precious little sense around the management of a young child. This little boy was singled out from all of his neighbours, friends, family and was walked away down the hall, through a cluster of three damp men into a cramped room that he has barely ever entered (until recently it was full of junk). It still contained a collection of assorted furniture, oh, and another two strangers who are keen to be his ‘friend.’ Zac is to my view, a naturally shy little boy, but he is also relatively easy to reassure. I explained to him that these two people were here to talk to him. He told me that he did not want to talk to them. Four year olds are thought to ask 200-400 questions a day (who counted?). As he delivered the simplest and perhaps most repeated question, “Why?” I felt tears burn in my eyes. (Because I say you have to. Because these people have told your weak Papa that he has to. Because if you and I don’t climb into the rollercoaster car, the consequences may be even more horrific than the consequences of getting into the car now. Sometimes life dishes up crap choices – one bad, the other awful.)
My mind went back to an experience in my teens when a woman accused me (falsely) of driving her car and damaging it. I couldn’t even drive a car then. She had me dragged off to the police who interviewed me, a 15 year old, alone, in a strange room, no family, no friends with me. It was very intimidating. No, it was plain frightening. I still remember it.
I wondered how Zac was handling and would handle his own version of such a situation. People that say they want to talk with him, but who in fact really want to just get him to answer some questions. Is this truth? Are they being honest? They are misrepresenting themselves in order to get what they want. I daresay that They (capitalized because it is more than the two people in that room) think that the ends justify the means. That’s dangerous territory in general. In this specific situation, what they really want is for Zac to reveal things. And not just no-things, but dark and dangerous things.
I have no idea how a child that has been genuinely abused nor a child that has not views those ‘dark and dangerous things.’ However, in this case at least, I remained pretty certain that the meanest, lousiest thoughts existed in the minds of the interrogators, not in the little four and half year old boy that faced them – or at least, would have faced them if he had any idea who they were, what they were here for and why he should speak to them. And these people were sent here to protect him?
It was hard to calm Zac’s stranger danger. Frankly I felt it myself. More tears welled up in my eyes as I explained that I would leave him for a little to talk with these people.
The woman thrust her ID badge in front of Zac and explained that this was a card with a picture of her on it. I laughed internally as her description pretty well echoed my earlier sentiment about the credibility offered by the ID card. The policeman, seated on the couch, drew out his badge and showed Zac this. I marveled at their officiousness with a young child. What would that mean to him? I figured that the police badge would probably do more to scare him, and is if to confirm this, Zac retreated into me. I explained to Zac that the man was a policeman like his Uncle Michael. I explained what I was doing to the two people as I speak only French to Zac. I did not want them to think that I might be stuffing him with some kind of story – as if there would be time, as if it would serve any use if I was a perpetrator.
I left the room. How would the questions be asked? I had never heard Zac say anything of the types of things that were alleged to have been said, and I spend 50% of his time with him. How can two complete strangers get that information in 60 seconds? They would have to ask direct questions. I shuddered as I imagined the series of questions : “What sorts of things do you like to play with your friends? Does you daddy touch your penis? Does he play with your penis? Do you play with his? Does he ask you to play with his? Do you play puppets with your penises? Do you have a name for your penis? Does you daddy have a name for his?”
I walked past the three men in the hall without acknowledging them. It was simply too weird, too surreal. I felt like a walked through some wormhole into a parallel universe. However, I was walking back into a home that I did know, people that I know and love, my things, my space. Back in the living room, Jeanette and Peter were clearly waiting for some more information. I told them what was happening, the accusations, detailing the troop sent to investigate me.
At the back of mind, I kept thinking that they were taking more than one minute. Nevertheless, Zac did appear fairly quickly. He came running through the hall to me and told me he wanted to tell me a secret. (Is this going to look bad? Are kids allowed to tell secrets to their fathers? I’m sure Papa is not allowed to have secrets with their children. Does it matter that Zac’s statement was really code meaning he wants to ask me for something with a whisper. He’s not telling me anything, he wants to ask for something.)
“Can you get me my B2 déguise (French for costume). I want to show to the lady?”
I laughed – with relief, with joy at the return of my little boy, with pleasure that he did not seem too harmed – at least at this point. The B2 outfit is in fact an R2D2 outfit, the robot in Star Wars that he and I constructed for him to wear to a birthday party. That he calls it B2 is testimony to the power of ABC for Kids and Bananas in Pyjamas and that StarWars is not something that my son really understands yet. I retrieved the R2D2 outfit, put it on him, and he ran down the hall to show it to the ‘visitors.’ (He can’t see very well out of it. What if he runs into a wall – or one of those bloody goons while wearing the carboard outfit? Will that count as child abuse?)
