Every homeless person I met during my years as both a social worker and a Hobopoet has been deserving of dignity, compassion, and respect. Every person, except one perhaps. I did meet one loathsome man who turned my stomach,.... but I admit that I am hesitant to completely condemn even him.
I first met Captain Underpants sitting outside Cafe Royale.... at one of the outdoor tables. He struck me as just a typical homeless person. Actually, he seemed particularly intelligent, now that I think of it.... or at least, well educated. And so I got to talking with him. We talked about strategies for car living, about downtown Athens, about coffee. Then he let me into his confidence. He had one little fetish.... one eccentricity... and wanted to know if he could share it with me.
My first thought was, "OK, he's gay. No big deal". But what he said was, "I like to wear used women's underwear." What is the proper polite response to such an admission. Years of social work and counselling had never taught me. So, if in doubt, just nod and say "Hmm, OK"--- which I did. I squirmed a little in my chair to... because I wasn't quite sure where he was going with this. But, it turns out, he just wanted to "share". When he realized I wasn't going to shout or condemn him or run screaming, he seemed satisfied and moved onto other (more comfortable) topics.
I'm basically a social libertarian.... and while I wasn't necessarily comfortable talking with a stranger about his underwear fetish.... I certainly didn't condemn it. Whatever makes you happy! So long as its between consenting adults, I don't care what perversion people choose to indulge in: Drug use, kinky sex, pornography, organized religion. Whatever.
So I smirked a bit and shrugged my shoulders and that was that. Unfortunately, underwear was not the Captain's only fetish. During our next conversation, he decided to open up to me further. I don't know why.... maybe I have an innocent face... or maybe its the years of listening to people's problems.... but whatever the reason, strangers are constantly confiding extremely personal details to me. It used to freak me out... but now I'm used to it. So it wasn't a total shock when Captain Underpants revealed his second fetish: he collected catalogue pictures.
"OK", I thought, "This seems weird and pointless, but what the hell". "Can I show them to you", he asked.... and I responded, "Sure, why not." And so the Captain opened his bookbag and pulled out a stack of carefully folded pages that he'd ripped from catalogues. One by one he unfolded them and laid them gingerly on the table for me to look at. They were all of the same thing: young girls in underwear. By "young", I mean eight to fourteen year olds.
My stomach knotted..... this was more than just a kinky perversion for a consenting adult. His eyes were beady and his lips tight as he laid each picture on the table. My leg began to tap, tap, tap nervously. My face screwed up and pinched towards my nose. I mumbled and jittered and finally I looked at the time and said, "Well, OK, Sorry, I've got to get going." I hurried off as fast as I could.
It got worse. One day... maybe a month later, I was strolling down Prince Avenue when I caught sight of the Captain. My first thought was to duck down a sidestreet and avoid him... but then I saw that he was not alone. He was standing in a parking lot talking to a young girl, who was sitting on a bicycle. She looked, maybe, ten years old. He was carrying the bookbag.... and suddenly those catalogue pictures flashed into my mind. "Oh God", I mumbled to myself.
And so I swallowed my disgust and walked directly towards them. He caught sight of me- his faced turned stony, his eyes opened wide, and his hands began to fidget. "Hi Captain", I said and tried my best to look stern and intimidating... which is usually a lost cause for me. But he seemed to get the message. His eyes darted back and forth between me and the girl (who pedalled off to do circles in the parking lot). "Hi", he said weakly. "Whose that?", I accused... nodding towards the girl. "Oh, I was just TALKING to her"... he fidgeted. I stood and said nothing. As did he. His eyes looked at his shoes.... the girl continued to ride in circles.
"Well, I gotta go", he said. "OK".
He shuffled off quickly, "See ya around", and headed off towards downtown. I remained in the parking lot for a few more minutes. The girl waved and shouted, "Bye Captain". He shot her a quick glance and a short wave. She then turned her bike down a side street, towards Boulevard.... and I continued my walk.
Of course, I don't know what, if anything, he would have done with the girl. Maybe nothing. Or maybe he'd only fantasize and nothing more.... crawl off to an alley to jerk off. But I feared the worst. And fearing the worst, I doubted that this was his first encounter with a young girl. Had they all ended so innocently? I took a deep breath and tried to clear the sound and sight of him from my mind.
Of course, some could use this story as proof that, "see, homeless people are perverted scum bags!". Well, this homeless person MAY have been. However, most child molesters are not homeless. I worked for three years in a youth shelter, counselling children/teenagers who had been physically or sexually abused. In those three years, I never met a child who had been molested by a homeless person. No, most molesters are employed, respected, upstanding good citizens. No one ever suspects them. In fact, in the majority of cases, all the other good citizens in the child's family and community accuse her (or him) of lying. Certainly, Mr. Good Citizen is not a child molester... so the child must be a vindictive liar. It's the usual reaction.
In fact, the overwhelming majority of child molesters are family members: Fathers, Uncles, Step-Dads, Brothers, Cousins. Molestation occurs mostly in the home-- not on the street or in an alley. Paranoid parents should be far more worried about Uncle Phil than about some anonymous prowling predator. And if your child says she or he was molested by Uncle Phil, you should not call her a liar.
In fact, I suspect that if Captain Underpants had molested girls in the past- they were not strangers he'd met on the street. Most likely he would have molested someone he knew... probably a relative. If nothing else, it is extremely risky to assault a young girl on the street. People tend to be wary when they see a strange man approach a girl, just as I was in the above example. It can happen, but it is FAR less common. No, most likely, if he had molested in the past, he'd done so in his own home or the home of a relative.
This is, of course, no comfort to anyone.