General Question

Myndecho's avatar

Have we got an irrational fear of pedophiles?

Asked by Myndecho (948points) May 29th, 2009

I’m not condoning pedophilia, only asking do we? I’m mainly focusing on how parents restricted what their children can do because of pedophiles.
Situations such as not letting their child sit on Santa’s lap just encase he’s a pedophile, or letting parents film their school concert. We make many decisions based on the probability of it will happen, for example, flying in a plane or getting in a fight with a bigger person.
Would you allow your child to be a passenger in a vehicle? When the chances of them dying are highly prevalent compared to being sexually abused.
Of course the other side is we shouldn’t be making it easier for any pedophiles that are out there and our kids are so special to us that we wouldn’t want to put them in any danger.

I don’t know so I’d like to hear what you have to say.

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49 Answers

cookieman's avatar

I would say that some (many?) parents are irrationally fearful of many things with regard to their children. Given the importance of said children, I can understand the motivation.

Personally, I try to make level-headed decisions regarding my daughter’s welfare. Works about 98% of the time.

I think the solution for wildly over protective parents is to educate themselves on the topics they are afraid of. Many do not and are driven by (paranoid) what they see on the nightly local news.

dynamicduo's avatar

Humans have many irrational fears. Child abduction/molestation is one of them that is very much irrational. If you look at the statistics, more than 95% of child abductions are done by someone in the family (most commonly a parent) or someone who knows the family. The random abductions, the “man in the white van”, the thought that your kid actually stands a reasonable chance of being snatched from the streets is so minuscule. But it’s because the results of this minuscule chance happening are so intense and dangerous that people give in to their fears. Plus, parents are conditioned to care and protect their children no matter what.

Foregoing the nightly news is the best way to cut out this media hype crap from your life.

I probably won’t have a child, but if I did I would teach them to be independent and rational minded, to use their heads at all times. I certainly wouldn’t instill some type of fear of adults in them or limit their activities. Such as that person who let her son come home on the subway. I agree completely with her.

dynamicduo's avatar

Oh, and I recommend this book for those interested in learning more about how our brains process risk, fear, and odds: Risk: The science and politics of fear.

oratio's avatar

I guess it depends on what you mean by irrational. Certainly media and rumors scare people, and parents scare themselves as well with scenarios where their kid is lured away.

I think one should be cautious. Of course there are real monsters out there. One aspect is the Internet. Sometimes I get the impression of a hysteria though, when people paint up a picture of pedophiles throwing themselves over the children as soon as they get on the internet. But I am also quite aware of the number of sex questions and invites that young girls – kids really – get on every chat site and community.

The Internet makes it easy to contact people, but I am not sure it is easier for pedophiles to catch victims now than before. Sure, it could be. There should be numbers out there of pedophilia victims over the years after the introduction of the Internet—which I didn’t find now—, but I wonder. I think maybe the M.O. has changed for many of them. I also have a suspicion that many pedophiles are into child-porn and not perpetrators themselves.

But a clever pedophile will always find a victim, as well as a clever rapist will. You don’t need internet for that. It’s just convenient, and I find it most likely that a pedophiles search victims in relatively close vicinity. I don’t know much about the common victims of pedophiles, but if it’s anything like female rape, most assaults against children would be from people they know, or even family.

My experience of parenthood is one of some level of constant worry, or concern. My sons safety is always in my mind, but I worry more about other things than pedophiles. Crossing the street, beating up the neighbors dog with a stick or the impact tv and movies could have.

Pedophilia is of course present in all cultures, and I imagine the threat of pedophiles are likewise in Europe and USA.

I think a parent should be concerned and wary, but sometimes you get the feeling that people have a picture of a world where these people are everywhere, hunting their kids.

MissAusten's avatar

This is such a timely question for me. I’m reading this book called “Free Range Kids,” and one of the things the author talks about is how fearful parents have become over the past generation. She looks at changes in what we watch on TV, what the news shows focus on, and how companies that sell safety products have all given parents this idea that children are at high risk for being abducted, molested, or killed in a freak accident while using the toilet.

She then gives actual statistics and quotes that show how the rate of violent crimes against children has remained constant over the past few decades. There is a 1 in 1.5 million chance your child will be abducted and killed. It’s such a statistically low risk that it’s considered a nonrisk.

