August 12, 2008
I have just been having a clear out and came across a newspaper cutting from 3 years ago. Charlie Lee-Potter’s Special Report on child pornography. It recalled my experiences and feelings of the time my partner and I were driving through Germany on our way home to Spain from Poland. What I witnessed in the space of 10 mins, responses to it and my actions have left me with feelings of disgust, anger, total amazement and disappointment at the level of deprivation the human race has reached and, as mentioned in her report, if we as bystanders do nothing then this evil will flourish.
You know the feeling when you sense something is not right? The sensation down your spine, the tingling in your arms and the sick feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach? And you KNOW….this is something you HAVE to do something about?
I am not a prude, neither is my head buried in the sand. I am a mother of two, grandmother to four, I have been an Army wife, worked for the Probation Service for 19 years, I read a lot, I know what goes on in the world and I am well aware of the shit that can be perpetrated on women and children. But when you are faced with it, a few yards from where you are standing, it makes you sick. Recalling to mind what I witnessed, makes me angry and ashamed that I didn’t immediately do more to help. However – I used my camera and spent four hours with the German Police. I couldn’t have lived with myself if I had come home having done nothing. To have ignored what I saw would have been the same as giving my permission for this horror and evilness to go ahead.
It was purely by chance that we were where we were at 8.10am on the morning of Thursday 26th May, 2005. We had driven to Poland a few days earlier to collect a caravan and were on our way home using the caravan as our nightly base.. In mainland Europe, truck drivers have very good facilities provided for them i.e. large parking areas, restaurants, coffee bars, shops showers, and we were using these to park each night. On the evening of Wednesday 25th May we had reached such an area in Karl’s Ruhr, Germany, had coffee and went to bed. Next morning the car battery was flat. The answer? Call ADAC (the German AA/RAC). They would be arriving at about 8am. I spent my time photographing the trucks and reading. ADAC arrived at around 8.10am, the same time my partner returned to our car saying “Something funny going on over there. Go and see what you think. It’s two men and a girl” He went to deal with ADAC, I picked up my camera ( to this day I don’t know why) and wandered in the general direction of ‘over there’
I was expecting to see a couple of men and a young woman of say 18 or 19 years. What I actually saw were two men and a child of around 10 or 11 years. A girl.
I knew immediately that the situation didn’t sit right. The scene itself spelt it out…the body language, the closeness and, as Charlie Lee-Potter says in her Report ‘the blank, empty face of the child’. An expression the NSPCC describes as ‘frozen watchfulness’. To me, the child looked emotionally numb; in fact she looked doped up to the eyeballs. One man was sitting on a low wall with the girl hugged and held to his side with his left arm; the second man was standing on her other side, facing them. They walked her to a waiting car, she was still being held to the man’s side, but the other man had closed in to them, cutting off any escape route. She was put into the back of a black Volkswagen Golf and the door closed. The two men stood with their backs to me, I used my camera to record the scene and the number plate, and then the men turned and saw me, camera in hand. I was scared. I stood my ground and became ‘a middle-aged female tourist taking photos of trucks’. With hindsight, should I have made conversation with them – about these lovely big vehicles and how my son drives one? I could at least have then picked up a language or accent. But I was scared. They got into the car and drove off at high speed. I walked back to our car knowing what I had seen – a child being toted around the truck stops being used for child prostitution……it could not have been anything else. I had not witnessed some cosy family scene. I had witnessed a young girl being used, her rights to a childhood ignored, being dragged around wherever and subjected to abuses which I, as a grown woman, would run away from. She couldn’t run anywhere. The look of numbness on that child’s face and the sense that any form of escape was denied to her will remain in my mind for ever.
She could have been taken anywhere – there are very few borders in Europe now – and with a vast, efficient motorway system winding its way through one country to another. ..she could even be dead.
On returning to our car, I made notes of what I had seen and felt, descriptions of the men and the child and I had a photo. We drove down the motorway and stopped at the next Service area – this one having a Motel and a Church, where I was sure someone could speak better English than I can speak German. I was in luck; the receptionist at the Motel spoke excellent English. I told her what I had witnessed and she said she would call the Police. I then spent the next four hours with the German Police, who I must stress were excellent. When I told them I had a photo it became like a scene from a TV drama – 7 uniformed officers checking the image, tracking details etc through their data base. I then made a 3 page statement and was told that the Criminal Police may want to speak to me when I got home.
Leaving the Police Station four hours later, I asked my partner (who had stayed in the car) if I hadn’t been with him, would he have reported the ‘something strange’ he had seen? The answer – No. This response both shocked and surprised me. But I have had exactly the same response when mentioning the incident to other couples. The men all said No or didn’t express an opinion one way or another The women have all been encouraging for the action I took and that, like me,they couldn’t have left the matter and come home.
