Nobody wants to wrongly accuse someone of paedophilia. A false accusation can take a dreadful toll on someone’s life. The sad thing is that the cost of false accusations gets more air time than the cost of grooming, child sexual abuse and rape. Sometimes we need to take a chance and speak out. There are children depending on us.
Three years ago a man came into our lives. My first impression of him was that he was over indulgent, a little strange, but harmless. He had a daughter a few years younger than my daughter and he used to take them fishing. My daughter loves fishing, we hate it, what could go wrong with that scenario?
Then one day we discovered that he was teaching my thirteen year old how to drive. I put my foot down hard and said she wasn’t allowed to see them anymore. I explained my concerns, I told my daughter about grooming, and she agreed that it was odd, and that she would stay away.
All was well for about a year and there was no contact. Then somehow my daughter began going to church, and he attended the same church with his daughter. They started seeing each other more and more, going out after church, going out other days, and gradually he became a fixture in our lives again.
My daughter became distant, we fought about the time she spent at his house constantly, but I’d never had a teenager before so I didn’t know that it wasn’t normal. Even when every bone in my body was ringing alarm bells, I didn’t listen, because I didn’t want to wrongly accuse him of anything. I also didn’t want to further alienate my daughter. Our relationship was shaky enough already and I knew how easy it could be to lose a teenager to tension. This went on for months. Here’s the reader’s digest abridged list of things that I noticed in that time.
- He told her that he assaulted a young boy in the neighbourhood who had been harassing her
- He bought her clothes and makeup – and said it was from his daughter
- The way she dressed changed, and she stopped associating with the local kids because “they were all no good”.
- He told her that he was in the army and could kill people, he said he had served on active duty but he was either too old, or too young to have been in any wars, and not skilled for any peacekeeping missions performed by Australians recently
- My daughter started referring to them as her family and demanded that I accept it or lose her
- She was frequently home late, he would apologise to me about it and claim not to have known when she was due
- It became apparent that my daughter’s presence in the house was causing problems for his own daughter, but he told his daughter to suck it up because my daughter was a member of the family now
- He told my daughter that they could move state and live survivalist style, fishing and hunting
- He told her that there was nothing that I could do about it
- She seemed to have far more credit on her phone than I ever purchased and when I looked into it, she had sent hundreds of messages to him and received hundreds in response – he had been buying credit for her
- Despite him being “part of her family” they weren’t friends on facebook, but his facebook account showed that he was friends with other teenagers, and that he followed a lot of pages that focused on large breasted teenagers. You’d think that NOT being friends on facebook was a good thing, but I suspected that it was a deliberate ploy. A way to avoid drawing attention to himself
There were many more as well, but those ones are the few I remember. It kept adding up, and I felt more and more frightened. However, as I had never had a teenager before, how did I know this wasn’t normal? Despite the fact that I knew in my heart that my daughter and I were close, that we didn’t fight about stupid things, I pushed that aside. I thought I was being silly and refusing to accept the normal separation that occurs during the teenage years.
Then one day it all came to a head. She crept out of the house on a particularly important family day, to be with them. I phoned her and demanded that she come home, and she refused. I don’t think I’ve ever been more terrified than I was right then. I rang the police who said that my daughter wasn’t in any danger so there was nothing they could do except go to his house and check on her.
I’m not sure what happened, but she came home shortly after that, and I didn’t send the police. She said that the man had encouraged it, and I suspect he did because it was getting a bit hot with the spotlight on him.
I thought long and hard that night, and slept little. The following morning I sent him a text message telling him that I believed his behaviour was inappropriate. I was extremely careful not to insinuate that I thought he had inappropriate ulterior motives. I was still concerned about causing problems for an innocent man ….
The next day she went back there and he refused to allow her into his house until things were smoothed over with me. She demanded that I contact him and tell him it was alright for her to spend time there. I was meant to apologise to him but I flatly refused. I was past that point.
