Kevin Drum and others reacted today to a story in the Los Angeles Times on the fear of sexual predators of children:
FEAR, FEAR, FEAR....In the LA Times today, L.J. Williamson writes about one of my all-time pet peeves: the insane fear that modern suburban parents have of sexual predators:
At a PTA meeting, during a discussion of traffic problems around the school campus, I asked what we could do to encourage families to walk or bike to school. Other parents looked at me as if I'd suggested we stuff the children into barrels and roll them into the nearest active volcano. One teacher looked at me in shock. "I wouldn't let my children walk to school alone ... would you?"
"Haven't you heard about all of the predators in this area?" asked a father.
"No, I haven't," I said. "I think this is a pretty safe neighborhood."
"You'd be surprised," he replied, lowering his eyebrows. "You should read the Megan's Law website." He continued: "You know how to solve the traffic problem around this school? Get rid of all the predators. Then you won't have any more traffic."
Kevin then goes on to point out that the likelihood of a pederast kidnapping a child is extremely low, like that of the child being hit by a lightning. I think it is probably lower than that, even. But the comments thread at Kevin's joint pointed out that parents wouldn't put a child out in a thunder storm and that a lightning out of the blue sky wouldn't be seen as the parent's fault, whereas not walking your child to school would make the parent guilty of contributory behavior.
Atrios chimed in with this:
If parents want to be paranoid and not let their kids walk/bike to school, that's their choice. The problem really develops when those personal choices become cultural norms and parents are scared to let their kids walk/bike to school because if they do they'll be seen as bad parents.
I can't help seeing all the connections between this story and the story about how daycare causes your child to become a juvenile delinquent. The world is a dangerous place and the only thing standing between it and your child is your body. That this might mean that many people are turned off from the idea of parenthood altogether doesn't seem to have hit anyone's antennas yet. Note how we are told simultaneously to have more (white) children and how we are also told all the time that nothing we do for those children is enough, nothing. Now go and get pregnant, stat!
The way we interpret risks is sometimes quite illogical. For example, pederasts preying on children have probably always existed, but the media didn't pay as much attention to those stories in the past. Now every pederast incident is widely disseminated, analyzed and repeated, and very few people point out how rare such incidents truly are. That more and more parents will take their children to school in cars as a consequence will probably cause more children (as well as parents) to die in traffic accidents than the number that is being saved from death in the hands of a pederast.
I am not blaming parents for this miscalculation of risks. The buttons the media are pushing are very deep ones and have to do with the worst fears of any parent. But I am blaming the media. They have a responsibility to explain how rare the pederast incidents truly are. Perhaps they could focus more on the children who are dying in warzones. Now those are deaths we could actually prevent fairly easily.