“The views expressed in this website are those of the author and are not those of any police service.”

Teenagers, errors and the internet

InternetWhen I was in Year Ten in high school, we went on a school camp. It was a rustic bush-type camp. There was a single shower that everyone took turns to use. It wasn’t part of a bathroom, it was a single cubicle encased in fence palings with a bit of corrugated iron for a door. I think we had to boil water if we wanted to have a hot shower. My memory might be failing me a little – it was about 25 years ago.

But I do clearly remember the boys started a competition of sorts. The idea was to burst through the cubicle door (which had no lock) and take a photo of fellow students showering. Male and female. There was a lot of bluster and bravado, and friends posted on guard outside the cubicle door. But one particular boy got several snaps of different classmates under the shower. He duly got the film roll developed at the local chemists (remember when we used to have to wait several days before we got our photos?) and for his trouble, he got several strips of blacked out negatives. Yes, whoever developed the photos decided they were inappropriate and simply didn’t print the photos and destroyed the negative. And that was the end of it.

In the news at the moment, we’ve heard about a simply vile website where teenage boys (and men too presumably), swap indecent photos of teenage schoolgirls, often posted with personal details such as their address and phone number. As the mother of both a girl and a boy, I find this horrifying from all angles.

But it did remind me of the Year Ten boys at camp in the 1980s. Curious and reckless teenagers engaging in voyeurism.

I’m still in touch with some of these boys. For the most part, they are husbands and fathers, and generally nice blokes. If I reminded them of what their fifteen-year-old selves got up too, they might laugh or maybe be a bit embarrassed. If they had successfully obtained prints of the photos, they may have been shared around amongst friends. In all honesty, if there were any nude photos of my male classmates, I probably would have had a look too. At some point, everyone would have had their fun and the photos would have disappeared into the bottom of someone’s locker and that would have been the end of it. The victims would have been angry and embarrassed, but it would have been a fleeting moment in the grand scheme of things.

Fast forward twenty-five years. Combine instant technology with the global reach of the internet and the power of anonymity, and the same scenario – teenagers behaving inappropriately – has turned into a hideous beast that has severely impacted many lives.

Teenagers, in general, will always engage in risky and ill-considered behaviour. I think it is part of the way their brains are wired – trial and error, along with the evolutionary need for independence. But their errors shouldn’t follow them for life.

There are girls testing their burgeoning sexuality. There are boys with fake internet accounts thinking they won’t be held accountable for their actions. And lives are being destroyed.

If a seventeen year old boy is tracked down as having posted a nude photo of a fifteen year old girl, he will be charged as an adult for child pornography offences. If they fall for the excitement, the competition and peer pressure of this type of website, they can end up on the sex offenders register.

If a sixteen year old girl sends a risqué selfie to a current boyfriend she has to understand – once an image is sent anywhere, to anyone, you have given it away. It is no longer yours. You have no more control over it. With the press of a key, it can start a frightening and endless journey around the world. You can never get it back. It can follow you into adulthood and impact on you long after you realise it was an impulsive error. Neither apologies or remorse will stop it.

The police should shut the website down. Sure. Agreed. But as the website is hosted in another country with different laws, it is not that easy. It’s not right, it’s not fair, but it’s reality.

The internet is part of life now. Teenage stupidity can now become a lifetime regret. I’m so glad there are no records of my early mistakes. I can only hope I know enough to steer my children through it when they reach this age of experimentation.

When can a child walk to school by themselves?

Miles pic

This has generated lots of passionate discussion on social media.

This article from Miles police appeared on social media and in the news through the week, causing enormous uproar. It cautions parents against letting their children walk to school by themselves. As a mother and a police officer, I have strong opinions on this, and judging by the commentary on social media, so do many other parents.

Firstly, I want to clarify that yes – this is a current piece of legislation in Queensland. Yes, the exact age of twelve is specified. The law considers that at this age, children are considered responsible. But importantly, this law does not immediately deem children under that age irresponsible. The key phrase in the legislation is “without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child”.

What is ‘reasonable provision’? What defines ‘an unreasonable time’? It’s open to interpretation. But if you can name even one thing that may constitute this provision, then you probably have no need to worry about this law.

Does your child walk with siblings or another child? Do they have safe ways to cross any roads? Have you walked the route with them and addressed possible problems? Have you spoken to them about what they should do if approached by someone? Will someone quickly let you know if your kids fail to turn up? Any of these are reasonable provisions.

