Moral Panic

Taking "Stranger Danger" Too Far



Lenore Skenazy has a series of aggravating anecdotes on the ways excessive "stranger danger" fears can interfere with normal social interactions, including the sorts of basic helpfulness that kids actually need. "I call it 'Worst-First' thinking," she writes: "Gripped by pedophile panic, we jump to the very worst, even least likely, conclusion first. Then we congratulate ourselves for being so vigilant."

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  1. In England in 2006, BBC News reported the story of a bricklayer who spotted a toddler at the side of the road. As he later testified at a hearing, he didn’t stop to help for fear he’d be accused of trying to abduct her. You know: A man driving around with a little girl in his car? She ended up at a pond and drowned.

    That’s sickeningly sad.

    1. What, no cell phone to even call the coppers?

      1. Nationalized cell service. Phones are just too important to leave to the free market. He had already used his three minutes that day on hold with the NHS.

    2. It is sad… but I would do the same thing.

      Certainly, one could call the cops or try and get some help, but I would be very very nervous about moving or even touching a kid that wasn’t mine, unless that kid was in imminent danger.

      Too many people would start asking questions, which I guess is the point of the article.

      1. If you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to hide.


      2. What if you had already established a reputation as a helping person? Like, say, if you helped old ladies cross the st.? Would that make people less suspicious of you?

    3. Yes it is. I’ve thought about that myself–if I saw a child who was clearly lost, or otherwise needed help, would I stop to help even though (like all men these days) I’m hypersensitive to the possibility of this type of accusation? I like to think I would help such a child. But I might hesitate, esp. if it involved more than just making a phone call (e.g. physical contact).

      1. The problem isn’t so much that every person will think that you’re being a pedophile, the problem is the smaller number of really crazy fucks who will start screaming that you are one for being within 10 feet of the child while helping them. And the fact that people who don’t pay attention to their children also tend to love to shift responsibility for this to others makes it highly likely that the kind of person whose toddler can be on the street by themselves is the kind of person who will scream “pedophile!” when you help them makes helping a very dangerous thing.

      2. This terrible story out of my hometown, unfortunately:
        Was Teen Trying to Kidnap Toddler or Help?

        The boy is big so looks like a grown man (was only 14 at the time) and thought he saw the girl’s mom walking into the parking lot. Led the girl outside, and by the time he realized it wasn’t her mom and started to head back into the store the real mom was outside screaming and shouting.

        Now, I don’t necessarily blame the mom (other than losing track of her kid, which isn’t necessarily hard to do) too much but more so the authorities who couldn’t straighten this matter out in about 3 minutes of talking. The kid was actually arrested and taken into custody. That’s what’s really disgusting.

        I taught English in rural Japan for a year, and because I’m tall, white and blonde, I stick out like a sore thumb. Even so, there were never any worries that I was a creep or anything; in fact sometimes the kids would come over on the weekends for some snacks or to play baseball. The worst feeling I had after an awesome year over there was realizing I would never be able to enjoy the company of children in America, who for all intensive porpoises are a lot more rational and easy-going than adults.

        1. A search of his name at showed his family got someone known as the Law Diva to get the charges dropped. Interesting cases it’s said she was involved in last year. So I guess his family didn’t retain Bozo as one commenter in the TV station’s comment thread feared.

      3. I think the people posting here would tend to help in a case like that, because by posting here they’re showing they’re Concerned Citizens — you know, “cause” people. Even if the only usual engagement by some here is to post messages online, it shows we have social conscience, want to help the world.

        So if the people posting here would be significantly deterred about offering help in such a situation, imagine how much worse it is for the avg. person!

    4. You know what’s funny about this?

      If it was me in the bricklayer’s position, I don’t even make it into this article. Because I wouldn’t have been at the hearing.

      I’ve so internalized the lesson that other people’s children must be ignored as if they don’t exist that ten seconds after I saw the kid on the side of the road and turned away I would have forgotten all about it. If the kid drowned later and people were looking for witnesses, I would never raise my hand – not because I was hiding, but because I would literally have no idea I witnessed anything.

