By Nancy Cato
April 29, 2013
This is my final attempt to face my demons, or at least some of them. It’s only taken 37 years.
In 1976 as a young mother with a newborn babe – my third child – I read a story of a shocking case of Child Abuse; it told of a father shaking his baby and throwing her against a wall after molesting her.
It traumatised me – still does – my hands are shaking as I recount this story. I‘ve been in denial for many years and because I wish to make a positive contribution to the scourge of Child Abuse that’s in out midst (as I tried to do in my early television days) I must face it.
My catalyst is the recently appointed Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse. At its first hearing on 3 April 2013 Justice McClellan AM, the chair for the Royal Commission, acknowledged that there had been harm committed against children that has caused lasting damage.
It’s a start.
I will admit that I’ve been further stung into action by the recent suggestion from a well-known radio broadcaster that a young girl may have herself provoked the sexual attack she suffered.
This piece is dedicated to victims of Child Abuse wherever you may be, no matter your age or circumstances. It was not easy to write, albeit fantasised and is probably less easy to read – and for that I do apologise. I hope some of you will persevere to the end.
It is not aimed at any one Institution, person, place or thing… but rather, we ourselves; this society that would seem to want to protect its borders more fiercely than its children.
Sometimes, when opening up my eyes – not always from the deep of sleep, but still more like the realm of reality than waking time incurs – I see things that I ought not see, disturbing scenes such as the one before me now.
My hands are guided to these keys and yet I cannot write. The screen – clouded with a mist of grey – has mesmerised my eyes but in the distance I make out a group of children playing in a park. The images draw near and then to my distress I see that what I thought was play is nothing of the kind. Each child avoids another’s gaze and stands alone as if in haunted states of disarray. They’re all in grey attire, mostly rags – toddlers, others every age to nearing teens and one with a baby in her arms. A closer look shows why there is no tumbling fun, no shrieks of laughter reaching out to catch a friend; for in each face, the eyes have lost the shine of children’s play – replaced by hopelessness itself.
A young girl comes into view. She’s not in rags but dressed incongruously in a pink confection of party dress; brand new yet stained and torn. She looks distressed and shuffles awkwardly towards me. Reaching out – she can’t be more than six years old – her fingers touch the screen and with her small face quite close to mine, whispers, “Can you help us?”
“What’s the matter?” I reply, forgetting I’m addressing someone on a screen.
“It’ll be here soon. It keeps on….” and then she stops, looking around fearfully.
“What is it? What are you afraid of? What keeps…..”
“Come with me,” she says, cutting me off with such urgency I somehow find myself in the mist, following her. She leads me to a small lane where several cottages sit awkwardly as though embarrassed by their neglect. We enter one and she throws open the door to a small room and I draw back as I see a man with a tiny baby.
“He can’t see you’, says the girl and I shudder as I see the man shake the baby violently, screaming at it. To my shame – knowing what’s going to happen next – I turn and run out the door through the mist. I run as hard as I can but seem to make no progress, then, remembering the girl I turn back and see her huddled on the ground. It’s the same girl but now as though Time has steered off course, she appears to be only two or three years old. She starts to whimper then gives way to throated cries that rock her little body back and forth. “Don’t let him Mummy…please…no dress.”
I reach out to comfort her but the grey mist darkens and something is pulling me backwards. Petrified I shall not reach my own Time Zone again I scream out to her: “Tell someone; tell someone what is happening” – and the screen then turns to black.
I cannot get this image from my mind and try to press the button OFF – but destiny will not allow and takes me to another scene.
A Market Square.
It’s bright and colourful – full of crowds of happy, eager folk searching for that bargain they must have; stall-holders are hustling their tricks of trade that make the bargains look ‘just so’ – and dogs and youngsters on the ground share spoils of lovers’ inattention to their meals. Many of the adults (eclectic, ethnic mix and each from every state and stage of being) have children in their care; some ‘mewling and puking’ in their mothers’ arms and others looking joyfully from shoulders high at siblings pulled along by brawny hands.
It’s one such child that breaks free now – dancing vivaciously towards me, twirling with the energy that only childhood brings. She looks straight at me behind the glass…so sweet of smile and nimble of limb I am beguiled, till with a jolt I recognise the dress and see her as the one that only moments ago, it seems, was pleading for my help.
“My name’s Douglas,” she giggles without pause. “Daddy thought I’d be a boy.”
“Is everything all right?” I whisper, the earlier scenes still vivid in my mind. “Where are the others?”
“Daddy’s taking me to buy a dress,” she offers as if she hasn’t heard, but something catches in her eyes and she adds, “I try to be good”. Her attention is suddenly drawn to a sound behind her and she whirls around with startled cry as a man pushes through the crowd to reach her, his face contorted, angry, yelling “Get back here Douglas” He grabs her roughly, pulling her arm as she tries to reach out to me, her little body shakes with fear – and I scream “tell somebody”. But the now familiar dark grey mist comes down and Douglas disappears.
