Helping a Child in a Suspicious Era
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The way that public attention has focused on sex offenders in recent years has not escaped commentator Michael Alvear. He knows that now when a child is alone with a strange adult, it's a situation that is immediately viewed with suspicion.
MICHAEL ALVEAR: I was almost home when I saw small boys standing in the middle of the street. He flagged me down, rushed up and said can you help me find my parents? The 8-year-old slipped his hand into mine and led me to a dilapidated house. I knocked. No answer. He pulled me into the house and said see, there's nobody here.
I froze. I was in a deserted house, holding the hand of a child I didn't know. Oh, my God, I thought. There's just the two of us and no witnesses. What's to stop him or his parents from accusing me of molesting him?
I ran out of the house and banged on the neighborhood doors. Nothing. Nobody was home. In another era, I would have just taken him home and left a note. But those days are gone. All I could think about was being smeared with the label of pedophilia and mortgaging everything I had to fight it in court.
I couldn't stay there but I couldn't bring him home. Calling 911 seemed hasty. The kid said his parents went to the grocery store. I mean, how long does it take to buy milk? I was panicking. I crouched down and said, listen to me, I -I'm going to my house. I want you to stay inside with the doors locked. Don't let anybody in unless it's me or your parents, got it? He nodded.
I left to get some fresh air and figure out what to do. I glanced back and stopped cold. The kid was back on the street flagging cars down. I ran back and grabbed him. I felt like this boy was a ticking time bomb. I had to help him, but I knew the longer we were together, the more I'd be seen as a predator.
Desperate, I called my sister. The police, she said. Call the police and have them meet you and the boy at my house. The police came. The parents had come back - they really were at the grocery store - and the kid was safe.
I, on the other hand was shaken. I had been weighing the pros and cons of helping a child in danger. How could I put my welfare in front of that boy's safety? It was an act as repugnant as it was necessary.
The truth is helping a kid has the potential for ruining your life. My only consolation is that I finally decided I'd rather live with the stigma of an accusation than the same of not helping a little boy in trouble.
NORRIS: Michael Alvear leaves in Atlanta.
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