Leaving behind my thoughts, I laughed to think how Zac’s bright, innocent naivety could push back the damp, dark secret thoughts of the taskforce gathered in the hall. I returned to the couch to continue my story, or more exactly, my outpouring of thin details and viscous outrage to Jeanette and Peter. Then Zac called for me, and I went down as Zac passed me going the other way.
The woman told me that Zac appeared to have corroborated the allegations on some levels. He had described playing with the penises. I repeated that I did not play with Zac’s penis, nor he with mine. He had described me touching his penis in cleaning it, in the shower apparently – and this was apparently some cause for concern.
I had a little spark of understanding. That’s how it is when kids talk and how older people understand kids. In my opinion, there is probably only 50%,comprehension or so in both directions. Looking the woman straight in the eye, I told her that my son was uncircumcised. As such he had to learn that he needed to clean in around and eventually under the foreskin in order to keep himself clean. I pointed out that my son does not hold his penis when he pees, he tends to hold the skin just a the base of penis, and shakes it from there ! It is as ineffectual as it is funny – I didn’t tell them that. Of late, I had been physically handling his penis explaining that he must pull back the foreskin. Partly to teach him to hold his penis while peeing so he doesn’t make a mess (“I don’t want to”), partly because at some point he does need to learn to draw back the foreskin in order to keep it clean. Not in the shower, but at the toilet. (Would this be acceptable. It seemed to me a plausible explanation for what he might be saying. However, would they be unconvinced? They seemed to think it was in the shower.)
They tried to affirm with me that I lived alone with my son. I told them that no, I lived with my girlfriend. I told them she had just entered the house during the course of their interview. They wanted her full name. I objected. Who needed to know? They told me it formed part of the investigation. They would not be giving the name to anyone else. I gave her name.
I was told that I needed to go away, and the two DCP people and the police officer would talk about the case and make their decision. I saw a light at the end of the tunnel – or the light of an oncoming train. They would make a decision. I asked, “So you decide now and we go from there?”
Extraordinary! I went away back to my normal life momentarily. We sat and talked – not particularly quietly – while the committee of three, one of whom was not even present for Zac’s ‘testimony’, made a decision about my guilt or otherwise.
I was called back and they announced that they were not going to proceed any further on this case. With no apology (or if it was given, it was not registered by me – as if any apology could make amends for what I had just been through), five people who 30 minutes earlier had walked in as complete strangers walked out as stranger still.
I was left behind, but no longer the same. I was now an accused. I was now a putative child molester. Apparently I had been exonerated, but I wasn’t even certain of that. No papers, no documents. A little brochure that I read while shaking in the kitchen after their departure. What had just happened? What would happen in the future? What would be the consequences for my little boy? Would he remember this? Regardless of that, would it have any longer term effect?
I’m left now to wonder at the harshness of this process.
Let me be clear. I detest any abuse of power – as is the basis of much child abuse and domestic abuse. However, a person who has an advantage of intellect, age, authority, physical strength over another is not an abuser. A potential rapist is not equal to a rapist. A man with potential to abuse a child is not an abuser. However, if the person with that power mis-uses their power with ill intention, then they are an abuser.
However, there are many avenues for abuse. Asymmetry of power is a necessary condition, but not sufficient for abuse. The person with the power must ab-use their power. Giving anonymity to accusers is a gift of power. A great gift that might encourage some to come forward that would not have come forward otherwise. However, if someone with malicious intent can accuse an innocent of a crime (say, child abuse) with minimal evidence, that’s abuse.
Moreover, in the case of a malicious child-abuse-accuser, there’s another abused. And that is the child. Who could do this to a child? The child becomes a victim of the games that adults play. I was horrified at how my son was treated, how powerless I was to shape or change what happened to him in this process. It was like a car-accident, but emotional rather than physical. There was nothing I could do to help him.
In this case, perhaps the accuser really felt that there was ‘just cause’ and is justified in making his/her claim even if false. Better to be safe than sorry.
So, how come I tell my story to all you people? Well, given that the allegations of my accuser (who is of course unknown) led to me having to spill my guts about the intimate goings-on of my young son in front of five complete strangers, I guess I have nothing to hide. So, you’ve read my story.
The moral is please be mindful of the power you hold. May The Force be with you. Use it wisely. I hope that the Storm Troopers remain far from your door.