We live in an atmosphere of fear -- there is no denying it. Don't believe that? Turn on any of the myriad of channels that offer a 24-hour news cycle and see how you feel at the end of just a few hours of viewing. You will be terrified of something, guaranteed.
Broader society is reamed with stories about how we should all panic about a disease that poses no real threat to our citizens or a terrorist group that shows no signs of having a stronghold in our country. If you're a parent, you can worry about all of that -- and also add the Boogeyman that exists on every corner, waiting to snatch your child out from under you. Why do we feel this way? When did it start? Is it the photos on milk cartons that convinced us we had to live in constant fear of someone snatching our child? That terrifying "Adam" movie from the 80's about a child abducted from a Sears and murdered? What horrible anecdotes have burned on our collective brains, convincing us our children just aren't safe?
Journalist Glen Fleishman decided to find out just how accurate the 2002 statistic that is still commonly reference, is. He analyzed the 13-year-old report's 800,000 number, and this is what he found: about half of the children are runaways or kids who have been put out by caregivers. Of the rest of the children, 43% fall into a category called "benign explanation," in which a child isn't missing, but a caretaker thought they were. Eight percent of the kids were lost or missing -- not intentionally and with no other party responsible. Nine percent were taken by a family member.
That leaves us with the proverbial "boogeyman," the scenario we are most afraid of: nonfamily abductions. Fleishman's article explains nonfamily abductions as "those who the child knows, like a former but non-related domestic partner of a parent, a teacher, a neighbor, and so on, as well as strangers. The definition includes taking a child of any age without permission for more than an hour through a threat of violence or actual harm." Here is what the report's numbers actually uncovered regarding "stranger danger" abductions:
The study found 12,000 children reported missing in this category (2%) and 33,000 from the broader estimate (3%). The larger 33,000 figure represents about 5 children out of 10,000, although both figures need additional scrutiny.
Fleishman's whole article is very interesting and goes into more problematic statistics and situations - but this skewing of statistics and how they are presented is pretty staggering. He points out that The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has a very-well explained breakdown of the statistics, but it doesn't stop us from perpetuating the idea that our kids are in real danger of being abducted by a total stranger.
This is something well worth examining since it drives the actions of "well meaning" onlookers to make assumptions about parenting choices that are perfectly safe. Remember the woman who was arrested for letting her nine-year-old play in the park alone? What about the Maryland parents who were visited by police for letting their six-year-old and ten-year-old children walk home from the park together? Then there was the mother who had a CPS and police visit when a "concerned neighbor" reported her because her children were playing alone in front of her house. The idea that someone is lurking to snatch your children is crippling parents -- and making perfectly safe decisions criminal.
(photo: Getty Images)