I heard something wonderful on the radio this week. It was one of those moments when the built up sediment of horror and uncertainty gets washed clean away and you look around and think, maybe everything is going to be OK after all.
It didn’t start out that way. In fact it started about as far from that as it is possible to be. It was a story about the attempted abduction of 9-year-old girl in Bassendean. The kind of story that makes you close your eyes really hard. Hard enough that you might squeeze the creeping thoughts from your head. But it doesn’t work and Instead it feels like razor blades are being crushed in the base of your brain somewhere and then flowing in cold and sharp shrapnel through your veins.
It is the kind of story we feel like we hear all the time. Weekly. Daily even. We don’t, it just feels that way because the stories of crimes, or even attempted crimes, against kids never quite leave us.
They don’t dissolve with time like other things do. There is something arch and immutable about them. So each new story just adds to the last and the one before that and the fear we had banished to a silhouette is dragged out into the light once more with its full hideousness on display.
These attacks on children do happen too often. Once is too often. But not as often as it seems. In truth, crimes against children by strangers are sufficiently rare that the disappearance of British three-year-old Madeleine MCann in Portugal is still making page three news this week, seven years after she went missing.
A one in many millions event, from seven years ago on the far side of the planet and still making news and still stalking our moments of decision over the simplest acts of freedom for our children. Why? Because statistics are no match for emotion.
You see it with lotteries. We hear about lotto wins and we imagine it was us. It unlocks our dreams for a moment – a moment long enough to divide our fortune among friends and relatives, plane tickets, sensible investments and timeshare in a very large helicopter with floating runners so we can moor at Rottnest or in the Kimberley.
We do the same with horror stories – only they unlock our nightmares instead of our dreams.
And so I listened to the report on Gary Adshead’s Mornings show on Radio 6PR this past Wednesday with a very real sense of dread as details of the attempted abduction were recounted. Not just because of its impact on me as a father of two daughters, but also because I know the impact these incidents can have on our communities and on a generation of children’s already fast diminishing right to play outside and not always be under benign surveillance.
The bad guy had short blond hair and facial piercings. He was wearing all black. He grabbed the young girl walking innocently with her friend to her grandma’s house after playing in the wetlands near her house and picked her up.
The archetypal nightmare.
She screamed and he dropped her and ran away. And listeners breathed a sigh of relief, but a sigh made tight by thoughts of what might have been. Another story to the pile.
And then things started to change. Adshead spoke to the girl’s grandmother. Her name was Joyce. And what Joyce had to say turned the light back on. It was a voice of reason and of strength. A voice determined not to allow her grand daughter's human inheritance to a free and playful childhood to be taken away. I am going to quote the conversation at length here because I think, I hope, it is a glimpse of the first turning of the tide in our community against the sediment of fear we have allowed to settle on parenting.
Adshead asked her how the girls were holding up, to which Grandma Joyce replied; “I’m pretty sure they are OK they are pretty tough cookies.”
Adshead asked if she thought the attack was random.
“I think it was random, I think it was very opportunistic. They spend a lot of time in the wetlands and we encourage them to get out there and play outside. And I think that because of that sort of training, or teaching, they have learnt how to deal with a situation like that so it was over pretty quickly.”
Adshead asked how the kids and their adult carers felt now about them going back to play in the same area.
“I want to really strongly emphasise that I wouldn’t let something like this stop them having their right to go and play outside and play in what is just a magical area where they can build cubbies and do all those things that we want kids to do.
“To allow something like this to stop them and affect them and give them fear is something that we are all really angry about, and I don’t think we will let it happen.
“The fact is that someone heard something and immediately contacted the police. And I think that is why we are all really confident it was random and we are confident the kids will continue to play here because we have a really strong community here and a very strong support network for them.”
Every parent and carer of a child will find their own balance between their desire to protect and the desire to empower. But I for one applaud Grandma Joyce and the community she is a part of, I know it is where I would want to live if I was nine.