Fire alarms, lost kids, conflicting ethics ...
Roger Butler describes a tricky challenge they recently experienced – one where they’re not at all convinced they did the right thing. Here’s how they described it, about an hour after it happened:
“Wow - that was a difficult situation. And I think I might have failed.
I was just down at my local shopping centre. As I was walking in, the evacuation alarm was going off. People looked like they were becoming increasingly panicky.
As I saw shops beginning to shutter, I realised it was a real alarm. I was about to leave when I saw a toddler by themselves. They had that "where's my parent?" look on their face, so I stopped to observe for a few moments. It quickly became clear they were lost, and had gotten it in their head to start walking towards the other end of the centre.
I asked a few nearby people if the child was theirs, and got blank stares in reply. So it was obvious to me from then that the child had become separated.
I went into a bit of dumbness at that point in time. What I wanted to do was pick the child up, take them back to where I first saw them, and trust that the parent/s would show up. But all I could think of was people accusing me - as an alone older male-presenting person - of kidnap or molestation. I am very aware that people of my demographic aren’t generally meant to be alone with children, especially ones we don't know, or even be near them, on account of all the really shitty things that go on in the world. It happens that just last night I listened to a podcast about how the dark-web is being used by paedophiles to coordinate their activities, so perhaps it was more on my mind than usual.
I was freaked.
I got the attention of a female-presenting person, who for a moment agreed to walk with me, and watch the situation. After a few moments she asked the child if they were lost, got no reply, and so then shrugged their shoulders and walked off.
I followed the toddler all the way to the other end of the mall, wondering how this odd little stand-off would end, hoping the parent would just spring out of a shop or something.
At the end of the mall, some women noticed what was going on. I told them the child was lost, and that they had walked here from the other end. One of the women immediately picked up the child, and headed back in the direction I pointed. The woman was treating me with a lot of suspicion, and initially wouldn't engage with me, but did eventually. I wasn't going to leave the situation unresolved, so I walked with the woman back to where I originally saw the toddler. About ten more meters further on was a very distraught parent, followed by tears of relief. They thanked the woman, who turned and left without any further exchange, probably unable to understand why I hadn’t done what she did.
What a dilemma. I think I failed, at least partially. My socialisation around never being a lone guy with a child is really strong, but I let that over-rule what should have been the focus: the child (and, to a lesser extent, the poor parent with whom I anonymously shared a few minutes of anxiety). I think I should have taken the risk, and scooped the child up. Even, in a worst-case scenario, me being questioned by police is better than me doing nothing. I also could have been more insistent that other bystanders helped.
And I didn't do nothing; I wasn't going to leave the situation. My actions probably just meant it dragged on for longer than it should of. I'm sorry to the kid and the parent.
What a bind. This was an hour ago, and I'm still adrenalised."
Rog is the driving force behind Curious Creatures, and the main author of this sexuality blog in Melbourne. They were brought up white, middle-class, mostly heterosexual, and male. They now identify as kinky, tantric, polyamorous, queer, and very, very curious. Are you curious? Read more about Rog and Curious Creatures.