Some parents send their five year olds off by themselves to get to school. There are ten year olds sent off to school who detour past the local skate park and never make it to classes. There are seven year olds who wander out in peak hour traffic on their way to school, trusting in the quick reactions of drivers. So these specific laws are dragged out by exasperated police when dealing with repeated situations like this.

When I was a kid, our parents were happy for my brother and I to walk to school as soon as we were old enough to attend. This was the norm. But my parents also made us ride in the boot portion of the family station wagon after we’d been to the beach so we didn’t wreck the upholstery. We live in a different world today. As much as I’d like my kids to have a childhood disappearing all day and returning home once the street lights came on, it’s just not the same. There’s been a shift in awareness.

However, I do want to raise independent and capable children who can make practical decisions. So my children, aged seven and nine, walk part of the way to school by themselves on some mornings. I have made a number of provisions and I have no fear for their safety. This is even though, as a police officer, I know the sort of people lurking around and the sorts of things that happen. By applying due diligence and common sense, I’ve minimised the risk. I accept there is always some small risk, but this is inherent in everything we do. If someone attempted to charge me simply on the basis of the ages of my children, it would be thrown out of court. I don’t believe it’s the intention of the legislation. What age you are happy to let your children do things alone is a question for your family, and not the law – providing the ‘reasonable provisions’ have been met.

I recently discussed this very piece of legislation with the detective in charge of my local Child Protection Investigation Unit. I was on the cusp of leaving my nine year old at home by herself for short periods of time. The same law applies for this as for walking to school alone. He asked whether I had made ‘reasonable provisions’ for my daughter. She knows my phone number. She knows which neighbours she can go to. She is forbidden from going to the door unless it is a short list of specific people. She knows about ‘tricky people’ as well as ‘bad people’. She has been quizzed on what she would do in numerous hypothetical scenarios. She is responsible and sensible. As a parent, I am happy to leave her alone for short periods of time.

The age of twelve is arbitrary and Queensland seems to be the only state which has set this. I personally thought high school would be the age when I would leave my children alone for longer, so they wouldn’t have to go to vacation care when I’m at work. But with high school now including Year 7 in Queensland, many kids will start at the age of eleven. So do they have to return to primary school vacation care programs until they turn twelve? Or do the ‘reasonable provisions’ extend to a full day?

It boils down to what steps you have taken to ensure your child is safe. If the worst case scenario does happen, what could you say about your actions?

I’m not sure what prompted this particular notification in Miles. But I can guarantee there is more to this story than police randomly choosing a child quietly making their way in to school. Although I think this particular notification was probably ill-advised and the interpretation that ‘kids under 12 cannot walk or ride to school alone’ is flawed, the resulting reactions show that it is clearly a topic many parents seek guidance on.

It’s certainly prompted parents to think about their views and why they hold them. And that in itself is a positive thing.

Reviews for ‘The Twisted Knot’

I have been fortunate that ‘The Twisted Knot’ has been reviewed in many places in the press as well as on several blogs and has been so well-received. Here are links to some of the things written about ‘The Twisted Knot’.

Great review here and interview here by Marcia at Book Muster Down Under.

A review in Carpe Librum here.

Starts At 60 with a review here and a Q&A here.

A review by Carol at Reading, Writing and Riesling here.

Extensive review at All The Books I Can Read here.

Kind words here from Debbish.

This review here by Sam Still Reading.

A review here and Q&A here at Gabby The Blogger.

Pop.Edit.Lit with a review here and Q&A here.

An interview with Annie Gaffney on ABC Sunshine Coast Radio here.

Extract – The Twisted Knot

 

 

3793 Twisted Knot_COVERThe following is the first chapter of my second novel The Twisted Knot (available now).

Set in a fictional Queensland town, Constable Sammi Willis investigates an apparent suicide, uncovering a dark family secret, an unsolved crime and a town seeking vengeance.

Chapter 1

Sammi always felt a sense of relief when she saw Bob’s face in the morning at Angel’s Crossing Police Station. With him as shift supervisor, the station felt like a calmer and safer place. He kept everything running smoothly. He kept the staff in line. And her colleagues kept their manners in place when he was in the room. Mostly.

‘Morning, Sammi,’ Bob called out from the sergeant’s office as she passed by.