The author puts it this way: “If you actually wanted your child to be kidnapped and held overnight by a stranger, how long would you have to keep her outside, unattended, for this to be statistically likely to happen? About seven hundred and fifty thousand years.

I know that isn’t entirely focused on pedophiles, but I think the mindset is about the same. Danger lurks around every corner, and the only way to avoid it is to never let your kid out of your sight. When something bad does happen to a kid (Maddie McCann), we jump all over the parents. Were Adam Walsh’s parents blasted by the media for taking their eyes off him in that department store? (I was too young when that happened to remember.)

I do know that, as a parent, other parents can be horribly judgemental. I actually had someone ask me why I let my five year old son play out in the field behind our back yard. I can see him from the kitchen window, but apparently this other parent felt that he was too far away from me. Someone could grab him before I’d be able to stop them! I was like, “In broad daylight? Right in front of the school where there are always hundreds of witnesses?” Please.

I will admit to being highly paranoid. My daughter is ten has never ridden her bike anywhere alone. She hasn’t even been allowed yet to walk to her grandparents’ house alone, even though they live only a few houses down the street from us. I know she’d be fine, but the morbid imaginings inspired by too many episodes of America’s Most Wanted and Dateline are hard to ignore. I’m working on it though! I’ve already decided to let her walk down to her grandparents’ house this afternoon. I’ll even avoid driving along behind her.

The author of the book “Free Range Kids” is Lenore Skenazy, by the way. She gained infamy for letting her 9 year old son ride the subway home alone.

SirBailey's avatar

I’m not sure people are paranoid ENOUGH. I’ve seen posts where people are worried about the known sex offenders, but let their guard down around relatives or other people they know. Stupid! Better safe then sorry?

Russell_D_SpacePoet's avatar

It’s not an irrational fear if you’ve been molested. Child molestation is more widespread than what is reported. You can’t be too careful about pedophiles.

filmfann's avatar

A pedophile kidnapped a baby down the street from us. The police told me the kidnapper was in my backyard, but probably left when he realized we have a dog.
The Ped was eventually caught, after he kidnapped 2 other children. All kids returned safe, but probably psychologically damaged.
I don’t think this is an irrational fear. Sounds plenty rational to me.
If you disagree, go to one of the websites that track sex offenders, and type in your address.

Supacase's avatar

It is family members I worry about the most because they are with her often and she loves them so she would be more likely to listen to them when they tell her not to tell. I think there is more of this going on than is reported.

I cannot help but fear abduction. Whatever happened to her, even if we got her back, would affect her for the rest of her life. The thought of it, wondering for years and thinking the worst, would ruin my life.

hiiiiiiii's avatar

I could point out plain crashes, car crashes etc, the point is it doesn’t happen that often

hiiiiiiii's avatar

No it is still an irrational fear

Myndecho's avatar

It’s hard for me to say as I don’t have children of my own, I’d like to think the issue of pedophilia wouldn’t often be a problem and wouldn’t often restrict what my children can do.

SirBailey's avatar

Maybe what’s irrational is to expect that everyone that puts his or her hand inside the clothing of your child, or exposes himself to your child or gets your child to touch him or her will be caught and sentenced to jail. Or is that stupidity?

The statistics quoted here are all based on pedophiles who were reported and caught. The good ones are NOT getting caught! THOSE are the ones you watch out for.

MissAusten's avatar

@filmfann I don’t think a fear of kidnappings is irrational. I do think that the risk of it happening are statistically lower than most parents think. Maybe the fear isn’t irrational, but the way our society as a whole has reacted to it is irrational.

Knowing that children are far more likely to be harmed by a loved one is just too scary to deal with on a day to day basis. What do you do? Lock your kid away? Run a background check on every member of your family, your friends, and your kid’s friends’ families? The best any of us can do is educate our kids and try to find a balance between keeping them safe and letting them learn to navigate the world around them. I’ll be the first person to admit how hard that is.

I also have to wonder—what kid is most at risk for not telling anyone about something innappropriate done to them? A kid who has learned that he or she can be trusted and relied on, or a kid who learns from birth that he or she isn’t to be trusted out in the big world? A kid who is confident enough to bike to the park alone or walk to school with friends, or a kid who doesn’t know what it’s like to spend five minutes without the company of a hovering adult?

