Last week, a long ordeal finally ended for an ordinary Australian family. Their son, Lucas, was found not guilty of sexual contact with a child. The female judge who delivered this verdict said she believed Lucas’ version of events – not the vile accusations that led him to spend seven months in prison, nor the vicious rumours in the local paper describing him as a ‘pedo’ and leading to death threats on social media.
I’ve just made a video with Lucas’ mother, Debbie Garratt, a brave woman who has made the considered decision to go public with what happened to them, to warn other parents of dangers awaiting young men in this hypervigilant anti-male culture. Her story suggests we are reaching the point where it is just too risky for men to take jobs caring for children.
Debbie is actually a step-mum to Lucas, but he’d had been part of their large, blended family since he was a small child. He was in his early twenties when he decided on a career in childcare, a prospect which made his parents somewhat nervous, but they knew children had always flocked to this easy-going, considerate young man and he thrived in the job, with families often seeking out his babysitting services after hours.
One evening in August 2018 he was babysitting for a family he knew well, having cared for their children many times, including the five-year-old girl he’d looked after since she was a toddler in nappies. During the evening, he noticed the little girl seemed to be ‘fiddling’, apparently bothered by an irritated vulva. When he found her scratching herself half asleep in bed, he quickly swiped the area with a baby wipe, hoping the moist towelette would ease the irritation.
It didn’t occur to him that this could create a problem until the police came and interviewed him at work the next day. It transpired that early that day the little girl had mentioned to her mother that, ‘Lucas licked me.’ The mum went on high alert, told the girl to stop talking, screamed for her husband, and then subjected the child to a grilling, recorded on an iPhone.
In her verdict, the judge commented that the parents’ reaction contributed to setting in place the whole disastrous sequence of events that followed, which sadly included the girl being interrogated at the police station and taken for internal examinations. When initially questioned by the police, the child denied that Lucas had put his head near her vulva, or even that he had touched her, but these negative responses were omitted from the evidence used for the charges and not conveyed to the child’s parents.
I hope you will listen to this whole extraordinary story as there are important lessons to be learned.
It’s quite something to hear how the legal aid barrister sold out this young man, bullying him in a corridor outside the courtroom, telling him he had to plead guilty to avoid further distress to the child, convincing him that he was bound to be convicted and this was the only way to get a reduced sentence.
Any parent would identify with Debbie’s emotion as she describes the result – Lucas was convicted and simply whisked off to prison. They weren’t even able to find out where the authorities had taken him for ten days, by which time his guilty plea was all over the newspapers and social media alive with advice about hanging the ‘scumbag animal’.
We can all imagine the family’s relief when the judge affirmed Lucas’ version of events, stating a number of times that the child must have been mistaken. This was not a case of the accused being found not guilty due to insufficient evidence but rather, a female judge determining a male was to be believed. And that’s quite something.
What’s inspirational is Debbie’s advice to Lucas during the years he spent living at home with his parents, unable to get a job, and nervous about leaving the house. Debbie would make him come with her to the supermarket, telling him to ‘put your head up’ and demonstrate to everyone that he had no reason to hide away. ‘It’s important not to be caught in shame,’ she told him.
But the same applies to parents. Most parents like Debbie, even after their sons are found not guilty of this type of allegation, get caught in shame. The whole ordeal is so overwhelming that they choose to just hide away and try to get on with their lives – which is perfectly understandable.
How rare it is for someone whose child has slipped the noose to come out fighting, willing to subject herself and her family to still more public scrutiny in the hope that others will take heed.
A word of caution – I know some people reading this will be shocked at the naivety shown by Lucas. Many smugly assume their own children would have the good sense never to touch a child in that way, even though the judge agreed this had been done ‘for hygienic purposes and in good faith’. Men today know good faith isn’t enough to protect them.
Yet in this current climate, with false allegations rampant, all men working with children are at risk, however they behave. Talk to a few teachers and you hear the stories. Like the newly graduated teacher working in a school in Port Macquarie who ran into problems with a female student who refused to finish the assignment he’d set for the class. ‘If you try to make me, I’ll tell them that you touched me,’ the little miss told her teacher. He was lucky. He reported her to the school principal who suspended her. The teacher’s story was believed because she was a known troublemaker but it could easily have turned out badly for him instead.
It’s a tragic irony that just as the world is finally waking up to the damage to children who miss out on masculine influence in their lives, the moral panic over sexual abuse is driving away the very few men still working with them – men who play a particularly vital role for kids in single mum households. Naturally, this sad state of affairs receives no public scrutiny.
Read more of Bettina Arndt on Substack.
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