petite anglaise

April 27, 2005


Filed under: misc, Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaiseparis @ 12:51 pm

I am struggling to chase images of this out of my head. It has haunted me ever since I first read about it. When I told Mr Frog last night, I was fighting back tears as I spoke.

I know it makes universally distressing reading. But, quite apart from feeling sick to the pit of my stomach whenever I think about Abigail Witchalls’ ordeal, my brain insists on replaying images of how I imagine the attack, based on her own harrowing description. I strain to imagine how she must have felt. And what she is feeling now.

…I am pushing Tadpole along one of the more secluded country lanes near where my parents live. I hear the hum of an engine, and the crunch of wheels on loose road chippings as it passes me by slowly, time enough to make chilling eye contact with the driver. I know, instinctively, that this person means me harm…

I think of Abigail’s children. The unborn child that may or may not have survived, and her son, Joseph, just two months younger than Tadpole. I shudder to think what effect witnessing these events may have on this fledgling person. Feeling a strangers hands grabbing him from behind, holding a knife to his throat. Sensing his mother’s terror as she walked towards him, wide-eyed. Seeing the stranger hit his mummy with the knife, making her crumple to the floor. Tipped over, still strapped into his pushchair, left helpless by her side. The blood. Wondering why she was sleeping. Knowing that something must be badly wrong.

The articles I have read so far don’t tell me how they were found. I only hope that help wasn’t long in coming.

Joseph may be, mercifully, too young to actually remember the events of that day in years to come, but how can they fail to cast a long shadow over his life?

My powers of empathy fall short of imagining the anguish of waking up in a hospital bed with no feeling in my limbs. Robbed of the power of speech. Unable to hold my child to me and hug him fiercely, to sob noisily with relief that he is unharmed. Carrying a child in my belly that I may now never be able to hold. Whose name I may never be able to pronounce out loud.

I am at a loss to understand such a random act of cruelty. But I’m sure that no mother who has read about Abigail Witchalls will feel entirely safe taking their child along a quiet country road ever again.


  1. This has to be one of the most distressing news events of recent years. I had not been able to bring myself to read about it in detail until following your link. And yes, even reading the details one struggles to imagine the terrror those people must have gone through, and the trauma that they will continue to endure.

    That the mother can find the strength and ability to describe her ordeal to the Police in such apparent detail is remarkable. The word ‘bravery’ is perhaps sometimes lazily employed when talking about victims of crime, but here it seems wholly apt. But perhaps the most courageous act is still to come- that of summoning up the will, once the initial shock has subsided, to carry on living and to bring up, as best as she is able to, her young family.

    Comment by jonathan — April 27, 2005 @ 1:41 pm

  2. I lived in Boulder, Colorado during a period when young, college age women (such as myself) were being attacked. One, whom I faintly knew, was even murdered just down the street from my apartment on Christmas Day. I could see the very spot where this had taken place from mmy bedroom window.

    There’s nothing creepier than having a real reason to look over your shoulder when you walk down the street…and knowing that someone else didn’t have the chance that you do, to continue living.

    Moving article. What a courageous woman and mother.

    Comment by Sammy — April 27, 2005 @ 2:00 pm

  3. Until such time as women can walk alone (or with a young child) down any road or path in any so-called civilised country without fear of being attacked then we cannot claim to have achieved any kind of sexual equality.

    Sickening, utterly sickening. Sometimes I despair of the world we live in.

    Comment by witho — April 27, 2005 @ 2:56 pm

  4. What a nightmare! It is a sickening world we live in.

    One of the major reasons I moved to France was to escape the everyday, violent crime we lived with back home.

    In this tiny, quiet little village where I now live, I feel safe.

    Maybe I’m living with a false sense of security.

    What I do know is that now, when I go for a walk, I’ll be more aware of what’s going on around me.

    Comment by Sea Urchin — April 27, 2005 @ 3:49 pm

  5. i believe that some landscape gardners working nearby heard her screams and a neighbour found her, but i have read some conflicting reports in that apparently the man first took joseph and then decided to stab abigail.

    it is a horrible story, and to be left paralysed when you still have a young child must be a nightmare. i hope abigail has the strength to gain some movement and once again be able to hug her son.