I have gone to that website where you can look up sex offenders in your area. I was relieved to see how distant we are from any registered sex offenders who had been convicted of a violent crime or a crime against children. But then again—the guy across the street could be a pedophile for all I know, one who just hasn’t been caught yet.

Myndecho's avatar

Naive but not irrational I would say.

skfinkel's avatar

Any irrational fear is just what it is called: irrational. Given that most abuse is from family members or close friends, I think the danger from outside is relatively small, as reported by @MissAusten above.

Ironically, what is probably more harmful to children is the parents’ fear itself—making children fear going outside alone, hearing discussions of pedophiles, generally learning that the world is a scary place where no one is to be trusted—so that irrational fears of the world are passed on.

Make sure that your children can talk with you about anyone touching them in ways they don’t want—have that conversation. Teach them that they have control over their bodies. And if they tell you someone did something to them—Believe them and check it out—even if they say it’s your friend or lover.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

No, I don’t think so. In fact, I’m going to 2nd what @Russell_D_SpacePoet wrote above in that there is a lot of behavior that gets overlooked, dismissed and never reported in the first place. Pedophiles usually become molesters and people shouldn’t pretend just because someone’s in their own family or circle of friends that person won’t act out. I’ve seen it in families where a suspicious person has been told directly, they can hug the kids in greeting but that’s it, no alone time.

Russell_D_SpacePoet's avatar

@hiiiiiiii You must not have children.

Bobbilynn's avatar

As a women who has been in therapy for 3 years for being sexually abused by older children, I will say my mother and father watched us very well and tried to protect me!
And still from the age of 4 to 9 I was involved in a group of children who thought we were just having fun! Parents in the next room, they had no idea why we always wanted to make forts all the time! Of course one boy was the leader, he was sweet n caring never forced his hand, cause then we would tell! So here was this 11yr old boy who had 3 little girls willing n wanting to do what ever he wanted us to do!
All my life I have been an emotional rollercoaster! Never knowing what emotion will come next!
I would love to not have to deal with this shot!
So I would say to parents, it’s not just “the man in the white van” to look out for!
As parents our job is to create a sound adult to protect them is the only way to do this!

DrasticDreamer's avatar

“An estimated 1 in 20 teenage boys and adult men sexually abuse children, and an estimated one teenage girl or adult woman in every 3,300 females molests children.”

I would say that’s a genuine reason to be “paranoid”.

Myndecho's avatar

If them statistics are true not just tipped in the favor of their views, that’s really quite shocking.
What’s wrong with us men?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Myndecho it’s because young girls are sexualized in our society and at the same time kept fobidden – this increases the risk of having that kind of an attraction…

I know from experience a lot of desire for younger people comes, sometimes, from being abused…for the person doing the desiring and I know some people who have never acted on these desires and would love to not experience them…it’s a tough thing

Myndecho's avatar

Maybe I was being too naive but that number took me by surprise, then again I know this has happened in my family a few times with other members of my family so maybe I hadn’t given it as much thought.

I still don’t think I would treat them any different than what I first said, I will have to wait until I have a child to really know. Anyone could do anything even members of my own family so I will have to trust others.

oratio's avatar

@DrasticDreamer I will try to verify those numbers. It makes it not only common but close to norm to have sexual abuse in or close to the family. This site would be teeming with them, 168 million would be men worldwide, everyone has dated one or several child molesters, and every street has one. Maybe it is so.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@oratio I really do think that every single person knows someone or have themselves been somehow molested during their childhood/adolescence…

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir My sister was molested, her best friend was molested, our cousin was molested, and my best friend was molested. I have met at least (for a fact) two pedophiles in my lifetime.

oratio's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Maybe. I have no idea. It just sounds like a very high number. I would like to verify these numbers, as it would make a difference for me if it proves to be right or wrong.

@DrasticDreamer Sorry to hear that.

YARNLADY's avatar

It is my opinion that the number of molestation has increased with a corresponding increase in the fear. It is not irrational to fear that which is true. However, it is all too often the neighbor or family member that is the attacker, and very difficult to prevent.

ratboy's avatar

I think so. None of them has bothered me since I was a child.

dynamicduo's avatar

@Russell_D_SpacePoet As a counterpoint here, both of my parents were molested as children. That definitely played a huge role in the choices they made in raising me (such as not forcing me to be a part of a church, where my father became a victim). But my parents specifically did NOT shelter me or my sibling growing up. If anything, they encouraged us to think for ourselves so that we could prevent any type of situation, instead of instilling some generalized fear in all [person X].

