My daughter handed me a letter on her way out of school. The first sentence read “As you may be aware, over the weekend there was an alarming Facebook post relating to an employee at XYZ Hostel*” This was the hostel my daughter was soon to spend the night in for a school trip.
I wasn’t aware of the ‘alarming’ Facebook post. I certainly was alarmed.
Immediately I posted on Facebook, hoping at least one of the mums on my friends list would be able to shed some light. The ten minutes it took for someone to message me felt like an eternity, I wanted to know what had happened and if my daughter might be at risk if I still sent her on this trip.
It turns out, one of those paedophile vigilante groups on Facebook had lead a man to believe he was talking to a 14 year old. When the fake 14 year old had agreed to meet this man for sex, a live Facebook stream awaited him, ready to expose him to the thousands that follow that page. That man was an employee at the youth hostel where my daughter would soon be staying.
Personally, I don’t like those vigilante groups. I don’t know the lengths they go to to attempt to hook their suspected groomers. I don’t know whether he really thought he was talking to an underage girl or not (although chances are, he probably did). I don’t like that some untrained ‘law enforcer’ has the ability to brand someone as a paedophile when there is potential for them to get it wrong and ruin their lives.
Despite all this, I didn’t like the sort of person that might have access to my child when I wouldn’t be there to protect her.
Weirdly, the suspected paedophile aspect was the least of my worries (for all I knew he could be innocent). What did bother me though, while I was watching the video, is the way the man didn’t really seem like the sort of person I’d leave my daughter with. He looked dirty, like the sort of person who probably doesn’t wash his hands when he’s been to the toilet. He also didn’t seem to be very quick thinking. Maybe this was due to a rabbit-in-the-headlights reaction to being called a paedophile while thousands of Facebook revellers looked on, but I doubt it.
If the hostel were employing people like this man, how could I be sure my daughter would have a safe stay? Not just from predators but general hazards. Would the staff be able to get everyone out safely if there was a fire? Would they give the right care if someone injured themselves? I wasn’t so sure that the man in the video would know what to do, even when faced with minor peril.
The trouble was, my daughter had been looking forward to this trip since she heard about it the year before. She doesn’t understand about paedophiles. She definitely wouldn’t understand if I cancelled her place on the trip because I saw video of an employee who looks like he has bad hygiene (I imagine very few people would).
After some deliberation, and comfort in the knowledge that the hostel would be on high alert after this incident (potential paedophiles working at your children’s hostel is bad PR, if nothing else!) I decided to let her go.
Thankfully she came to no harm and arrived back in one piece, but the whole time she was away I was really worried. It was so hard to know if I’d made the right choice, but I think I did.
The letter the school sent home included a statement from the hostel saying that the member of staff had been suspended, but the school didn’t hold a meeting or send any more information. If I hadn’t had some of the other mums on my Facebook friends list, I wouldn’t have even known what had happened, which is pretty worrying really.
Allowing other people to care for your children is the highest level of trust you can give someone, but you never really know who you’re dealing with or what their intentions are. When I wave my daughter off on school trips I imagine her to be met and cared for by plump middle-aged women with ruddy cheeks who say things like “jolly good”. This incident really jolted me.
The reality is, you can never really be sure of how safe your children are when they’re out of your sight. Isn’t that a scary thought?