She screamed down the phone at me that she would never come home again, and said that she would walk the streets all night rather than see me, because I had forced her out of her family. Apparently I didn’t understand what it was like, and I was being unfair to him.
I contacted the local youth services to ask if they had accommodation for her, it nearly killed me to do it, but I knew she was so angry at me for ruining her “family” that getting her home was going to be hard. I just wanted to find her somewhere to stay that night, even if it wasn’t at home.
I also called the police again, just on a hunch, and this time I struck gold. Instead of the dismissive woman I had spoken to the day before I got a woman who was very very interested in what I had to say. She said that the police would indeed retrieve my daughter from his house, and although at her age (14) they couldn’t force her to come home, they would ensure that she had safe, supervised accommodation for the night. She told me to ring back the next day and speak to a detective.
Finally, some twenty-five hours after I first messaged the man, I received a text message back. It said that he believed there had been some kind of misunderstanding, and that we should meet to discuss it. He said it would be a shame if our daughters couldn’t be friends …. but I knew they weren’t friends, I knew they were actually very tense in each other’s company. I suspected it was because he continually favoured my daughter over his own.
In the text message he spelled my daughter’s name wrong. And it was in that instant that I was struck cold. How could you spell someone’s name wrong and claim they were a part of your family? Everything became clear, and I gave myself permission to listen to the niggling doubts I’d had running around in my head. Fury coursed through me, and something deep and primal took over. People often talk about mother bears, or tigers protecting their young, and right then and there, I believe I understood why.
But what if I had been so stubborn, so intent on getting things right, so determined not to cause more arguments with my daughter, so hell bent on not making incorrect accusations, that I had permitted my daughter to be in the presence of a paedophile for a year? And what if things had progressed past the grooming stage and into abuse?
I read everything I could find about grooming, and I learnt that there are six stages. We were in stage 5 at least, and we were edging into stage six which is when the abuse starts. I cried like you can’t imagine, I was terrified. I had to hide in the bedroom so my daughter didn’t see my crying because she was angrier at me than I had ever known her to be.
I had to balance what I could do to keep her safe, with what might send her over the edge and into further danger. At last I was grounded by my instincts, and although I had ignored them and pushed them aside for the last year, I wasn’t taking any more hostages, and my instincts guided me well.
I confiscated her mobile phone and computer, I blocked his number from every phone in the house, I made phone call after phone call to the police, I listed everything that had ever bothered me about him and emailed it to the detective. I read and read and read, I read everything I could read about grooming and abuse, and I realised something fundamental.
We assume that grooming is a process that the child undergoes, but the truth is that in order to be successful, a paedophile must groom the entire community …. and he had.
He had everyone from the church to our neighbours, and even me, believing that she was a problem child and he was merely guiding her, keeping her safe from the local boys, from herself, from her family who didn’t understand her like he did.
Although I’d spent years telling her about potential warning signs of abuse, what to watch out for, when to tell someone etc, he had neatly sidestepped every single checkpoint I had put in place, by not ever discussing a relationship. He talked about family. And I had always emphasised the importance of family to keep you safe.
After receiving advice from the detective who was investigating the case, I went to court and applied for a protection order to keep him away from my daughter. It was then that I realised just how powerless I was all over again, because to get the order I needed my daughter to stand up in court and talk about how she believed herself to be in danger. My daughter believed that I was the only danger. In her eyes, a paedophile was her family and her mother was just jealous and desperate.
I had no hope and I felt utterly defeated until the detective told me to fake it. He said that the papers I had filed had a court stamp on them, I should wave them about dramatically and tell my daughter that the court had approved them. So that’s exactly what I did. I told her, I told the church, I told EVERYONE that the paedophile was forbidden to be within 100m of my daughter.