Charlie Lee-Potter stated that 99% of child sex abuse is carried out by men – the same gender whose response is ‘don’t rock the boat’. She also wrote in her report ‘…many countries, including the U.S refuse to legislate against pay-per-view child porn sites on the internet because they are obsessed with protecting freedom at any cost’. What about the freedom of the children? What freedom did the child I saw being toted around have? Charlie Lee-Potter is right in saying we all have a duty to these children and to fail to protect them, is a crime itself.
Us quiet ‘uns can do it anywhere. Rather like the old Martini advert “Anytime, Anywhere, Any place”, it can be done morning, noon or night, indoors or out, winter or summer, alone or in company! You can either take it with you or buy it when you arrive! What is this woman on about? Reading – now what did you think it was?
I have been watching that wonderful short series on TV called ‘Can’t Read, Can’t Write’ – what a fantastic teacher Phillip Beadle is and I ask why can’t all teachers teach like that? Yes, I know the answer is time and money. Shame. Anyway, I can’t image life without reading; it is like breathing to me. Take books out of my life and I would die – well not literally die, but my brain would shrivel and I would become ‘a vegetable’.
Can you remember when and how you learnt to read? Who taught you? My answer to these quest ions is No. I just can’t recall anytime when I couldn’t and didn’t read.
I was born in the 1940s, an only child who was not encouraged to make friends. So dolls, jigsaws and books became my ‘friends’. Early childhood memories are few and far between but Beatrix Potter’s little square books with their white covers still make me smile. ‘Little Women’ and ‘Jo’s Boys’ soon followed. I can remember joining the local library as soon as I could and many a Saturday morning was spent amongst the shelves I found hard to reach! A right mixture of authors found their way into my hands, ranging from the adventures of Biggles, anything written by Ed McBain, to the writings of Mrs. Gaskill (‘North and South’ still being a favourite) and the Russian Classic ‘Quietly Flows the Don’ by Mikhail Sholokhov.
Immediately after my 15th birthday in 1959 I started work as a Junior in the offices of Jackson and Goslin, a factory making cups, saucers, teapots etc (known as a Pot Bank). I have fond memories of this time. I worked with Mrs. Leech and Mrs. Wright, who every morning took it in turns to bring in cold bacon sandwiches. 10am was break time and after I had made the tea, the three of us took turns reading aloud a chapter from Margaret Mitchell’s ‘Gone with the Wind’ – the name Tara still brings to mind the house from that book (even though I recently stood on the top of the hill with the same name in Ireland).
Reading and being read to was even a deciding factor in my marriage! One afternoon my future husband read to me ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’. His voice captivated me and I thought “he’ll do for me!” This title proved to be quite ironic as I followed him around the world as an Army wife when he decided to join up – and the voice not only charmed me but a hundred and one other women!
Marriage and motherhood took their toll on my love of reading. I used to read to my kids at night but found it made me tired not them and talk about yawning and tears of tiredness running down my cheeks! I enjoyed the occasional Catherine Cookson, but found English books quite difficult to come by living alongside the Malacca Straits in Malaya.
It was in the 1970s and 80s that I was finally reunited with my love but this time it was in the form of a very different type of book: Social and Economic History; Industrial Relations; Economics and even Law. I tell you, they pushed the old brain cells.
And the love affair still continues today but it is now like somebody on crack cocaine – it has become an addiction! I have ongoing books in every room of the house and even in the car. My choice of reading now covers almost every type of book ever written – except Mills and Boon and the like. No thank you, not for me!
So, now in 2008, what am I reading? At the time of writing, it is ‘The Pianist’ by Wladyshaw Szpilman, a story of the Nazi Occupation of Warsaw, told through the experiences of a Polish pianist. And I have just finished ‘The Kite Runner’ by Khalid Hasseini. A brilliant, brilliant story of Afghanistan. I am now keen to read ‘A Thousand Splendid Sons’ by the same author. I have also enjoyed ‘The Island’ by Victoria Hislop (and have her second book ‘the Return’ waiting to be read.
Like some people collect stamps, I collect favourite books and authors and these include:
‘When Rabbit Howls: The Troops for Truddi Chase’ a wonderful but harrowing true story of multiple personalities.
‘Ireland’ by Frank Delaney.
‘Blood and Sand’ by Frank Gardner. The BBC reporter who was shot in Saudi Arabia.
Plus anything written by Edward Rutherfurd, Ian Rankin, Margaret Forster, Douglas Kennedy, Peter Robinson and the Swedish writer Henning Mankill.
So, must finish now, my ‘love’ is calling me…I have a book to finish!