The law, it appears, is unable to protect us

 

I HAVE HUMMED and hawed over this topic. I would rather not write about it because to do so will make it real. I don’t want it to be real, in many ways it feels unreal, so maybe writing about it will solidify it. Because right now, I can’t get my hands or my head around it.

We have discovered a man has been watching our house.

Neighbours advised us shortly after we moved here that a man with a past history sometimes hung around the area. We took their warnings on board and insisted the kids stayed within calling distance of the house at all times. But, to my embarrassment, I felt no immediate concern.

Something about the way the cautions were delivered, as if we couldn’t possibly be talking about a subject as serious as child abuse in such calm terms. It made them theoretical.

You live in the city, you presume there are threats all around. You watch.

As a father in playgrounds, often the only one present, I have become aware of the suspicion and caution of others. Not all, of course, but mother hens are wary. I absorb it but also share it.

I watch for the lone man shadowing children’s areas. It’s not a comfortable thought, it’s rarely made conscious, but I watch closely.

Yet, even in the past five years more dads have appeared on the kiddie radar.

For economic reasons, or social ones, there are more of us visibly present at the front line. The wariness begins to recede.

The city family moves to the country. Very quickly your preconceptions and prejudices are shattered. It’s not all that different but there is more space. Oh, loads more space and space is great.

That’s the big swap – convenience for space, and you soon forget how nice it was to have a shop 10 doors away as you tie a couple of cats together and swing them rampantly around your new living area.

Once the cat abuse has lost its lustre you shoo the kids outside, tell them to find themselves something to do. There is, after all, a whole country to explore.

We found the man crouched behind a tombstone in the old, disused graveyard situated yards from our front gate.

The elder, in a fury at a perceived slight from a friend, had stormed off and disappeared, refusing to answer our calls.

As concern mounted, the search widened. Across the road, we discovered the man, crouched, observing. We approached and he turned on his heel and sprinted away.

Panic began to rise. Where was the child? Hidden inside the house, enjoying the drama she had created with no real idea of our mounting fear. She wondered why we were so relieved to find her.

Later, I checked his vantage point. From there he could see directly into our back garden where that day five children, seven and under, had been playing.

I returned to the neighbours and this time took all details of the potential threat that they could provide. This time I took them seriously.

I described our peeping Tom and gained confirmation that we were discussing the same person.

Armed with as much information as I could muster, I reported the incident to the Garda. This went against my instinct which was to arm myself with something blunt and heavy and visit the man myself, but an ingrained belief that the law will help forced me to go to the authorities.

Now. Will the law help? A garda visited the man whose name I provided. The man admitted he had been spending time around our house. He was warned to stay away.

We were advised to contact the Garda should we see him in the vicinity again. This is, it appears, as much as the law can do for us.

Here we have a man who was in trouble for “an incident” in the past. Local information suggests that there has been far more than one incident.

This much I was told but I am unable to check his history as there is no register available to the public for this sort of sick activity.

This man has admitted to watching our house. A man has been watching my house, my children.

How safe would you feel? What are we supposed to do? Sit back and wait for something to happen? At which point we will at least be sure of the perpetrator.

Anyone with the smallest understanding of an abuser’s mind knows that they do not want to walk away from what attracts them.

Yet that is what our system thinks is enough. To advise them to walk away. This is not right. This is not right.