‘Morning, Bob.’

‘Do you want a cuppa?’ she called from the locker room as she packed her bag away.

‘Yes, thanks,’ he called back. ‘Are you going to look after the front counter for me again today?’

Sammi paused before she shut her locker door. Her utility belt lay curled up at the bottom, like a black snake in hibernation. It had been a year and a half since she had buckled it on and kitted up for a shift on the road. Each day, she looked at it. And each day she shut the locker door on it again.

‘Yep,’ she called back to Bob.

She grabbed her lunch and went into the kitchen. She put her sandwich in the fridge and filled up the kettle. One cup of tea for her, one coffee for the sergeant. Milky with two sugars, she didn’t need to ask. With these small everyday details, she settled herself into the rhythm of the day.

Bob looked up from his computer and smiled at her as she placed his coffee on the desk.

‘What would I do without you, Sammi?’

A lot of the younger staff didn’t like Sergeant Simpson. Discipline had been a lot stricter when he had come through the ranks. You did what your supervisor told you and didn’t backchat. Although attitudes had relaxed, he still expected this standard of behaviour from his junior staff. So the lazy or ineffectual officers at the station didn’t think much of him. But Sammi listened when he gave her advice and, in return, he always helped her out if she asked.

Continue reading

Online launch for ‘The Twisted Knot’

IMG_6498One year ago, I wrote a blog post celebrating the release of my debut novel, A Time To Run. It was a momentous occasion for me, signalling what I hoped would be the start of a new career. Twelve months down the track, and so much has happened. A Time To Run continues to sell well. I am represented by Curtis Brown literary agents. The novel was sold to Germany. A film producer took a short option on the book, giving them three months to raise development funding to turn it into a movie. It’s been one heck of a ride.

Somewhere amongst that, I wrote and edited the sequel to A Time To Run. This week, The Twisted Knot will be released and I take the next step towards leaving my ‘day job’ as a police officer.

The Twisted Knot follows Constable Sammi Willis as she returns to active duties at Angel’s Crossing police station and gets caught up in the investigation of a suicide where everything is not as it seems.

As I am still a bit iffy about revealing my real identity, I am having an online launch. I will be launching through Facebook on June 30th between 7:30 and 9pm EST on my FB author page JM Peace Author. You’ll have the opportunity to win a signed copy of my book just by dropping by. There’ll be competitions and a couple of special guests, Kim Lock, Sarah Ridout, and Elizabeth Kasmer (pending internet connection at the camping ground she’s holidaying at) will pop past to talk about their novels.

Everyone is welcome. Feel free to wear trakky daks and uggs. I know I will be.

 

 

 

Blog Tour – The Twisted Knot

3793 Twisted Knot_COVERMy second novel The Twisted Knot will be published next month (available June 28).

Set in a fictional Queensland town, Constable Sammi Willis investigates an apparent suicide, uncovering a dark family secret, an unsolved crime and a town seeking vengeance.

A marked man. A damaged cop. A town full of secrets.

After her abduction and near death at the hands of a sadistic killer, Constable Samantha Willis is back in the uniform. Despite being on desk duty, rumours reach Sammi that someone in Angel’s Crossing has been hurting little girls, and before long a mob is gathering to make sure justice is served.

So when a man is found hanging in his shed, the locals assume the pedophile has finally given in to his guilt. That is, until Sammi delves further into the death.

Over the coming weeks I will be stopping by a number of fantastic Australian book blogs to talk about the book and answer some great questions. Be sure to follow my stops along the way and join the conversation using the #thetwistedknot hashtag!

Blog tour

‘The Twisted Knot’ cover reveal

Come July 1, 2016 – you can keep an eye out for this at your local bookstore!

3793 Twisted Knot_COVER

The Twisted Knot will be released on July 1, 2016

My second novel, ‘The Twisted Knot’, has gone to the printers ready for its upcoming release. This sequel to ‘A Time To Run’ follows Constable Sammi Willis as she returns to active duties in Angel’s Crossing. She gets tangled up in the death of a pedophile where all is not as it seems.

The plot of this story will keep you guessing along with Sammi, as she investigates a suspected suicide, which takes some dark turns. I was particularly pleased when one of the editors said she gasped when the main plot twist was revealed.

Although this book is quite different to ‘A Time To Run’, I still bring the authentic police voice to the story. I’ve lived this life – policing in a small town.