    Comment by zed — April 27, 2005 @ 4:44 pm

  6. It was a horrendous, distressing attack; no question about that. But let’s keep a sense of perspective here. Why did this event get so much news coverage? Because it’s a very, very rare occurrence. And because the victim was female – and women are MUCH less likely to be violently attacked than men. Children are still very much safer, statistically speaking, being pushed down a quiet country lane by their mother than being at home with their parents. Many more women and children are attacked in their own homes, by people they know, than in public places by strangers. The victims of these attacks don’t make the papers – or, if they do, they get a couple of column inches on an inside page – because they aren’t anything like as rare.

    I do get cross about the way the media fans the flames of fear. As a result, in the UK at least, the fear of crime has become a bigger social problem than crime itself.

    Comment by Zinnia Cyclamen — April 27, 2005 @ 5:04 pm

  7. I do agree Zin. I get very irate that children nowadays don’t play on their own in the street, get driven everywhere, and basically have far less freedom than I did as a child, even though, statistically, there are no more attacks on children than there were when I was growing up.

    However, this time, knowing full well that the media blow these things out of proportion isn’t helping me to shake off the horror of this particular attack.

    Comment by petite — April 27, 2005 @ 7:08 pm

  8. That is so terrible! I can’t imagine laying on the ground bleeding and paralyzed while my son is screaming. I got a sick feeling in my stomach when I read that article. I hope the mother recovers her movenment and speech. She seems so determined.
    Zinnia is right. Most of my friends who have been married have suffered some sort of abuse from their husbands. I used to live in an apartment complex where the neighbors downstairs would always fight. I would hear the man yell things like,”I’m going to kill you!” Then, I would see the woman later all black and blue. Those kinds of things never make the papers. I think people would be shocked if they knew just how common it is.

    Comment by Tarna — April 27, 2005 @ 8:11 pm

  9. And in the six months I have been living in France I saw something about domestic abuse for the first time: it was a poster in the metro with a punching bag with a woman’s face in it.

    I am fairly well informed, in that I watch the french news, some panel shows, read a french newspaper and pay attention to things around me, and it worries me how little awareness there is about some social problems.

    Drink driving rhetoric and the discourse on anorexia and bulimia, for example, sound like Britain did when ten years ago. These things always happened, it just has only recently been talked about.

    I went to a seminar on drink spiking and its consequences, and the guy giving the talk had talked about the hostility of the paris authorities and various french people when he tried to set up something similar to the roofie foundation here in France. “It only happens to tourists” he was told, again and again.

    There was a woman there who is a child therapist who said the same thing happened with behavioral problems in kids: parents would object that their child couldn’t possibly be ADHD because “that’s an American problem.” France does lots of things well, but it’s just a wee bit behind other developed nations on the social issues.

    Sorry for the length of post – but this has been bothering me.

    Comment by EasyJetsetter — April 27, 2005 @ 8:59 pm

  10. Abigail is my second cousin through marriage. I know her grandmother quite well as she is married to my great uncle, I know that they will be comforted to know that so many people sympathise and empathise with them.
    I love your blog it is so well written and thought provoking. Thank You

    Comment by Ellie — April 28, 2005 @ 12:32 am

  11. I very much agree with zinnia on this. The media not only fans the flames of fear, it fans other emotions too … the response to the Tsunami, the Terri Schiavo shenanigans … and then drops everything for the next big ‘scoop’.

    Comment by Omykiss — April 28, 2005 @ 3:08 am

  12. so upset reading your words,i’m gobsmacked!
    as a mother of two i alway’s thought that we were safe with our children!!but as i read the story i can see that no one is really certain that who the target was.In France at the moment there heve been a couple of violent attacks on nurses and the fear of working,walking,travelling alone is creeping back
    i will go to work this morning with a heavy heart full of sadness and love for abigail and her family
    this has to stop!
    mary 93

    Comment by mary — April 28, 2005 @ 8:06 am

  13. This is indeed a shocking and very sad event – but any kind of random brutal attack on a person is equally shocking and frightening, whether it be a woman, a child or a man. I remember when I lived in the UK a person being stabbed in the head for no reason in a train, and surviving. Unfortunately ‘l’homme est un loup pour l’homme’ and that is unfair on the “loup” to compare it to mankind.
    I do feel for this woman and I admire her determination, I hope it’ll help her pull through.

    Comment by Froog — April 28, 2005 @ 4:43 pm

  14. This story about Abigail has deeply touched me. I feel so immensly sorry for this horrible nightmare that happened to her. I so wish that science accelerates their research and employs their techniques they have proofed to be working on rats to heal paralysis on humans soon, because being paralised from the neck down must be one of the most awful experiences one can ever have. In the mean time I will pray for her.

    Comment by Leonie — April 29, 2005 @ 2:27 am

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