  2. The FBI warned law-enforcement agencies that the new Video Barbie could be used to make kiddie porn.

    Hey, wait a minute…hasn’t Barbie always represented an adult? A doll of an adult for children? So what’s “kiddie porn” now — porn of adults marketed to children?

    1. I had the same thought, but it’s a doll with a camera.

      1. Oh. Thanks for explaining that. I’d thought it was a video representation of Barbie, which I think I’ve seen. Maybe Barbie Video as opposed to Video Barbie.

    2. Since when was Barbie anatomically correct?

  3. Skenazy was really good on the Penn & Teller Bullshit! episode. She recounted letting her 9 year old ride the subway home.

    Also, The Stranger was a pretty good film. You can get a cheap (or free) copy, since Welles didn’t renew the copyright.

  4. “Nay! Nay! From Strangers Stay Away!”

  5. It’s perfectly okay for a stranger to diddle a child’s privates, as long as that stranger is a TSA agent.

    1. I think your definition of “diddle” is different from mine.

    2. How ‘last week’ of you. We’re all talking about some crazy dipshit in Tuscon now. America is perfectly ok with government-sponsored molestation – you didn’t get that memo?

  6. Are Forzieri adds showing up for everyone, or is it only for me bc I was perusing their site yesterday? Anyway this Nucky Thompson Shoe is sick.

    1. “Nay! Nay! Adblock Keeps Ads Away!”

    2. Children should be suspicious of any man wearing those shoes, because he would be a pimp!

      1. Would that include Rex Ryan?


  7. And that’s not the worst. In England in 2006, BBC News reported the story of a bricklayer who spotted a toddler at the side of the road. As he later testified at a hearing, he didn’t stop to help for fear he’d be accused of trying to abduct her. You know: A man driving around with a little girl in his car? She ended up at a pond and drowned.

    That could have been me. Since I don’t wish to get rounded up in the witch hunt I have nothing to do with children without parents being present.

    I won’t coach little league. I won’t come to the aid of a child lost in the mall. I won’t babysit for you, no matter how desperate you are.

  8. like there’s only a few instances of pedophiles.

    1. u mean like the few they show on every episode of “to catch a predator”?

      1. IIRC the ones on that show could more accurately be called ephebephiles (not sure if Im spelling that right)–attracted to physically matured if underaged persons, as opposed to pedophiles who are attracted to pre-pubescents.

        1. This is an incredibly important distinction that people seem to have a hard time making. Consensual sex with a developed teenager (while still generally a bad idea) is a whole different moral ballpark from sex with pre-pubescent children.

          1. The lack of distinction is important to too many people. I remember a few rabid commenters who called Clinton a pedo for sexual contact with Lewinsky, who was 22.

            1. Not only does it hand people a moral cudgel, it is also enshrined in the law, so while there is nothing “unnatural” about a 19-year-old banging a 16-year-old, it’s often illegal, and far, far too many people think that if something is illegal, it’s bad. The drug war is the ultimate example of this.

          2. Yeah those ambushees on “to catch a predator” were mostly into adolescents, not young children. Im not necessarily opposed to having an age of consent–the line has to be drawn somewhere–but let’s not kid ourselves that a normal, well adjusted adult male can’t be attracted to a physically mature but underaged person. To call such a person a “pedophile” exaggerates the prevalence of pedophilia and prevents a rational understanding of the issue.

            1. ur 13 yr old GF txt u 2 say that?

              1. I don’t have a 13 year old girlfriend.

                Do you care to actually respond to what I posted?

                1. That wasn’t an insult. Considering his age, a 13 year old girl must be like an adult to OhioOrrin.

        2. Which brings up an interesting point: What’s the difference between a BAD MAN who goes after a physically mature girl who is emotionally/mentally undeveloped, and an OK MAN who goes after a ditsy, drunk Blond in a bar?

          Sure, one is legal and one is not, but what’s really the difference?

