It was Christmas Eve 2013 when the parents of a then nine-year-old boy in south-western France discovered he had an admirer, though it was not a dimpled primary school classmate.
Rather the parents found a trove of passionate love letters written on a child-like pink or blue stationery to their son, by a 30-year-old woman who worked at the local school and community recreation centre in the town of Bassillac.
“In his room there was a pile of letters. Twenty-three to be precise,” the boy’s mother, who didn’t provide her name, told French paper Sud Ouest. “She even went so far as to ask him to run away with her.”
The letters, which began in the summer of 2013, also evoked the real kisses she had exchanged with the boy and her desire to have four children with him. She went on to recount the troubles in her married life and even arranged a meeting with the boy outside school hours.
Though the boy went to the rendezvous with the woman, it’s unclear if there was ever any sexual contact between the two. The child's parents reported the inappropriate relationship to local police immediately, but certain questions remain unanswered because the boy refused to talk to investigators.
“Our son was interviewed,” the mother told Sud Ouest. “But he was petrified. He couldn’t say anything to the police.”
From there investigators talked to the unnamed school worker, who admitted everything, the local prosecutor Anne-Claire Gallois told the boy’s parents. However, the worker couldn’t explain why she had taken a romantic interest in the child. Psychiatrists ruled out mental health problems.
“A mental health exam was carried out on her and didn’t reveal any mental anomalies or any particular dangers,” the prosecutor wrote in an email to the family.
The prosecutor ultimately decided not to file charges against the school worker and instead issued her a warning. At the same time the woman's bosses fired her.
“That’s not enough for us,” the mother said. “She stole his childhood. In one year, we’ve seen his behavior change completely. Mathéo has become atrocious, unmanageable, very aggressive.”
The boy has been seeing a psychiatrist since the start of the year and the family met recently with the prosecutor in an effort to persuade her to reopen the case. The prosecutor reportedly said he could pursue the investigation if the boy provided new evidence of law breaking.
For the family’s lawyer the case has been permeated by a double-standard for sexual abuse.
“If it was a man who’d done this, would they have handled the case in the same way? I don’t think so,” said lawyer Nathalie Landon. “What kind of parent could tolerate these acts?”
The family now refuses to let their son ride his bike alone in their town, where the woman still lives. In fact they have had to change their routine, including avoiding a certain bakery, out of fear they will run into the woman. And now they have plans to move house.
“We don’t have the money to move, so we are going to have to take out a loan,” the mother said. “But we don’t have a choice, we have to protect our son.”