Monday 27 October 2014

Are You a Suspected Paedophile?

Is this how people picture you? Getty ©
Any time a man has dealings with a young child who isn’t a family member, it seems that he is instantly labelled as a potential paedophile. In the last few days in Sydney, an 11-year-old girl was missing. One would think that relief would be the main emotion expressed upon finding her, but instead, it was suspicion. Initial reports (since revised) revealed that a 24-year-old man had been voluntarily harbouring the girl for two nights, so the media and the general public repaid him by casting aspersions as to his motives.

One could have labelled this man as a “Good Samaritan”. He might even be called a “caring man” or just a “man”, but instead, many people labelled him as a “stranger” and were suspicious of him. The father of the girl was quoted as saying that he was happy she was sheltered and fed rather than sleeping rough. That’s certainly not a glowing endorsement of the Good Samaritan.

Missing girl, Michelle Levy, who was cared for by a Good Samaritan or a potential paedohphile. Photo: NSW Police.

The girl’s mother issued a statement thanking everyone who helped look for the girl, including the police. Strangely though, she didn’t thank the man who actually harboured her daughter.

My suspicion all along was that the girl was probably right to run away − perhaps not for two nights, but at least for a bit. She wasn’t running away because she couldn’t get a new Barbie − this girl was 11. The Good Samaritan was obviously told by the girl that she didn’t want to return home and she probably explained why. This would explain why the man kept quiet about it. Any suspicion regarding her home situation was quashed due to the immediate public sentiment that we must all find this girl and return her to her parents.

The story has since been revised and the Good Samaritan is this time aged in his 50s, but it has thankfully been revealed that the police aren’t suspicious of him. Of course, this piece of information was still worded in a way as though he couldn’t be trusted − the Sydney Morning Herald had the title “Man who let runaway Michelle Levy stay for two nights released without charge”. This is not just a man who has left the police station after he finished talking to police; he is a potential criminal who didn’t end up being charged.

Children with potential plaintiffs. Photo: Newsday / Ana Gutierrez
With Halloween coming up in a few days, we must all be mindful that many of these children will have parents with them. When the children come to your door asking for sweets, they will most often have mothers either right there or back at the street, their eyes fixed on you, suspicious of what you might do to their child. Imagine what would happen if you invited the children inside, maybe to come to the kitchen with you to get said sweets − the parents would probably run over to you, banging on the door and demanding to know what you were doing.

Would you let a child travel with this man? © Uber
Giving a child a ride in a car is almost unthinkable now − even if a driver saw a child struggling along with a bleeding leg, offering a ride to the child would likely come with a response of "no way". Even if the child accepted the offer, it may not be worth it, since there is always going to be a cloud of suspicion from the parents.

Uber drivers have it the toughest. A taxi driver taking a child passenger would probably be seen as not such a big deal, since that's their job and they're on camera. Uber is viewed as a taxi alternative though people may ask, "Why would the child get in that car when there were other options available?" There's also the fact that, at least for Uber X, the drivers are typically doing it just as a side job. A child refusing to travel in an Uber car is apparently not as guilty of demonising the livelihood of this driver.

Unfortunately, the result of the suspicion is that many businesses refuse to do business with unaccompanied children. This doesn't just infringe the rights of the children, it legitimises the accusations of paedophilia that are so easily thrown around. If you're doing business with a company that bans unaccompanied children for no good reason, are you endorsing people to suspect you of being a paedophile?

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