“You can never be too careful.”
“I just know something terrible would have happened.”
“It’s so much more dangerous out there now than when we were kids.”
Recently you probably saw the story of a mom who was shopping with her small children at IKEA, who is convinced that two men were following them around, waiting for a chance to snatch her children and take them back to their human trafficking ring. She and her children had no real interaction with these men and no reason to assume something as sinister as sex trafficking was going to happen, but she listened to this irrational fear inside and convinced herself of just that. Then like is all too common these days, she went to Facebook to share this “incident” and warn other mothers to be vigilant as she was. The post went viral, spreading fear and misinformation far and wide.
Moms, are we parenting with a current of fear running through our veins? Are we spreading that fear like a virus to other moms with our words and with our Facebook shares? Are we actually living in a more dangerous world than when we were kids?
I want you to step back and ask yourself: if small children were frequently being snatched in the middle of stores and sold into human trafficking, wouldn’t this be all over the national news? Wouldn’t you see Amber Alerts for them? Wouldn’t the local police departments also speak up about it?
Recently, I got an Amber Alert notification on my phone. It said: “9 month old abducted by sex offender.” I thought, “Whoa! It’s happening! That fear all these moms are talking about, a random child being abducted, and by a sex offender at that!” Only to open the app to see the full story, which was that a 9 month old was abducted by their non-custodial parent, who just so happens to also be a sex offender. Hmm. Still a horrible story, but no where near as sensational as the original notification implied. It did the trick, though. It got my attention. I had to wonder how many other people saw this alert but didn’t look further. So this idea that “these things are happening more and more” gets further validated in their mind.
This video from Free Range Kids breaks down how the news media and viral stories on social media create a heightened sense of risk. This idea that danger lurks around every corner and our kids are just one distracted moment away from catastrophe.
Fortunately, there is a way for us to fight back against these irrational fears: STATISTICS!
Do you know how many children are abducted in a stereotypical stranger kidnapping? According to the Polly Klass Foundation, it is about 100 children a year (and approximately half of those are returned home). Familiarize yourself with actual crime statistics to put things in perspective and rein those irrational thoughts back in.
Let’s address the fear the IKEA mom sensationalized: human trafficking. Human trafficking is a very real problem in our country right now, and I’m glad it is getting more attention. But you want to know who is at highest risk of being trafficked? Teenagers (often runaways). And you want to know how it happens? Through a grooming process, not through stranger kidnapping.
This site by the International Human Trafficking Institute debunks many of the myths about human trafficking. These myths include the idea that trafficking is an impulse crime and that middle class women and girls are the most vulnerable to it. The LA Times wrote a great piece about how sharing these stories on social media about alleged “near trafficking incidents” actually hurts the real victims of sex-trafficking.
Here’s what I’m asking you today. Stop sharing these stories on Facebook. Stop participating in this mom culture of fear-mongering. Stop living your life in fear and buying into these falsehoods. Share factual information with other moms (you can even share this blog post with them!) Spend your energy focusing on the real risks our kids face (i.e. improper car seat usage, childhood obesity, abuse and neglect.) If you want to do something about human trafficking, look into an organization such as End Slavery Now for how you can help.
Take a deep breath. Be aware of your surroundings when you are out with your kids and report real issues to the police, but don’t let misguided fears carry you to irrational places.