Tom Leonard writing in the Telegraph notes that a man drove past Abigail Rae, the two year old who in 2006 drowned in a garden pond after wandering off from her village playgroup, shortly before her tragic accident.
She was not walking straight, she was tottering, said Mr Peachey. “I kept thinking should I go back? One of the reasons I did not go back is because I thought someone would see me and think I was trying to abduct her.”
Leonard notes that an informal poll of his office colleagues found the women thought his excuse was pathetic and that he should have stopped to pick up the child. Men in Leonard’s office, who have probably encountered being treated with suspicion themselves, were more sympathetic to Peachey’s plight.
As a woman one can sit on a park bench overlooking a children’s playground and likely be left alone. A man doing the same thing will find himself subject to dirty looks and eventually the approach of a policeman.
The hysteria over paedophilia hangs like some dark cloud over almost every interaction nowadays between a man and a child that isn’t his.
All of which relates to education in the number of men who are willing to become teachers of younger children. The gender imbalance at primary and elementary school level is oft decried, with only 12% of primary school teachers in England being male and according to a 2008 report the US not faring much better with only 17% of elementary teachers being male. Kindergarten teachers? 98% female.
Abby would have been too young to know the rules about strangers, but what would have happened if Mr Peachey had stopped to help a slightly older child. Nowadays, the standard advice to lost children is unambiguous – find a police officer or, failing that, a woman with a child.
Note, not a man with a child and certainly not a man without one.
Mr Peachey couldn’t stop to save Abby. Had he stopped and the mother had turned out to be nearby he could easily have found himself being cautioned by the police for attempted child abduction, subject to a local hate campaign or even being placed on the Sex Offender’s register. If more men are to take on the vocation of teaching young children, or society wants them to stop and help a child wandering alone, then current attitudes which tar all men who look or approach a child with the brush of potential pedophilia have to be adjusted to a saner middle ground.
Farmers in north Wales used to greet a little boy with a pat on the head and a coin. Today, when he wants to talk to a child, he makes sure he first gets a smile out of the parent and mentions that he has grandchildren.