We don’t talk to strangers. How many times have you heard a mother utter those words? How many times have you seen a mother or father pull a child away from a stranger without even a glance.
I have a very outgoing ten month old. She loves people, and loves being fawned over by people. She poses for cameras, gets excited by mirrors, and loves, loves, loves when people pay attention to her. She has a bright, beautiful smile.
Just last week walking down the road alongside a postal worker, he burst out laughing. I looked at him to find that he was looking at my little girl. “Wow!”, he told me, “when you’re having a day as bad as the one I’m having, a smile like that can change it. You, little girl,”he says, pointing at her, “have made my day”.
That was a stranger. But was she in danger?
I’m not sure if it’s the slight curls, or the bright smile, or the fact that she grabs for people’s fingers, but something about her makes people want to be around her. I have lost count of the number of men and women who have stretched out their arms to her as if to pick her up. To lift her out of her sling or off my lap and to hold her, often without even acknowledging my presence.
And every.single.time, my heart skips a beat and I silently will her not to go to them, not to be too trusting of strangers. That just because I’m right there, doesn’t mean she’s going to be safe.
For these are strangers. But is she in danger?
Well, in 2005/06 the average number of registered sex offenders was 58 per 100,000 of the population in England and Wales. That means, rounded up, 6 people per 10,000, or half a person per 1000. I know nearer 500 people than 1000, so in the people I know there is Â¼ of one person who could be a registered sex offender. Those aren’t bad odds – bad still for the average 1-9 victims to each offender, but provides hope that we’re not surrounded by people out to hurt our children.
That’s not to say that bad things don’t happen.
According the the NSPCC website:
- 1% of children aged under 16 experienced sexual abuse 1 by a parent or carer, and a further 3% by another relative during childhood.
- 11% of children aged under 16 experienced sexual abuse 1 during childhood by people known but unrelated to them.
- 5% of children aged under 16 experienced sexual abuse 1 during childhood by an adult stranger or someone they had just met.
- For the children who experienced sexual abuse in the family, the most common perpetrator was a brother or stepbrother:
- 38% of penetrative/oral acts of sexual abuse in the family were by a brother/stepbrother
- 23% were perpetrated by a father
- 14% were perpetrated by an uncle
- 13% were perpetrated by a stepfather
- 8% were perpetrated by a cousin
- 6% were perpetrated by a grandfather
- 4% were perpetrated by a mother 6 .
- Very few children (less than 1%) experienced abuse by professionals in a position of trust, for example a teacher, religious leader or care/social worker.
So, sexual abuse is more likely to happen in the home, or in the homes of families and friends than at the hands of a total stranger.
That is a frightening thought.
Where is the real danger, then?
Sue Palmer, in her book Toxic Childhood – How the Modern World is Damaging our Chidlren and What We Can Do About It warns that reading the news is much better than watching it. She says that having the picture of disasters and distressing occurences streamed in to our homes (on repeat, often) increases fear and induces feelings of anxiety as we go through the ‘that could have been my child’ emotions. She goes on:
Television coverage of horrific news about children and families forces parents to confront their worst fears over and over again. The fact that this coverage continues remorselessly, night and day, in the corner of one’s own living room – or the bedroom just before sleep – makes it even more powerful. So, even though we know the chances of our children being murdered by a maniac, hit by a sniper’s bullet or taken from us by some terrible natural disaster are infinitesimally small, we are still afraid. We have fallen victim to the worst fear of all: fear of fear itself.
Isn’t it better for us to teach our children which strangers to talk to, and what to avoid. Isn’t it better to teach our children which situations to enter into, and which not?
And isn’t it better to let our children believe, rightly, that there are more good people in the world than bad, and to help them know that they can always tell someone, even if for any reason they cannot speak to us?
Just to add, this is in no way suggesting that ‘Stranger Danger’ is not real! The child abduction statistics for the US , South Africa and the UK prove that. We have to keep our children safe. We have toÂ keep them close. But we have to teach them that the enemy isn’t everyone we don’t know, without making them afraid of everyone.