Unnerved and weeping unashamedly, I see the Market Place erupt as ugliness descends and children run in all directions through the stalls. They hide their eyes whilst elders brawl; they hear attacks of every kind with kicks and punches flying blind upon the weak; they hear their sisters’ cries; and when an altar boy comes crashing down a priest resplendent in his robes enjoys the feast. They hear some men and women – both in drunken rage or lustful ecstasy from pill or juicy potion – wield their pickets and their glass until they find their children to assault; the children cannot watch the glint of unsheathed knives whilst knowing other weapons will appear, and as they run they see all adult reason cease – trampled to the ground wherein lies dignity in tears.
I search for Douglas in the crowd ashamed I’ve somehow let her down, and wonder from which year it is. Or is it time gone by…or not yet past?
I try to slam the lid on this distressing scene, and only cease as suddenlya hush precedes a violent, crashing sound that opens panic’s doors on this the open Market Place, and people try to flee the solid walls that now surround.
“Order!” screams a voice so full of power the masses freeze and fall down where they are and look about with fearful dread. As well they might: They’re in a Court of Law.
“All stand!” the voice commands, and as the people rise – tentative, dazed – a Judge appears and takes his lofty chair. I see this is no usual Court of Law. There is no gown or wig, yet on this Judge’s head an outsized hat resides with faded tag assuring there is Justice. The Prosecutor, to the right, stands tall – Opinion, flamboyant on his gown and yet another word I partly see, lies hidden ‘tween the folds. He nods approval to the crowd, acknowledging its sudden recognition and support. There’s no Attorney for Accused although a robe with no apparent label idly lies across a table to the left.
“Bring in the Prisoner!”
I expect to see a member of the rabble from outside brought in to justice – but no, a tiny child is roughly handed up then pushed into the dock. She is but six years old, so slight of limb and wide of eye, one thinks of frightened horses in a crowd. With sickening jolt I see her clear. Tis Douglas, self-same child in party dress of pink-now-turned-to-grey; the one who turned to me for help. A tut of disapproval struts around within the room and further murmurings take hold – erupting as a shrieking chorus to the tune “Again?”
Judge: Silence! What is the charge against this child?
Opinion: Provocation, Your Honour! The charge is Provocation!
Judge: Proceed with Opening Remarks.
Opinion: My Lord! The accused, this wretched child, will masquerade as virtue if set free. It will amount to nought but falsely bring my clients – all great men apart from one or two – to shame. “He did me wrong,” she squeals in girlish way; “…he put his hand and other parts that hurt, inside of me…” What vicious lies are these that pour out from her mouth? She has no status or no right to be parading thus, pretending virtue as her meme when all along she is intent with guile. Look upon her face; so well she knows what she is at; her very countenance betrays the protests of her type. See how she thrusts her tender breasts towards us now; see her hold her genitals just so…provoking with each stroke? Her doe-like eyes say “I’m the Victim here, please look on me”. My God, Your Honour, please be clear on who the Victims are in this sad case. Within my clients’ hearts, that’s where the suffering truly lies. A few good men that needs must give up worldly freedom and reveal their whereabouts for life, ridiculed and reviled and labelled paedophiles no less, when all they did was give her what she craved. My clients all are ordinary folk and Dignitaries and VIPs; Charities and men beholden to the Church. ‘Twas she who let it happen truth be told, provoked them, led them on. I shall display good cause to prove this charge of Provocation right; that she and all her ilk should be incarcerated till they grow – in true humility – befitting of their sex.
Until such time, deserve they nought but fullness of contempt.
Horrified and outraged by this speech, I yell out… but the Courtroom fades to black.
I imagine this will bring my nightmare to a close…but no…it is the wretched park again. As though the children see me now, they slowly shuffle forward one by one. There isn’t one you could call whole. Faces gaunt, expressionless, they’re hungry, cold, neglected and forlorn. The beatings and the blame have done their work, their labels clearly marked ‘Clumsy’ ‘Hopeless’ ‘Wicked’ and the like. The trauma’s clear. They give no indication that they know what Love could be, and only then I realize that I see the future of mankind.
They stand in line before me now, silent, waiting, as if they know I wish to speak yet know not what to say.
A lad of very tender years approaches and I see he has a stick to hold him steady as he stands. “Douglas told us what you said,” he falters, “She’s gone to tell – but some of us have no one…”
Against the power of instinct – as though the Pipes of Pan are tuning in to childhood’s needs and forcing me to face their pain, I shut my eyes and hold my breath and whisper, “Then tell…me.” And as the horror tales take shape with stumbling words and stutterings, the colour comes to cheeks and life to limb, the whispers turn to rushing sounds that shout down fears of those who have no voice; they tell me all and finding each a brother/sisterhood they turn and form a circle all together that no force will ever break.
Judge: Is there no one here to help defend this child?
I note the unclaimed robe no longer lies upon the table to the left. A figure stands before the judge and though it’s hidden by the hood – with sinking heart and fearful dread – I recognise the face to be my own.