I just love this cover – the brooding sky, the sinister shed. There’s a real sense of foreboding. I can’t wait for the release, to see what readers think.

 

 

 

 

 

Bikies and the VLAD laws

bikie pic

Not in Queensland. Image credit ABC News

Bikies are bad. It’s that simple.

I’m not talking about guys on motorbikes who like to cruise around with their mates on a Sunday. I’m talking about the outlaw motorcycle gangs. They, too, like to cruise around on their bikes with their mates. But they are also like to deal in drugs and weapons. They are criminals.

In 2013, following a couple of incidents on the Gold Coast where bikies showed their disregard for not just the law, but society, the Queensland Government passed the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment (VLAD). They are harsh laws, the overwhelming aim of which is to make bikies change their minds or leave the state. The laws included highly controversial measures such as banning bikies from their own clubhouses and also wearing their ‘colours’.

When they were introduced, there was an outcry from the civil libertarians along with the bikies. They were labelled ‘draconian’ and ‘oppressive’ as well as ‘ineffective’ and ‘unlawful’. Appeals were made to the Supreme Court. Right now, the current Labor government who inherited the legislation from the LNP are looking at scrapping the controversial laws.

Whatever people may think of the laws themselves, it is important not to lose sight of the core principle behind them – bikies are bad.

This may not be immediately apparent. Bikies are sons and husband, brothers and fathers. They often lead ‘normal’ lives, running businesses and raising families. If you meet a bikie during the course of your day, you may wonder what the fuss is about.

The first clue comes from their own description of themselves. They call themselves ‘one percenters’, where the other 99% are law abiding. They proudly display ‘1%’ as part of their colours, to show the rules do not apply to them.

The violent crimes committed by bikies are mostly against each other or associates, and they don’t report them to police. Any time you hear on the news that the victim declined to talk to police, you can guess it is bikie-related. Although the violence is reserved for people known to them, they don’t care if anyone else gets in the way. They are comfortable with threats, extortion and blackmail in order to keep their activities under the radar. They are only held accountable for a small fraction of the crimes they commit.

A huge way in which bikies are a menace to society is through their involvement in the drug trade. As a police officer and a parent, I believe drugs such as ice and speed are the biggest scourge of today’s society and anything that can be done to keep drugs off the streets and away from potential new users is imperative to addressing this problem.

The way I see it, the laws may be excessive but they are a means to an end. I don’t want the laws watered down. I want bikies put on notice.

Gender equality in policing?

tall and short

It’s simple physiology. Image courtesy of Cairns police blog

A recent item on the news caught my attention. It was about Queensland Police Service’s latest initiative to have equal numbers of males and female recruits accepted into the Academy. This is part of a push that was supposedly already in the pipeline when I was accepted into the police over fifteen years ago. Back then, they were working towards having equal numbers of men and women in the police to reflect the make-up of society. And now they are at that point – Commissioner Stewart has given a direction that there will be a 50/50 ratio of male and female recruits.

Gender equality is always a touchy subject and even as I write this, I wonder if I can explain myself in a way that doesn’t make me sound like I’m selling out. My opinion is based on fifteen plus years experience, most of it as a first response officer. I have worked with a whole lot of officers – senior and junior, male and female. And I think this 50/50 policy is flawed.

The first problem is a simple physiological one. In general, women are not as strong as men. This isn’t sexism, this is biology. We’re built differently (and thank goodness for that). Of course there are exceptions, but I clearly remember an instructor at the Academy telling us that the average woman has strength equal to a thirteen-year-old boy. So the minute you are up against a fourteen-year-old boy or above, you are already on the back foot.

But police all have the same weapons, don’t they? Yes, and the same training too. But the minute you can’t talk your way out of or somehow defuse a situation before reaching onto your utility belt, the more likely someone – or everyone – is going to get hurt. It’s not necessarily a simple matter to slap on a set of handcuffs or give a quick squirt of OC spray. You have to be able to use the weapons effectively on someone who may be violent, unco-operative or drug-affected. Even if you are using an accoutrement, it is a physical and mostly violent action. It often ends in tears.