@DrasticDreamer – what an awful source you quote. Not only are they biased to report such statistics, they are estimated at best and do not provide any citations to their actual numbers. No doubt they have twisted and encompassed their statistics to highlight their position. This is why a critical and skeptical eye is needed. Such as including teenagers who fondle other teenagers, which are probably counted in their statistics too, but I can’t verify this cause they don’t provide their data. Fail.

YARNLADY's avatar

@dynamicduo Your parents (and you)made the right choice. Teaching a child to be careful for himself is much better than shielding him from everything. Society goes too far when a day care provider can’t even hug the children she watches. That’s just plain wrong.

Jack79's avatar

I think your question is misleading, but the explanation helped.

Yes, I think some societies have gone paranoid, not just about that particular danger. I remember my parents being terrified that, everytime I went out, someone would try to sell drugs to me. I’m 37 and have been a rock singer for most of my life, had all sorts of friends from all sorts of countries. I even lived in Holland for a while. And in all this time the only drug I ever saw was hash. Twice. And nobody ever threw anything in my drink (except lemon in my coke which I don’t like).

I allow my daughter to play with strangers, tell her to not be afraid of people and be social and friendly with everybody. But at the same time I am always there watching. I was there watching when they snatched her from me, but I still don’t think I did anything wrong in the way I brought her up, and I don’t want her to be afraid of people. Unfortunately, with everything that’s happened to her, she is, and rightly so. She has developed a particular phobia against the people that did all this to her, but that is a healthy response. I just hope she will overcome her fear of everyone else.

Oh btw as far as statistics go, the official statistic is that 72% of divorced mothers abuse their children. The number rises to 90% when they re-marry. The key word here of course is the word “abuse”. Which applies even for generally good mothers who lost their temper once and slapped a naughty child, or forgot to pick their kid up from school on time. But there is a real problem there nonetheless.

MissAusten's avatar

I can think of one girl I’ve known in my life who was molested as a child (by a family friend). I also have a friend who was date-raped. I’m sure I know others who’ve had things happen to them but just don’t talk about it.

As for how common it is, there are varying statistics. The most common, which you can find with a quick google search, say that 1 in 4 women are sexually abused by the time they are 18, and 1 in 5 boys are by the same age. None of these sites specifies where those numbers came from, or what is included in the “sexual abuse” definition. Does it mean sexual contact between a 16 year old girl and her 18 year old boyfriend?

In the book I mentioned above, the author says this: “If you look at the statistics gathered by the government, you will find that crimes against children are actually plummeting. From 1993 to 2004 the rate of aggravated assaults against kids went down 74 percent. Sexual assaults went down even more.” Unfortunately, she doesn’t give a more specific source than “the government.” In the back of the book, however, she soes give National Crime Victimization Survey as a source for the 79% decline in juvenile sex vicitmization.

So, it seems that the safer kids actually are, the more we worry and obsess over it. Not one single parent is capable of perfectly controlling a child’s life. A kid today is 40 times more likely to die in a car accident than to be abducted and killed by a stranger. Do we panic each time we get into the car with our kids? No, but a lot of parents panic at the thought of a junior high kid riding a bike alone two blocks to a friend’s house.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

I didn’t know the site I linked to didn’t give additional info, so yes, I regret posting it. However, something that is commonly agreed upon is that there can be no exact numbers because it is widely believed that most sexually abused children never say anything at all.

On top of the people I mentioned above who I know were molested as children, there are many others I’ve known that I can name, they just aren’t quite as close to me. The fact is, I don’t think there’s any such thing as worrying too much about pedophiles. Yes, if it borders along the lines of never letting young children do anything, play with anyone, go anywhere with friends, etc. it’s been taken too far. But constantly being wary of it? All parents should be.

It happens a lot. Too much for it to be disregarded.

augustlan's avatar

All I know is this: I was sexually abused. Just about every time I’ve ever told anyone that, they’ve confided in me their own sex abuse story, or that of someone close to them. This shit happens far too often. That said, I don’t think I’m truly paranoid about it. I do tend to be somewhat over-protective, and I’ve also had the necessary talks with my children, but I don’t think I’ve instilled fear in them. Just common sense.

