“If you go down to the woods today
You’re sure of a big surprise.”*
Okay, Anne Murray was talking about teddy bears and not whackadoodle strangers who are supposedly lurking behind every bush and parked car, just waiting for our kids to jump out and snatch them, but the sentiment is right.
Or is it?
Our fear of stranger danger that we then instill in our children is ever growing and, no thanks to the 24/7 media news cycle, it often feels justified. I was watching TV5Monde a few nights ago when the story aired of a young French girl being snatched from the play ground right in front of her apartment building while she had been playing with a friend, under the supervision of the friend’s step-father. The step-father saw the man snatch Chloe and Chloe’s mother, who arrived on scene right at that moment, ran around the building screaming for her daughter, just in time to see her being shoved in the car by the man who has now admitted to taking her. Chloe was found dead three hours later, strangled and sexually assaulted, according to police.
Chloe’s mother, who was present, burst into panicked screams as the man, described by witnesses as bald and wearing sunglasses, shoved her daughter into his car. (quote from above linked article)
It’s the stuff of all of our nightmares.
To further the nightmare, one need only read a few comments about the case, posted in the days and hours after it happened. Comments that suggested that the friend’s step-dad should have done more to stop the man. Comments from people who were not there and could not possibly really know how it all went down.
Franchement écœurée dans un premier temps du beau père de la copine!!! Je comprend pas comment il n’a pas pu réagir! (translation: Frankly disgusted at first the stepfather’s girlfriend !!! I do not understand how he could not react!)
Or this one:
Désolé mais j’ai une question? Pourquoi la maman à-t-elle laissé sa fillette sans surveillance (ou sans celle d’un autre adulte) surtout lorsqu’on sait le temps que cela prendre pour changer deux enfants de 4 et 5 ans? (translation: Sorry but I have a question? Why did the mom leave her child unattended (or without that of another adult) especially when we know how long it will take to change two children 4 and 5 years?
Sure, we can dismiss these comments as being insensitive and mean spirited, but the reality is, as I watched Chloe’s story unfold on television, I asked myself when the first “judgment comment” would come out, who would be the first to say it, online or out loud. I knew it would happen. It was just a question of when and where. Thankfully, these types of comments weren’t the majority, but they were still there, insidious and horrible, creeping in.
Elizabeth Renzetti was, as usual, eloquent and to the point in her Globe and Mail piece this past weekend on the question of letting our kids be kids (“Get Over the Stranger Danger and Join the Free Rangers” ) but I felt a particular affinity for Rob from Calgary, who commented on the piece online:
I agree. Our rational minds know the statistics. We know that our kids are more likely to be hurt by someone they know than by a random stranger. Crime rates are down in Canada and overall, it’s more dangerous to drive around in the big SUV than it is to play in the park. But even I had a moment of hesitation, not long ago. I hesitated to leave my daughter in the car for the 3 seconds it was going to take to walk from the spot RIGHT IN FRONT of the library to the book drop slot, having taken the keys with me and all. I hesitated not because I thought she might be in danger from a stranger but because someone might see me do it. Rational? Probably not. But it happened that way. Of course, I did leave her and it did take me all of three seconds. Afterwards, I felt stupid for letting fear of judgement get in the way of rational thought. But I’m not entirely sure that the thought won’t cross my mind again the next time.