Sunday, September 26, 2010

Are You Scared Enough Yet?

Emily Webb.  Age 7.  Left at the wrong school bus stop.
She told the school bus driver it wasn't her stop.  She wasn't supposed to get off there.  It's not where her mother was waiting.  Didn't matter.  The driver made her get off the bus.
She was scared, crying.
An older man, old enough to be her father, offered to "help."
She left with him.
You know the rest.
You've seen it a thousand times.
It's probably happened to people you know, but they don't talk about it.
She got home safely.
By some miracle the man wasn't a predator, wasn't a child rapist.

I know, you're thinking.  You're asking yourself these important questions.
How can that be?  What are the odds that a man on the street would not be a child rapist?
Her parents were amazed, too.
Both shudder at the thought she could just as easily have encountered a predator.
That's what Diane Petryk told us in the Sunbury [Pennsylvania] Daily Item, though I added the italics.  And let's focus on that italicized point for just a moment.  Here's what Lenore Skenazy had to say.
Really? "Just as easily?" So it's a 50-50 split now, between predators and everybody else on the street? If one person's walking a dog, the next one is probably carrying some duct tape and chloroform?
Well sure.  Isn't that how it works?
Actually, no.
Here's how it works.  Every day, millions of children are not molested by strangers.  Every day millions of children are not abducted.  Every day millions of children go out in public and return home safely even though their parents might blink or look away for a moment.
Everyone alive has not been murdered.
Even the children.
Even in bad neighborhoods.
Even when they live on the same block as drug dealers and prostitutes and people who watch pornography.
Even if they smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol.
Even if they blow a little dope.  Or pop some pills or shoot up.
Even when they live in nice middle or upper-middle class neighborhoods.
Even when they're white and cute.
Even when they do nothing wrong.
Sure, bad stuff, horrific stuff happens.  Children are kidnapped and held in basements and tortured and then killed.  But it's rare.  Really, really rare.
Doesn't mean parents shouldn't be careful.  Doesn't mean children shouldn't be taught to be careful.  But it does mean we should have some perspective.
Should the Webbs be upset about what the bus driver did to Emily?  You bet.  Should the driver be punished?  Maybe.  Should the school investigate?  You bet.  Should it happen again?  Of course not.
But Emily has now announced that she'll never ride a bus again.  And her father said he'll never let her.
Which is, as you might have figured out by now, an overreaction.
Because the truth is that Emily is more likely to be molested by a relative or family friend or the pastor or parish priest than she is by a stranger at a bus stop.
Emily Webb.  Age 7.  Safe at home.
Why the hell was this news?


  1. No matter the reason someone deemed this newsworthy, I'm glad they did, because you got to make this fine point, which I'm going to share with friends (and my wife).

  2. Bravo, Gamso. This is a perfect example of our terribly flawed commercial media and our State legislature, both of whom make much of the exception rather than the rule.

  3. Excellent post. The stranger danger hysteria has got to stop.

  4. The Austin police chief actually came to my granddaughter's day care about a year ago to lecture kids about "stranger danger." It still affects her and as recently as last night she questioned me about whether it was really okay to "talk to strangers," concerned about "stranger danger." I tell her most strangers are nice people she just hasn't met yet, but the chief did his best to scare the daylights out of her and it worked.

    IMO the most critical line in your post is this: "the truth is that Emily is more likely to be molested by a relative or family friend or the pastor or parish priest than she is by a stranger at a bus stop."

    By any statistical measure that's absolutely true. Kids are roughly as likely to be hit by lightning as abducted by a stranger who intends them harm, and MANY times more likely to be assaulted by a family member or trusted family friend, much less drown in a backyard pool.

    Great post, Gamso.