Judge: Are you representing this child? What are your credentials?
Procrastination: Credentials I have none Your Honour! I’m here to put my silence to an end and beg your leave to stand this child down from the dock. She’s not the guilty one.
Opinion: Objection! She has no idea…
Judge: Overruled! You speak on this young child’s behalf – on whose authority?
Procrastination: It is the Voice of Childhood spurs me on.
Judge: You may proceed.
Procrastination: Your Honour! It’s famous voices on the air, and ones that moan and toll the Bell who say that children are to blame. Outdated, boorish, sexist yet, they give no reason for the charge except to save the souls of wealthy friends on high.
Opinion: Objection! There is no…
Judge: Let her speak.
Procrastination: It is the child who is the Victim here. Abused and yet Accused? ‘Tis many should be standing in that Dock for crimes against the children. It will come.
Voice from crowd: You’re a Liar. All lies. Opinion tells it how it is.
Judge: Order! No intervention from the courtroom is allowed. It seems contempt is freely here today.
Procrastination: Opinion, were it not for your most blinkered sense of what is right – this child and children would now stand free as equals, midst the sphere of Innocence.
A babe is born and from that second on perfection starts its swift decline, but till such time the child should take responsibility in full we must support its care. Who dares to blame the children for perversion gone astray when mindless cruelty or lust lie hidden in a robe?
This child, just six years from the womb is held here to be trialled – no reason for her guilt. Look at her! Her innocence is clear. There is no understanding yet of man-made guile to lure the passion of desire or stir up anger in the adult breast. This child no more knows this than why the flowers bloom or puppies chew. She yearns for Love that will be bludgeoned shortly from her heart – or nurtured to embrace the joy of life. You do not know the harm you wreak upon the child. While bruises heal and bones will mend, her life will be a constant, joyless dread.
Responsibility for this lies deep within your Court. I beg you hear the children’s plea.
Opinion: Enough of this preamble…I call on Witnesses Contempt!
Judge: Witnesses? Plural do you say? Good sir, you call but one.
Opinion: I beg indulgence of the Court: so many hold this child in deep contempt we thought it best to show en masse, the error of her ways. I call them ALL before you now.
Procrastination: Objection Your Honour. He cannot bring a crowd of people to the stand. ‘Tis HE who shows contempt.
Judge: Order! Order!
Procrastination: Children! Bring in the Guilty One!
Judge: Be seated, all of you. ORDER! ORDER!
But look! It is too late. Confusion reigns as witnesses advance towards the Stand and hurl abusive words towards the child. Some lunge as if to do her harm and she recoils as though she knows them well. Then suddenly a thunderous noise fills all the space and lights go out. A hush descends and from outside, the children’s voices can be heard – all loud and clear and strong.
A spread of light pervades the Court as doors fling open and the Children from the Park advance and sing “The Guilty One is here”. They’re in procession-form and Douglas rushes from the Dock to meet them at the head. Before them is a heaving, glutinous mass, like jelly from a mould, that – rolled by eager hands – is pushed into the Dock. The mist that once was grey – diluted now – still hovers, just above.
Opinion’s witnesses retreat and whimper to their seats to fearfully look on as this same mass begins to shake and wail its innocence to all. Transparent, one can see inside: in shapes of promises and threats and disempowering neglect, a blubbering mess of children’s dreams floats helplessly around; the running sores and scalding burns slide freely down the broken limbs and verbal curses roll around amongst cut lips and fresh-bruised flesh.
It moans, this mass that once was free; but captive now it roars its predatorial song and tries to reach the children, lurching forth – forgetting that with Love’s restraint – it can no longer feed the appetite that never seemed to end.
Procrastination: You see before you now this treacherous fool devoid of all disguise. Deprived of meals depravity prepares…it cannot live to prey upon the young. Let’s keep it so. For in the children’s hands the Future lies as surely as our own demise Lies hovering in the wind.
As if a camera films the room in motion slow, the mist and light recede and people try to be upright and look about. The heaving mass has disappeared and in its place the children all stand free. Small adult groups approach with open arms while others view the scene – a look of shameful horror on their brows, their heads bowed low, aware of this their final chance.
Some priests are on their knees: while others seek to be above the shame and sneak out with a crowd of likewise guilty folk that do not wish to face the blame. Their turn will come!
But will enlightenment hold sway should Child Abuse come knocking just once more?
The Judge departs; the Prosecutor throws his robes upon the bench and shakes his head in disbelief as clients walk away. I see his second label clearly now peep slyly from the folds. I trust you see it too.
The Voice of Childhood calls and leads the laughing children to the door. But Douglas turns and takes me by the hand. We run together through the park and down the little lane, and as we turn into the gate, the cottage in such disrepair before is showing signs of pride and care. The little bedroom door is open wide and tears fall as I see Douglas, woman now, attending to her babe with crooning song.
The whole screen fades to black and I can feel retreating demons. Warmth returns to fingers keen to write, of what?
My gratitude for the beauty, grace and innocence of the Child.