18 Apr

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I grew up in Oakland County, Michigan, and was a young teenager during the mid-seventies. During the thirteen-month period between February, 1976 and March, 1977, there were four children abducted, tortured and murdered within a six-mile radius of my home. The Oakland County Child Killer Case, as it was known, forever altered the landscape of our community and my youth. It was as though there was a “before” and an “after.”  One day, I frolicked around the neighborhood, walking, running, biking to a friend’s house alone without a concern in the world. The next day, I was afraid to walk to the corner without an adult. Children were scared. Parents were scared. The entire community was consumed by fear.

Fast forward forty years. Now I am the mother of pre-teen and teenaged children. My generation of mothers does not let their children out of their sight until they’ve reached high school and have enough of the Stranger Danger lectures drilled into their brains to last a lifetime. Even then, we instruct them to travel in packs. We coordinate No Child Left Behind schedules after sports practices to insure no child is left waiting, alone, for their parent to pick them up. We keep them tethered to their cell phones when they aren’t in our presence, and download GPS trackers on their devices to further monitor their whereabouts. We whisper behind the backs of those parents who do not adhere to these hyper vigilant strategies for ensuring their children’s safety. And, still, we’re scared.

We teach our children about “Stranger Danger” as soon as they can understand the words.  “Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t accept candy from strangers. Don’t get in the car with someone you don’t know. If an adult asks you to help find their lost puppy, run away.”  If a suspicious individual approaches a child in our community, it is reported and plastered throughout the school district’s email and text distribution lists, notifying parents of the potential danger. Our internal threat alerts rise to “RED.”

Despite the low probability that a stranger will abduct our child, we accept this heightened state of anxiety because we know that even one child harmed, is one too many. We understand that we must protect our children. It is truly our most important task as adults to protect children, prepare them for the future, and preserve the world so there is a future in which they will thrive.

But there’s a problem with this thinking. When we focus on the stranger as the dangerous element, we neglect to recognize that most harm to children occurs, not at the hands of strangers, but from someone the child knows. MOST acts of abuse—physical, sexual, emotional, neglect— of children are performed by someone the child would not call a stranger.

April is NATIONAL CHILD ABUSE PREVENTION MONTH. It is a time to learn all you can about the staggering epidemic of child abuse occurring throughout our nation. Read the plethora of facts and statistics available on the American Society for the Positive Care of Children website. It is an uncomfortable read. Hopefully, you will be uncomfortable enough to take action. And lest you think ‘these things aren’t happening in my community,” here is a fact for you: “44% of child abuse victims are White, 22.7% Hispanic, and 21.4% African-American.”

The number of children being abused by their parents, other family members, caregivers and friends of the family are staggering. Many of these children become runaways, fleeing the very place they are supposed to be safest, and then falling into other abusive situations such as human trafficking. These kids were not snatched by a white van trolling the neighborhood. They were already victims, neglected and abused by the people who were supposed to care for them, with nowhere else to turn.

One in nine girls, and one in 53 boys, under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse by an adult. Ninety-three percent of these victims know their abuser. If I were to tell you that there is a 1-in-9 chance that your child will be abducted by a stranger, you would never let them out your front door. Unfortunately, that is not the side of the door that we need to be worried about.

For the sake of all our children, it is imperative that we all take some time this month to better acquaint ourselves with the truth about child abuse. Then, determine how you can contribute to solving the problem. It takes a village to raise a child. It takes all villages to keep them safe.

American Society for the Positive Care of Children

#ChildAbusePreventionMonth

#StopChildAbuse

Blaire Sharpe is the Author of  “Not Really Gone.” 


One Response to Strangers Aren’t The Only Danger

  1. TrentAShusta

    November 14, 2016 at 7:53 am

    Really good post. I am facing a number of these
    issues at the same time..

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