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Stranger danger: is it as real as it's made out to be?

By now most of us have seen the video that went viral the other day, showing a social experiment in which kids were lured away by a stranger and a cute dog:

I had a problem with this video the moment I saw it circling my news feed, mainly because of the statistic he quotes at the end (700 children abducted every day? Where did he pull that from??) But it also bugged me that there was no mention of abductions by strangers vs. abductions by family members. The majority of child abductions that take place are by a person known to the child - usually by a biological parent during custody battles.

I think this type of video creates unnecessary fear among parents, when they should probably be focusing more on the basics - like how to secure their child properly into their car seat. The risk of your child being injured in the car is far greater than the risk of your child being abducted by a stranger. 

That said, I'm not one to deny the possibility of someone approaching my child with less than good intentions.

Why? Because it might have happened to me.

Let me tell you a little story. To do this, I need to go back...WAYYYY back.

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It's 1999 and I'm a first year university student at Ryerson in Toronto. I'm commuting from my home in Scarborough to downtown every day. The Rouge Hill GO Station is about a 20 minute walk from my home, so I lug my uber heavy IBM laptop down Port Union Rd. (funny side note - I am one of the first students to try out a brand new technology on campus....WiFi. All of my courses are "online." Hence the heavy IBM laptop).

It's about 4 p.m., and I think it must be fall or spring, as I don't remember snow on the ground. It's light out. And if you're familiar with Port Union Rd., you know that it's fairly busy with traffic.

Lost in my little bubble of thoughts, it takes me a while to notice that a green jeep Cherokee is slowly doubling back after passing me. I notice the car make a right at the next lights, and then pull a u-turn, only to drive by me again. My spidey senses kick in - what's this guy doing?

I make a left down a street that leads to my house. It's a lot quieter on this street, and it's very clear this car is following me. He's driving slowly, about 200 metres behind me. He finally pulls up alongside me, but continues to drive slowly. I take a quick peek, but I can't see much - tinted windows, maybe he's wearing sunglasses, and a dark head of hair.

Here's where "stranger danger" is real - I don't know this guy, and he's acting strangely. So what do I do? Stop to have a chat with him? Ask him for a ride home?

Nope, it's 1999 and I've got my very first cell phone - a clunky Nokia. I whip it out and dial my boyfriend's number. Within one minute, the guy has sped off, never to return.

I get to my house 5 minutes later. And being a teenager, I just shake it off and get on with my homework. I can't remember if I told my parents or not.

The next day we receive a recorded message from Toronto police, asking for information about a suspicious man in a green jeep approaching young children. I'm confused, because really, I'm not that young (19!). But I give them a call, and eventually get interviewed by police at my home.

I'm a terrible witness. Not only did I not get a close look at him, but I didn't even think to check out the license plate number. I find out he approached several other kids that day, all much younger than me. All of the children managed to get away safely. The police think that he may have mistaken me for someone younger. The investigation comes to nothing, and I never hear from the police again.

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I don't know what this guy would have done to the kids he tried to lure into his vehicle. Beating? Rape? Murder? It's a terrifying thought, but it gives me hope that we all did the right thing.

And this experience does nothing to change my view that the world is generally a good place. Everyone is a stranger before they become an acquaintance or a friend, and I never want my kids to go through life scared. Since that experience, I have walked the streets at night and during the day, confident that I belong there. A few bad eggs won't deny me the right and the freedom to move freely in my own neighbourhood.

We've had conversations with our oldest that go something like this:

"Most people in the world are good. But sometimes people do bad things, and it's important that we use caution and prepare ourselves in case we come across one of those people."

So what does my kid know? She knows she is to never go with anyone, even friends or family, without permission from Mommy and Daddy. She knows to say "no" even when they tell her Mommy is really sick and they need her help. She knows to say "no" even if they try to offer candy or cute puppy dogs.

But she also knows that strangers can be good, kind and helpful. Strangers can assist us when we're hurt. Strangers can become our friends. And strangers can even protect us when we need protection.

Talk to your kids. Open up the conversation. But for goodness sake's, don't make them fearful of living in this world.

 

**Edited to add: You know what else is bugging me about this video, and all the conversations we're having about it? This fear comes from a place of white privilege. In light of all of the missing and murdered aboriginal women in this country, I can't quite help but think that our fears go unfounded