    2. The voice of experience. You probably know dozens of your fellow enthusiasts.

      1. Do not respond to the basement level troll.

        1. I’m just concerned about the children, Epi.

          1. Pedophile!

            1. You will never get the hang of threaded comments, will you?

              1. Well, Warty, what did you think of Obama’s speech last night?

              2. “Hanged by Threaded Comments”

                What a sad end for Epi 🙁 I liked him…

                1. “I come not to mourn Epi, but to bugger his corpse with a whiffle ball bat.”

                  1. Whiffle ball bat?!? You could at least use a Louisville Slugger!

                    1. You’ve always told that nothing from Kentucky would ever enter your rectum. I’m just trying to honor your wishes, you hypothetically dead jerk.

                    2. Fine, just use my tennis racket. It’s made in Jersey.

  9. OTOH, if you get on the rolls for Temporary Assistance, seems a frequent type of make-work assignment is supervising children.

  10. When taking my kid to the playground, I used to worry about that sort of accusation when kids would ask me to help them on the monkey bars or climbing a ladder or anything like that. However, eventually I decided not to worry about it. I am not going to let other peoples paranoid fears ruin the world for me.

    1. The paranoid fears aren’t the problem.

      The potential arrest, having your name in the paper, the permanent mark on your CORI record even if the charges are dropped – those are the things that would ruin the world for you.

      In MA if you are arrested on a child abduction charge, but then the police realize that it’s all a big misunderstanding and drop the charges – the arrest stays on your CORI record and human service employers that do a background check on you still get to find out about it.

      So anyone who thinks [like a lot of the idiots who commented on the Journal article] that you can just fix any erroneous accusations later and that “reason will prevail” is a fucking idiot who has no idea how the system works.

      1. Unfortunately very true in Florida as well. The middle school band teacher across from the church my dad ministered at was accused of something obscene by a student of his. Turned out to be completely unfounded (I don’t even think the girl was charged with making a false accusation). One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen my dad do was chase TV newsvans off of the church property because of the witch hunt they were going on regarding the band teacher.

      2. I agree, Fluffy. On the other hand, a world where people have to be afraid to help a kid on the playground is not one I want to live in. I do my part to change it to the way it should be. If more would do the same, we would all be better off.

        I agree with Zeb further down. I think the odds of getting falsely arrested are similar to those of one of my kids being abducted by a stranger. It is a risk I am willing to take.

    2. Good for you. Fluffy makes a strong point, but I don’t think that the danger of your being falsely accused is much higher than your child actually being abducted by a pedophile stranger. Being of an optimistic disposition, I could be wrong.

      1. No, I think you’re right, and enough people must agree that we’re able to get volunteers, among them me, to coach children’s sports.

        It’s like with all the other shit we read about here (and everywhere else). Even the most persecuted groups don’t get exterminated — well, except for the Neanderthals, but that was a long time ago. And most other people don’t even come close to being exterminated, even in wars. Just think about all the people in the world — or even just those in Arizona — who were not killed or even wounded by that shooter. I mean, you’d have to be nuts to try to figure such freak incidents in your plans & calculations.

  11. If I had kids of my own the people I’d trust least to be around them would be exactly the ones that dream up these scenarios. How fucked in the head do you have to be in order to see an interactive doll and have sexual exploitation be the very first thing that comes to mind?

  12. Stranger Danger

    Every time I read that, I envision Stewart from “Mad TV”, and his mom….”STEWWWWWWART!” “Don’t touuuuuuuuuuuch me….”

      1. Soooo irritating

  13. I think Lenore Skenazy has done a great job of using common sense, statistics, and anecdotes to change the way people think about a single issue: raising kids. And while it isn’t hard to imagine libertarian parents agreeing with the Free Range Kids philosophy, the surprise is how many progressive parents are also on board. I welcome any gateway that inspires more people to think intelligently about issues of freedom in their lives.

  14. I think some (definitely not all) of the hysteria about being percieved as a pedophil is also a bit hysterical.

    I worked with kids for a long time before becoming a respectable citizen. Now, with three kids of my own, I’m often in parks or other toddler-populated areas.