Fortunately it worked, and because the paedophile was so fearful at this point, I didn’t have to worry that he would tell my daughter that there was no order. The detective and two uniformed officers went to his house and told him to stay away from my daughter and all children that weren’t his own, so whilst it wasn’t official, it worked for us. Having met that detective, I can’t say that I’d have enjoyed having the same conversation with him. He was uncommonly humourless on the subject of adult men keeping company with children ….
I handed over all the technology in the house to the nerd forensic team at the police station. They went over it with a fine tooth comb and they found NOTHING. Despite there having been hundreds of text messages, not one of them remained. The detectives interviewed my daughter and she refused to cooperate with them, but despite that they gave her a very stern warning that they fully believed her to be in in danger.
And then there was nothing the police could do anymore. It all fell to me.
Bit by bit we clawed back our relationship. I remember one day I told her that he had never been in the army. I told her that he had never been registered with any branch of the Australian Defense Force, and that unless he was a navy underwater bomb diffuser, he hadn’t served in Iraq in the only war he would have been the right age for. Unless he was at the uppermost level of security clearance, he had never ever left this country in any service capacity. I told her the truth about his age, he was older than he said he was.
I pointed out all the gaping holes in all the stories he had told her, and then I asked her who had more to gain from the lies, me or him. She said that my lies meant that she had to stay home and she couldn’t see her “family”. On the surface that was a good point until I told her that she was lousy company at the moment. I left the room, returned with a cup of tea for her, and left her alone with her thoughts without uttering another word.
She destroyed her room. She tore things up, smashed things, cried and screamed, punched things until her knuckles bled, and she refused to talk to me about it at all. But I knew. I just knew that she was coming home again, and that for the first time in a long time, it wasn’t me that she was angry at. She was angry at him. She knew she had been deceived.
A couple of months later she came to me and apologised for not listening to me, and the relief I felt was indescribable. I cried and cried as I hugged my baby and told her that she was never to apologise for it, because she hadn’t done anything wrong. He had tried to tear us apart, and he’d come damn close, but it wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t her fault, it was ALL HIS FAULT. He had deceived the entire community, not just her.
We talked about how it wasn’t a sign that we were stupid, it was just a sign that people like him are cunning, and conniving. That they bide their time, waiting for everything to gradually build up, for everything to fall into place for them, as it falls apart for the victims.
No one had wanted to accuse him of having bad intentions ….. and so he had very nearly succeeded in severing the bonds between her and the people who actually cared.
We need to remember that the purpose of grooming is to separate the child from their family and community, not to create a relationship with the child alone because unless everyone is at ease in the presence of paedophiles, no crimes can be committed. Parents keep their children away from people who appear dangerous.
The process of grooming promotes the relationship between the potential victim and the criminal as normal, and necessary, as a safe and beneficial relationship. Grooming creates a relationship with the whole community, not just the children who are at risk. This is why many people refuse to believe the stories of abuse told by children. Paedophiles are not all old men in long coats with shifty eyes, they are people just like you and I. They may look ratty in their mugshots and orange jumpsuits, but when they are hard at work, they will look smooth and they will blend in seamlessly.
The idea that we can protect our children from paedophiles is dangerous. It promotes a false sense of security. Whilst parents should be ever vigilant, and they should never hesitate to “tarnish someone’s good name” when they are genuinely fearful for their child, the work of controlling paedophilia rests solely upon the paedophiles and the government. To suggest otherwise is victim blaming, because parents, and indeed whole communities, are victims in the grooming process.
Given that paedophiles themselves are unlikely to demand personal accountability, the responsibility rests with the law. Decent families should be able to rely on the law to protect them, but paedophiles should be held fully accountable for their abhorrent crimes against children.
The uncomfortable reality is that whilst the law recognises grooming as a crime, little can be done to prove it has occurred if the child victim will not, or is unable to cooperate with law enforcement. The whole community must bear this complex burden. Until the insidious nature of grooming is thoroughly exposed, we have little to no hope because it is not just the child that is the victim of grooming. The entire community must fall for the ploy, or paedophiles are forced to remain dormant.
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