Then you have to add to this the attitude of the people you are dealing with. I’ve turned up to jobs with a female colleague only to be laughed at and told to go get the “real” police. Go to a domestic violence incident where a man has been beating a woman, turn up with two female officers in a crew and you’re already up against it. He’s just flogged his missus, now a couple of chicks want to push him around? How’s that going to go? There are also cultures whose menfolk simply refuse to deal with women. It shouldn’t happen – it shouldn’t matter who’s inside the uniform. But not every idiot on the street has got the memo that we’re equal now.

It is all well and good to say you want gender balance. But the fact of the matter is that a higher proportion of offenders are male. A quick look through recent assault numbers show about five times as many were committed by men. Having police numbers which reflect the make-up of society is pointless. It would be more useful for them to reflect the make-up of the clientele police deal with.

The 50/50 ratio suggests that there would always be a male and a female officer making up each crew. This would be great. Men and women have different strengths and different ways of dealing with the mix of people policing throws up at you. But this is not how rostering works. There are always officers on leave and shift equity has to be taken into account. More women in the police will mean more ‘bitch crews’ – yes, this is how they are referred to. It’s more dangerous working with another female officer, especially on night shift when there may be no other officers to help out. It’s not fair but that’s because the society we police is not fair.

In an ideal world, male and female police officers would be treated as equals by both their colleagues and all segments of the community. But policing is not carried out in the ideal world. The real world is a far messier place, where drugs, alcohol, testosterone and anger are often driving forces. Muscle and physical presence have their part to play. And women are at a disadvantage.

Why I’m not half boy

I’m a tomboy.

I’m a butch tomboy.

I’m a butch tomboy dyke.

No, actually, I’m not.

I’m a female.

I’m a female who enjoys active sports and adventure.

I’m a female who has often worn my hair short and doesn’t usually wear makeup.

This does not automatically make me a tomboy a butch or a dyke. No matter how often I’ve been called these names or similar terms.

I recently saw a meme on social media which made me mad. It was a picture of a girl on a skateboard. The caption read “Every cool girl is half boy”.

What the hell is that meant to mean? Only boys ride skateboards? Being ‘just’ a girl is never cool enough? Does that make a ‘cool’ boy ‘half girl’?

This meme goes hand-in-hand with my hatred of the term ‘tomboy’. The implication is that you’re not a girl if you like a bit of action and adventure.

I’ve frequently been called a tomboy, probably since I was age three and preferred dressing up as a pirate rather than a princess. When I was a teenager with short hair and short pants, I was often mistaken for a boy. Once I’d grown up and a set of breasts clarified any gender questions, people often assumed I was a lesbian. I don’t have a problem with that label – love is love wherever you are lucky enough to find it. But it’s my hormones that dictate my sexuality not my choice of hobbies.

I understand the confusion. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it.

I had short hair for a long time (it’s easy-care). I didn’t have a serious boyfriend through my twenties (I travelled the world instead). I’m almost always wearing shorts (it’s practical in Queensland). I don’t often wear make-up (seems like a waste of time to do it every day). I have an unmelodic low-pitched voice (it’s genetic, on my father’s side). I started surfing when I was a teenager and haven’t stopped (it’s so much fun). I did martial arts as a teenager and took it up again recently (I enjoy the challenge). Clearly, I must be a lesbian or half boy or some combination of the two. Does that make me cool these days? I don’t really care anymore. I have spent a lifetime shrugging off these sorts of barbs and they no longer stick.

But don’t you dare infect my daughter with this misogynistic sexism.

My pre-teen daughter is a different type of person to me. Ever since she was old enough to voice her opinion, she has favoured dresses and the colour pink. She went for about six years refusing to wear shorts. She paints her nails and begs me to buy her make-up. She’s done ballet classes for years. By her own unconscious choices, she’s slotted into society’s stereotypes.

But she has me for a mother. So she rides bikes, scooters and rollerblades. She can kick and punch hard enough to hurt a person. She thinks nothing of getting dumped by a wave while she learns to surf. She does these things because I’ve encouraged her to have a go at them and she’s enjoyed them. It doesn’t make her half-boy. It doesn’t make her cool. It doesn’t make her any less – or any more – than her own individual self.

She’s a kid, trying out different things and seeing what she enjoys. She’s never been called a tomboy. I think it would confuse and upset her if someone did. She’s happy being a girl. She shouldn’t be made to feel anything other than that, regardless of her choices.

Fun is gender neutral. Don’t make it anything else.

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A kid having fun. Simple.