The Weekend Australian - Review - - Rear View -

SOME­ONE, en pas­sant, re­marked the other day: an­other day, an­other pe­dophile; and my heart sank again. It’s got to the point where we can’t ig­nore the prover­bial ele­phant in the room any longer. All this re­volt­ing stuff is com­ing out of the wood­work and it’s not go­ing away.

It does oc­cur to me, how­ever, that it is pass­ing strange that it has taken the whistle­blow­ers more than 30 years to come out in the open. Didn’t any­one lis­ten to them at the time or were they too ashamed to do any­thing about it? It must have been an ag­o­nis­ing three decades, won­der­ing if you’d ever get some­thing like that off your chest.

It’s been 50 years since I ma­tric­u­lated at the vul­ner­a­ble age of 15; in those days, in South Africa at least, it was a given that if you could read and write and do sim­ple sums, you were ready for a for­mal ed­u­ca­tion. It wasn’t that I was a pre­co­cious reader or par­tic­u­larly bright, just that I’d been hang­ing around when my broth­ers did their home­work and I picked things up by os­mo­sis.

There was noth­ing even re­motely at­trac­tive about me: three mil­lion freck­les and not just a sprin­kling of what my fa­ther kindly called sun- kisses, but what my class­mates re­ferred to as bits of burnt mince­meat, red hair like a mad bird’s nest and legs so thin that my broth­ers called them Wed­nes­day legs; When’s day gonna break?’’ My older brother had freck­les, too, but his dis­ap­peared when he reached ado­les­cence; when he started shav­ing, he told me. I thought shav­ing was the way to go but was caught by my mother with a face full of lather, blade poised; this in it­self was a small mir­a­cle or else, to add to my woes, I would, to this day, have a long and un­seemly beard, prob­a­bly half gin­ger. Yuck.

In my last year at school, I had what we called ex­tra lessons with a re­li­gious man. He gave me a lift home one day and tried to kiss me. I did what any­one would in­stinc­tively do: I gave him a whack on the nose, break­ing his glasses, leapt from the car and went straight to my friend and parish priest, who took care of things. On strict in­struc­tions from my mother, not a word was said to my fa­ther; he’d kill him, she said.

This is surely what par­ent­ing is all about — pro­tect­ing your chil­dren and be­liev­ing them when they com­plain of un­to­ward be­hav­iour from those who teach.

I was re­minded of this the other day when, on the train, I saw a 40- some­thing man with a young Asian girl, who seemed not much older than 15. He was paw­ing her and she had a fixed smile on her face but looked as though she would like to vomit. He looked like the cat who’d caught the ca­nary. How could he not know he looked like a preda­tor? If there’s one thing the young would tell us, it is that a teenage girl finds ut­terly re­pul­sive the no­tion of be­ing touched by some­one whose skin is show­ing signs of rot­ting.

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