All children should be conscious of strangers, and be discriminating and wary of them. This won’t make them grow up suspicious as long as they have adults around whom they know and can trust: relatives, friends of their parents, parents of friends. - Newsweek magazine, January 10th, 1994
96% of all “abducted children” are “kidnapped” by family members (nearly always with the “victim’s” consent) and 3% by family friends; furthermore, 80% of sexual assaults of children and 90% of those of adolescent girls are committed by someone the victim knows. The neofeminist model of “rape as hate crime” is totally unable to explain this without resorting to bizarre “rape culture” rhetoric of the sort discussed in my column of one year ago today, but those who recognize that human sexuality is dark and chthonian and animalistic understand it quite well. I’ve been thinking about my teen years a great deal lately, and recalled the time I escaped what might have been a sexual assault; as you will see, the episode turns the hysterical “child predator” narrative on its ear, because it was a relative and some acquaintances of my own age who threatened me, and a strange adult man who rescued me.
As I’ve mentioned before, my paternal grandmother (Maman) used to pay me a generous twenty dollars to mow her lawn once per week; after I was done and had cooled off a bit, I always walked to the convenience store about a kilometer away to buy comic books (there were no comic book stores in small-town Louisiana back then). I have always been a creature of habit, and did this the same way every single week; it never occurred to me that someone might use that predictable schedule to set up an ambush. Upon leaving Maman’s house, I would pass through the gate connecting her backyard with that of her younger sister; the house next to my aunt’s was owned by one of her cousins, whose son (a sullen boy with the rather odd nickname “Chicken”) was thus my third cousin. He was a year older than me, and though we had never been particularly close he had never hurt me in any way, and used to be part of the mixed-sex group of kids that had always played together in that neighborhood when we were younger. Another boy I’ll call “Stan” was the same age as Chicken, but we were classmates because I had skipped a grade; he lived with his grandparents next door to Maman, and Chicken’s father was his maternal uncle. Another boy called “Skip” lived two doors down on the other side, and I had always considered he and Stan my friends.
One mowing day in the summer of 1979, I had cut through my aunt’s yard to the back street as usual; it was late afternoon, perhaps an hour before sunset, and as I walked my usual route I saw Chicken, Stan, Skip and two other boys on the side of the street ahead of me. I didn’t really think much about it; though both of the other boys (whom I’ll call John and Tony) had unsavory reputations and I did not like the way Tony stared at me whenever he was nearby, I assumed the presence of the first three counteracted any possibility of danger. It’s strange to think I was ever that naïve, but I was too young to understand pack behavior and the effect a nubile young virgin in cutoffs and a halter top might have on such a pack; my initial reaction when Chicken and Tony stepped out in front of me was therefore annoyance rather than fear. I tried to pass to Chicken’s right, and was blocked by John (a pipsqueak who was shorter than I was); I realized Stan and Skip had closed in behind me. And then Chicken reached out to touch my neck, apparently in an attempt to untie my halter top. I pushed his hand away, and he slapped my face so hard it knocked me to the ground.
Now I was afraid; clearly Chicken was not going to let blood kinship come between him and what he wanted, and considering the rather nasty rumors I had heard about John and his twin sister I could guess where he got the idea. Tony was obviously in on the plan as well, but I still couldn’t understand why Skip and Stan weren’t helping me. I tried to get up, and Chicken pushed me back down with his foot; the others seemed content to watch for the time being, except for Tony stopping me when I tried to move in his direction. I’m not sure if I said anything, but Chicken slapped me again and then I started crying…which is undoubtedly what saved me. I think they were all too young to have become hardened sadists yet, and the sight of a girl sobbing due to their actions seemed to disarm them; Stan started saying “Come on, y’all, leave her alone”, and Skip backed away and gave me room to pass. None of them pursued me as I quickly walked away, and I didn’t look back to see what they were doing.
I had stopped crying by the time I got to the store, but as I stood at the rack picking my comics I started worrying; what if the three really bad ones ditched Stan and Skip and were waiting for me? It would be dark soon, and even if I went back by a different route they might be waiting outside to follow me. My father coached Little League in the summer, so the whole family would be at the ball park until quite late, and cell phones were still almost two decades in the future; Maman had never learned to drive. There were probably a dozen other people I could have called, but I was upset and frightened and not thinking clearly, and I hadn’t even realized that both my lip and one knee were bleeding. The clerk had been busy with another customer when I came in, but as I approached the register he asked, “What happened? Are you OK?” and I instantly started crying again.
There was a young man, perhaps in his late twenties, approaching the counter; I could see the concern in his face as he asked me, “Aren’t you P____ McNeill’s little girl?” I nodded my head. He told me he worked with my father, and that he recognized me from a meeting a few years before that I didn’t remember. He asked what had happened, and I told him between sobs; I also explained as coherently as I could that I was afraid to walk back to Maman’s. Then he asked, “Why don’t you let me give you a ride back?”
Even in those less-paranoid days kids knew better than to get into cars with strangers, and I told him so. “I understand, and I don’t blame you for being afraid,” he replied; “if you prefer I’ll wait here with you while you call someone to come and get you.” He had very gentle eyes, and my instinct was to trust him; it was also getting dark and I just wanted to get back to Maman’s as soon as possible. The clerk (who was a local boy I knew in passing) also assured me that the gentleman was in the store quite frequently, and that he knew his family; I decided to take the risk. The drive was short and direct, and he chit-chatted about my father to help calm me; in just a couple of minutes we were pulling into Maman’s driveway, and when I thanked him he assured me that he was glad to help.
Needless to say, Maman was livid; she was on the phone with Chicken’s mother as soon as she had cleaned me up, and though I don’t know what punishment he received I do know he always gave me a wide berth thereafter. I decided it was best to say nothing about Stan and Skip, since they had reconsidered in time to save me, and from then on I rode my bicycle to the store via the main street rather than walking via the back. By springtime I was so busy with high school Maman decided to let a younger grandchild have a turn at the lucrative mowing job, and I decided I was too old for comic books anyway (a decision I reconsidered about eight years ago). But though I don’t remember my knight’s name, I still clearly recall his kind face with the John Lennon glasses and haircut, and I hope he still remembers the young damsel he rescued on a summer evening so long ago.