Friday, August 2, 2013

The Predator Test? In My Opinion, It Fails

I just finished watching a program on the CNN/Headline News Channel program Raising America with
Kyra Phillips, a segment titled “The Predator Test."  It utilized a “sting-like” format, with an adult stranger complete with dog approaching children at a park and asking the children to go with him to his car to get more treats for the dog.  Parents were nearby watching; they had, of course, all agreed for their children to be unknowing guinea pigs in the "test."

I did not find the test very realistic or credible. The "predator" gathered up several children at a time, and the ones that would go with him trooped along together in a procession that included some other adult with another dog whose function was never explained. Some of the children waved to their mothers sitting nearby as they left. Somehow I don't think a true predator targeting a victim in a park, which is a very rare occurrence, would take children en masse and in view of their parents.

The promo for the show included some of the footage as well as written text, and based on that, I put this comment on the comment board before the program aired.
My quarrel isn't with addressing the issue of "stranger danger" but with the skewed proportions with which the entire situation is addressed. The greatest focus and use of resources is on the registered sex offender, and that is who has the tiniest risk of harming a child--less than 1%. The next focus is "stranger danger," and that too is very small. According to the office of Juvenile Justice, it is 2-6 %. 
The only way to address the overwhelmingly greatest risk is through structured programs of awareness, education, and prevention, and, as far as I know, our government spends zero effort and money on that. The only thing that is done is by private agencies and is so limited as to be virtually ineffective in addressing the issue. More simply put, our nation spends 100% of its resources dedicated to this issue on 5% of potential victims and nothing on the other 95%.
Then I watched the program. And I took notes.

I was even more disturbed at some of the misleading inferences and missed opportunities for some facts. For example, one parent asked how prevalent a problem it was that children were taken by strangers, and the "expert" indicated it was a serious problem, even saying at one point, “Families need to practice for that moment when a predator comes,” as though it were inevitable. In reality, according to federal statistics, about 115 children are taken by strangers each year; as a basis for comparison, 250,000 are injured in auto accidents.

One of the program "experts" talked about school starting and the dangers of children waiting for the school bus due to the prevalence of kidnappings from bus stops and how an adult must always, always be with them. I Googled several different phrases having to do with children taken from bus stops, and I was stunned when I couldn't find any. The closest I came was the case of Jaycee Dugard, who was taken off the street walking to a school bus stop in 1991, Brittany Locklear in 1998, taken from her own front yard waiting for the bus, and this year's abduction of 15-year-old Kathlynn Shepard and her friend who accepted a ride in a pick-up after getting off of their school bus. There have been a few other reported attempts but no actual kidnappings that I could locate.

There is nothing whatsoever wrong with teaching children not to go anywhere with someone they do not know; parents would be negligent not to teach their kids that. However, until we are willing to expend a significant amount of resources on education and prevention programs in schools and communities that address the vast majority of child sexual abuse, that at the hands of people already in the lives of the children, we will not make a dint in the problem of sexual crime committed against children.


  1. Good points. We've linked it to the post on our blog, here.

  2. I agree, this sort of "test" does little to address the real problem. While it does no harm to do as parents have always done and teach their children not to go with people they don't know, programs like the one described feed into the panic and hysteria. They cause us to think that a stranger is almost certain to try to abduct our child.
    The real problem is that children and their parents are so concerned that a stranger will harm their child that they neglect to tell them that anyone who touches them or makes them feel uncomfortable, no matter who it is, should not be doing so and it is not their fault. We need to educate our children with facts and not hysteria.

  3. I agree with gospelgal; this sort of alarmist "test" does little to address the real problem. Any sort of public registry draws our attention to only the "usual suspects". In this instance, the "usual suspects" have a ridiculously low reoffense rate. High on hysteria-- low on facts. The vast majority of child sexual abuse, unfortunately, occurs within the child's own home and close social circle. Education, open dialogue and prevention are key. I find the "sex offender registry" uniquely useless as a preventative tool. All it tells us, is who has offended previously. Given the low reoffense rate, that is not helpful information. We need to know where to be vigilant. In that case, only frank discussion and communication with our children will keep us safe. Since most abuse occurs within the family, it needs to be discussed within the family. Looking at photos of ex offenders as a "safety measure" is a lose-lose situation.

  4. Better pay your internet bill shelly "I Googled several different phrases having to do with children taken from bus stops, and I was stunned when I couldn't find any" OH REALLY funny my search came up with pages and pages and pages of abductions and attempted abductions at school bus stops- seriously who are you writing this bullshit blog for? No one who has the audacity to call you out obviously.


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