    I’ve gotten warned once or twice about being friendly with kids back when I was a professional retard wrangler, but not since.

    Most parents and concerned adults are all too happy that someone else is willing to lead the game of freeze tag and let them go back to sipping vodka out of a Poland Springs bottle. the other day I was reading to my toddlers in a chain bookstore, and the various other rug rats gathered around. At least one mom thanked me afterwards, and the look of releif from the poor employee who has to clean up after the kids was palpable.

    1. Your point is well taken.

      I think the reason you get a lot of people being strident about this is because of (justified) resentment against contradictory demands.

      Many libertarians aren’t “joiners” and don’t gravitate to touchy-feely occupations or hobbies in the first place. And for that, we are routinely disparaged by communitarians. How many articles a day lamenting the decline of community spirit and community activities do you see a day?

      But the problem is that the people who hector us all about our duties to the “village community” of children are the very same nanny state freaks who have created the climate of hysteria being described here. And that pisses me [and many others] off, because I really don’t want people to come around asking why I won’t volunteer to help kids in my community after those very same people have spent the last couple of decades making that equivalent to a game of Russian roulette.

      Tied into that is the fact that these people, in the name of “correcting power imbalances”, do their level best each and every day to undermine the procedural protections men have against false accusations by “the powerless”. That raises the ante on the entire question of false accusations and misunderstandings in general. I’m definitely not going to count on “reasonable people getting to the bottom of things” when there is a huge and well-funded movement out there dedicated to the proposition that all accusations are always true and women (of all ages) never lie and any questioning of any woman (of any age) ever is evil. When those people go away, I’ll contribute to the community. Until then, everyone can fuck right off.

      1. +10.

      2. But the problem is that the people who hector us all about our duties to the “village community” of children are the very same nanny state freaks who have created the climate of hysteria being described here. And that pisses me [and many others] off, because I really don’t want people to come around asking why I won’t volunteer to help kids in my community after those very same people have spent the last couple of decades making that equivalent to a game of Russian roulette.

        How do you know that? I mean, how do you know those are the same people? I’m afraid you’re collectivizing here, maybe unconsciously. You’re thinking of everyone who is not you as if they’re the same person, making a composite character.

        How do you know it’s not some people who want you to get involved and some other people who want you not to? How do you know those groups of people aren’t just as upset at the other group as you seem to be at both groups?

        The only way to resolve this question would be via polls, with the data not aggregated but correlated. Do the people who answer this question this way also answer that question that way, or are they different persons?

  15. “In your lips I sense the danger…you’ve got the eyyyyyyyyyyyes of a stranger.”

  16. Good article, but Lenore still can’t get it all right. It’s not “Eek, a male”, it’s “Eek, a man”.

  17. When did it become dangerous to use your non-dominant hand?

    1. Never touch a child with the gripping hand.

  18. The rampant paranoia means that the fear of witches is everywhere. Any male who stops to speak to a child, who touches a child, or cares for a child, or even smiles at a child it at risk of being attacked as a witch.

    I have witnessed how the hysteria can be used by the unscrupulous. A man questioning the hysteria is easily attacked JUST for that. The assumption is that if he questions the threat from witches then he too must be a witch.

    Children are deprived and hurt by this hysteria, but that doesn’t matter much either. People have never been reluctant to hurt the very people they claim they are helping, if it is necessary for “the cause,” whatever it may be. Denying kids contact with men hurts kids more than it hurts men, but men who spend time with children are at grave legal risk by the paranoid witch sniffers.

    1. Don’t just leave us hanging, tell us about this case you’ve witnessed.

  19. “Consider the Iowa daycare center where Nichole Adkins works. The one male aide employed there, she told me in an interview, is not allowed to change diapers. “In fact,” Ms. Adkins said, “he has been asked to leave the classroom when diapering was happening.”

    And the downside for him is….?

    1. That reminds me: If you ever see a baby with erection of the penis, duck!

  20. so everybody should take care of themselves.

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