Patria-Kaye Aarons | Every child belongs to all of us
Primary school was where I learned the expression ‘raper man’. I never understood the term rape or the attendant abhorrent profession before then. For my seven-year-old classmates, their fears were greatest, not for rolling calf or duppy or the boogie monster, the ‘raper man’ was the lead actor in their nightmares.
It was a terminology they had all been prematurely forced to learn before I got there. I was enrolled in Mona Primary at grade two, and the previous year, one of their schoolmates had been murder on his way home and according to my peers, he had also fallen victim to a ‘raper man’.
Within my first week of attending the school, the little children felt it important to tell me the details of what happened. Coloured by gruesome descriptions and punctuated by the uncensored honesty you get from a child, they painted with words, vivid images of how their little friend’s body was found. I had never met him and yet two intense emotions overcame me – a deep sense of loss for him and his family, and fear.
My entire primary school life, the ‘raper man’ was an ever present character. I was, for the first time, learning to take the bus on my own, going only six bus stops to my mother who worked at Campion. And even on that short commute, I feared an encounter with the ‘raper man’ and what he might have done to me.
There was a spot on our playground where the fence narrowed and joined with the UWI campus. If you ventured near there, kids would shout out “mine raper man ketch you” and run away. Half taunt, real terror.
As I look back at those years, it saddens me. My classmates and I should never have had to live with that kind of fear. Should never have had to bear witness to those experiences.
Little Shantae should never have had this happen to her. Her little friends now know what is rape and, no doubt, live in fear wondering if they will be next. What kind of childhood is that? We let them down.
OURS TO PROTECT
In Cherry Gardens, sometime in January, Kwasi and I saw a school aged girl walking alone in the dead of night. The ‘raper man’ image from 30 years back immediately flashed into my mind and I spun the car around. I was cautious in approaching her. Enquired where she was going and why she was alone. I warned her never to do it again and insisted we drive behind her until she got to her gate. I made it clear I wouldn’t give her a ride because she should never get into a car with strangers.
I was next to tears realising that every other car had just passed her by. My heart bled knowing that I was slowly driving in a tinted car for about half a mile behind this girl and no one stopped to enquire if she was OK. To ask who we were. To call the police. Nothing. We could easily have been the ‘raper man’.
We have to do more. To be more aware. It comes right back to being a good neighbour. Look out for a passing child. Every passing child. They are all ours to protect.
A little boy thought it was fun to play truant near my gate one day. I came out and began engaging him in conversation. And so did my neighbours. There was something I loved about that moment. Had I meant the little boy ill will, my neighbours would have seen. They too came out, I suspect, not only to add their voice to let him know what he was doing was wrong, but also to let me know that they had seen me. Were I the ‘raper man’, that little boy would have been safe from even me.
His behind was marched through his school gate by another neighbour and I called the school later that day to bring it to the principal’s attention. We all took responsibility for his safety.
I write this week to remind us all that every child belongs to all of us. And collectively, we have a responsibility to keep them safe. We can’t continue to let them down.