The country’s latest high-profile paedophile conviction shows how hard some children must work to win the confidence of the adults in their lives. Had the first Far North child who complained about James Parker’s abuse been believed, Parker may never have gone on to the more than 300 offences he is reported to have committed against the children in his care.
In a society that relegated children and women to the lowest level, Jesus told his disciples to ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs’ [Mt:19:14]. Family members of the more than 20 children James Parker is convicted of abusing in 14 years while teaching in Kaitaia described him as ‘more of a family member than a teacher’ [Sunday Star Times 18 August 2013].
He was popular, trusted. He coached rugby and ran a successful school kapa haka club where there had not been one before. A detective on the case told Radio New Zealand reporter Lois Williams that even the boys he had abused thought he was a good guy [Insight 18Aug13].
The first hint of Parker’s offending came when a boy made a complaint to police in 1998. But, the boy retracted his statement during a specialist interview. More than a decade later, another complaint resulted in a police warning letter to the school which was ignored despite concerns being raised with the Education Review Office, the Police and Child, Youth and Family. Finally, one boy managed to press his case.
When viewed in light of New Zealand’s child violence statistics, among the highest in the Western world, the question must be asked, are we giving our children the honour and respect that is due them as God’s creatures and as citizens of the world?
A second question concerns the communities in which these boys live, now deprived of a teacher and male role model whom some have described as a Jekyll and Hyde character, capable of great leadership and of serious abuse.
In the year since Parker’s arrest, the tiny Pamapuria school community has begun to recover but the scars and the grief for the children and for the loss of a charismatic leader will be there for some time yet.
Parker’s abuse has devastated the community but if the entire country does not learn from this, the pain and grief will be wasted. While honouring and respecting our children, we must also nurture the good in everyone recognising that a healthy society does not tolerate any sort of abuse.