On one of the Toronto news channels about a week ago (I really can’t remember which), there was a story about a mom who had taken her kids to the playground, seen a guy sitting on a bench near the playground, photographed him with her smartphone and then posted it online to warn other local parents about him.
Warn them about what, exactly?
Before you get all helicopter on me, let me say that I get it. I’m a mom. I worry about my daughter even when I know she is safe and sound, tucked up in her bed. Worrying is ubiquitous for any parent and there is nothing wrong with that until the worrying turns in to action that could actually hurt someone.
I live in fear that someone will lure my daughter away one day: part of that is because I grew up with that very thing playing out close to home. I went to school with Alison Parrott and for the want of true running abilities, I would have been part of the same track team that she was on. In case you don’t remember the story, her killer posed as a photographer wanting to take pictures of the team; Alison was lured away from home under this ruse, raped and strangled. That event is ever present in my mind and I will never, ever be able to send Nikki anywhere without having it cross my mind. Ever.
So, I hear you. The guy sitting on a bench by himself watching kids play is creepy. He seems more than out of place; his presence seems vaguely threatening. But other than sitting on a bench without a kid of his own at the playground, he hasn’t actually done anything.
I actually have no objection to the fact that the woman took the picture – even though it is an invasion of his privacy, she would at least be able to provide it to police. Nor would I have objection to her posting to her Facebook page or other website that she saw a guy at XYZ park looking a little suspicious and parents should be aware.
However, posting his picture online and it going viral enough to have caught the attention of mainstream media is one step too far and could, according to a lawyer interviewed for the story, be actionable. Defamation of character and slander, to start with.
What would you do?
- Would you take the picture? (I would have).
- Would you post it online? (I would not have. At least, I think I wouldn’t).
I guess it’s easy to say: I am not in the situation that this Mom was in and maybe, if I was in the park and I had the picture, perhaps I would do the same thing. I always try to remember that what happened to Alison is statistically unusual. Kids are FAR more likely to be harmed by someone they actually know: a friend of the family, a distant relative. That doesn’t lessen my worries but it does put them in perspective a little.
Our worries for our kids will never end, nor should they, but I can’t help thinking since this story aired that we could all try a little harder to keep them in perspective; before someone’s life is ruined who did nothing but sit on a park bench.