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Tuesday, 18 February 2014 15:52

Scandal

It happened all over Canada and the US in the mid-80's to early 90's. Small communities were not as connected to the rest of the world as social media has forced us to be now, and despite the same story echoeing across the continent - each community believed their story to be individual, real and an immediate threat.

It would begin with rumours of a cult, maybe a few accusations of ritual sex abuse or murder, and shortly thereafter the community police officers or church leaders would be addressing the concerns in their own well-meaning way - usually just trying to educate the community about what to watch for IF something dangerous was really going on. In doing exactly this, the community leaders would give credence to the story, and what began as simply rumours became legitimate evidence to townspeople. 

In hundreds of such cases that occurred in the 1980's and 90's, no evidence of a true satanic cult was ever found and in the process of the witch hunts that resulted, thousands of innocent people were arrested and accused of committing the most horrific atrocities. 

When I was 6 years old, this happened in the town I grew up in.  It began with a rumour in a nearby town that travelled through high school students to the surrounding area.  When an infant's diaper rash appeared out of the ordinary to a paranoid mother, stories started circulating about child abuse occurring at a local daycare. 

The rumours and stories - many of which were circulated by children - told of children and babies being hung in cages, murdered and eaten by cult members. They told of mutilations, involving almost every part of the body imagineable.  Signs saying "We Believe the Children" were hung in living room windows by those who claimed that a child could not lie about such things, despite the fact that no babies or children were ever reported missing, nor were there any missing body parts. 

Police handled the investigation poorly, asking the children leading questions based on what other adults and children had said, and soon almost every family in town was somehow affected by the rumours and allegations.  When children were shown photo lineups of possible suspects - filled also with stock photos of the local police force to add to their numbers - fingers were pointed in all directions. Over 200 adults in the town of less than 3000 people were accused and/or taken in for questioning.  Churches were excommunicating people, police officers as well as other workers lost their jobs and their families with no real evidence against them. 

It was nothing short of a witch hunt - if it had been 100 years earlier, I'm sure many innocent people would have been hung. 

How does this involve me?

I was the only child of a single father, and as the rumours circulated I believe what happened is this: a close friend of mine had an older brother who had some connection to a daycare in town that was the focus of many wild accusations. Her brother was getting a lot of attention from police and she may have felt somehow left out.  She told a simple story about my Dad one day, and her mother believed it whole-heartedly, also believing that as an only child in the home, I was likely at risk of abuse myself.  Despite her ignorance, and despite the intense anger I have felt toward this woman for the majority of my life, I do know that in her heart - she believed that what she was doing was the 'right thing to do'.  Unfortunately for me, she was very wrong. 

It was winter, and my elementary school principal came to the door of my Grade 1 class and called for me. As I came to the door, she informed me that I should bring my outdoor clothes. In her office I met the social worker - all I was told was that I would be going with her. I wasn't told why. I wasn't told how long. I don't remember being afraid for myself, but I do remember looking at the clock in the car and realizing that my Grandma would be expecting me home soon and I was worried about her. 

Can you imagine getting that call? "Your daughter/granddaughter has been taken into protective custody on suspicion of abuse." Knowing completely that you have never harmed your child, and fully believing that no abuse has ever occurred in your care - and yet, someone found enough evidence to take your child away. How helpless would you feel? Thinking about it still makes me cry. 

That same day my Dad was taken into police custody where he took a polygraph test that he passed perfectly, leaving them with no further evidence against him. He came home that night - without me. I was taken into the police station where I was asked a number of uncomfortable questions while the investigator acted out random scenarios with dolls. "What would you do if someone touched you here?" was one of the questions I remembered. I wonder, looking back, how my answers affected their investigation. I came from a conservative family, and I was embarrassed and uncomfortable with anything involving sex.

That night I was taken to a foster home. It was a large home, and there were a number of children who were clearly permanent residents - they had bedrooms and closets full of clothes and I wondered if I was to be a permanent resident also.  That evening they played 'The Land Before Time' and I remember not being able to focus - and to this day, that movie makes me uncomfortable. The only place they had for me to sleep that night was on the living room couch. A woman sat at a computer that glowed green after dark and I lay on the couch and cried. She would yell at me occasionally to be quiet and go to sleep.

The next morning, my Grandma and my Aunt - my Dad's younger sister - came to pick me up and take me home. Unfortunately, through some flaw in the child protective system, my Dad was given the impression that he and I could not see each other for a number of months, and after that only supervised visits for another period of time.  Not wanting to get into further trouble and lose me entirely, my Dad obeyed these rules precisely. Knowing what I know now, he should have fought this decision - since they found no evidence against him, there was no further reason to keep us apart.

This affected my perception of a lot of things growing up.

Never again, upon hearing a news report about some horrible child molester, do I take for granted that the story is true - because I always know that lies can be told, and innocent people can be accused of things and I find this reality just as tragic as the reality of abusers.  As a teenager and young adult, I went through a number of training classes for taking care of children that told me to take all accusations to the police - unquestioningly - and I could never agree to this. I would approach the class instructor in all of these cases and say that I would take many things into consideration before bringing an accusation to police - because after my experience - I don't trust Child Protective Services to make the right choice. I can't shake the weight of knowing that there are always two sides to a story, and I will almost never fully believe an accusation without question - because in almost 100% of cases, there are parts of the story that an accuser will not tell. I recall as a child when I would complain about something another child had done to me and my Dad would look at me seriously and ask 'did you do or say anything to provoke them?'. He would always follow up with the statement that 'I can't control what another person does to you, but I am still responsible for teaching YOU what the right thing to do is in all circumstances' and he was almost always right to assume that I wasn't entirely innocent either. It's also possible that his experience with this scandal gave him additional understanding about investigating all angles before coming to conclusions. 

I also do not promote the idea that a child cannot lie. I will absolute agree that a young child may not be able to be held accountable for a lie - because a young child can't fully understand the implications of the lie - but as soon as a child can communicate, they can lie. A lie is simply a statement that the speaker knows not to be true - and anyone who has ever had a young child must admit that children spend a good deal of their time trying to figure out how to control their world and lying is a part of that process.

Writing this blog post actually began with my thoughts on homeschooling - which I will be discussing more and more over the upcoming year - and thinking about all of the horrific stories and rumours that I heard as a very young child through the course of this event. I lost my innocence at a very young age, despite not actually having been abused as many in my community thought I was.  All of the stories I mentioned earlier were, as I said, circulated by children - whether they were invented by children, I can't say, but nevertheless they were stories that children had rattling around in their brains and I think that's awful.  No child should be thinking about sex abuse or mutilations, and when it comes to things like this, I would absolutely advocate that children should be sheltered from this kind of thing as long as possible.

Anyway, as a story that affects my life, my opinions and perception of the world, and my relationship with my father which was forever affected, I felt it was time to tell it. If you've read this far, thanks for listening. 

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