Myndecho's avatar

From your statistics parents have got their priories all wrong, most parents are more protective of their children around strangers, when they should be more protective around their own family.

SirBailey's avatar

@DrasticDreamer, I agree that a parent can’t worry too much about pedophiles. If anything, the numbers you cited are LOW. They’re based on the number of people caught. The coaches, etc. who get off on shower rooms or locker rooms can go forever without ever being found out.

wundayatta's avatar

@DrasticDreamer There is good reason to be very suspicious of the statistics you quoted. The study was made of a sample of convenience (people who admitted to molestation, or were deemed to be molesters by a pscychiatric professional). They then extrapolated their results to the entire country by saying that the make up of their sample matched the demographic make up of the US.

This is not generally an accepted way of generalizing a sample of convenience to the entire population. In fact, there is no way to make a valid extrapolation of that sort. Mostly people do this kind of pseudo-science to create anxiety, which they have done.

I seriously doubt that molestation is at all common in the US, despite all the individual stories. We simply have no idea how representative these stories are.

augustlan's avatar

@daloon “I seriously doubt that molestation is at all common in the US, despite all the individual stories.” Really? My personal experience seems to suggest otherwise…

wundayatta's avatar

@augustlan Do you still think that extrapolating from one case to make a generalization about the entire nation is legitimate science? I mean, I said it right in that sentence, and what do you offer me? Another individual story? Please, give me a methodologically rigorous study. Stories are nice, but they do not an epidemic make.

augustlan's avatar

@daloon I get your point about study, and I’m not saying it’s an epidemic – or even more often than in the past. I’m saying that it being not “at all common” doesn’t fit with my personal observations. I’m not just talking about my individual story. As you probably already know, I’m quite open in discussing my abuse and have talked about it often in my ‘real life’. In all but one case, every single person I’ve talked to about it is either close to someone who has also been a victim or – more often – the person I’m talking to has actually been a victim themselves.

The interesting thing about this is, people don’t talk about it first. Once I do, people open up in ways you wouldn’t believe. Many of the victims I know have never reported the abuse. I think it’s far more prevalent than you know.

filmfann's avatar

@daloon I also have a lot of women friends who have confided in me their own stories of being molested.

wundayatta's avatar

Even if it is more prevalent that I know, in the vast majority of cases, the victim is abused by someone they know, in particular, a family member. The idea of pedophiles on every street corner, waiting to snatch up our children, is far-fetched, to say the least. We are overly afraid of this, and there are no more pedophiles now, than when we were children, and were running around all over the place without parental supervision.

filmfann's avatar

I disagree. It may be that there is an increase in the number of pedophiles now. I am not sure what would cause this, but increased drug use (both illegal and prescription), and the display of extremes now in culture (few movies in the 50’s had perverted themes) may contribute. The internet and its making easily available kiddie porn is probably also to blame.

augustlan's avatar

@daloon On your last post: Agreed.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

I just wanted to say that I know and have known far too many women who were molested for it to be uncommon. When I ask others, in having personal discussions about this, they can name as many as I can. It is very common.

MissAusten's avatar

So, even if the number of pedophiles has increased, a child is far more likely to be molested by someone he or she knows. But now, instead of kids running around playing with other kids and having the same kind of freedom to roam as we did as kids, they are kept closer to home, not always allowed out without an adult, and in general spend more time with people like babysitters, family members, afterschool programs, daycare, or going from one organized (adult-led) activity to another. Maybe there aren’t more pedophiles, just more kids in constant contact with adults.

I agree that any kind of sexual abuse is far too common. Just because people talk about it more now doesn’t make it more common than it used to be. It wasn’t that long ago when abuse was covered up, seen as a shameful secret, something to be hidden and not discussed at all. Now that people have more awareness of the issue, it isn’t such a taboo thing to talk about or seek help for.

WestRiverrat's avatar

I think a fear of pedophiles is a good thing. It only becomes irrational when it unduly interferes with your life or your child’s life.

You shouldn’t be there with your child 24/7 unless you don’t want your child to grow socially. Screen your child’s regular adult contacts. But the key is communication. Children should know that if something bad happens to them, they won’t get in trouble for telling.


I have to agree the subject is overdone and exaggerated.

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