Why "Stranger Danger" Isn't Enough

© 2017 Savannah J. Sanders

There is a video that went viral on Facebook titled The Dangers Of Social Media (Child Predator Social Experiment). Watching it hits you right in the feels, especially if you’re a parent. The video shows a guy pretending to be a 15-year-old boy on social media who lures three girls from different families to meet with him. It turns out he is not a 15-year-old boy and he gets the surprise of his life to find the parents waiting for him along with their daughters.

The video does exactly what it is intended to do--scare the crap out of you and hope that you, in return, scare the crap out of your kids so that they don't get hurt or even killed as a result of their online activities with strangers.
Most parents will connect with the parents in the video. They go through all sorts of emotions, like: 

Denial, thinking that they knew their kids would not go through with it, yet they did.

Fear, when they realize their children would in fact meet up with a total stranger.

Anger, that their parenting failed or that their child failed them by doing the unthinkable.

All very real feelings. I connected with each parent in the video and cried with all the viewers.
I've also read the comments and responses that encouraged everyone to keep their kids off phones and social media, and while it’s great that the creators of the video have started a much-needed dialogue about cyber safety, the response to the video has a serious flaw and perpetuates "stranger danger" mentality.
Unfortunately, teaching our children “stranger danger” isn’t enough.  Protecting our kids goes way beyond teaching them not to meet up with a stranger from Facebook or by monitoring their accounts. Ninety percent of child sexual abuse victims know the perpetrator in some way; sixty-eight percent are abused by family members. It’s a horrible thought, but your children have a greater chance of being raped or abducted by someone they know than a stranger. It isn’t that assaults by strangers don’t exist--sadly they do. It’s just not the larger percentage of crimes, and yet it is the largest form of education used to try to curb assault rates.

It’s a horrible thought, but your children have a greater chance of being raped or abducted by someone they know than a stranger.

In my own family, a family member was worried about my daughter walking to her car in the parking lot after work, telling her, "You need to have a male co-worker walk with you to the car."  It is a common instinct for many, but the reality is she has more of a chance of being sexually harassed at her job than being assaulted at her car.
I want nothing more than for my kids to not have to experience the horrific realities of abuse that exist in society. It is easy for us to rely on scare tactics and fear to try to save our children. My own father was a slightly toned downed version of Liam Neeson. He taught me every self defense tactic there is and told me horrific stories of little girls and blue vans. Yet, despite all my parents best efforts I was raped multiple times, sexually abused and eventually even trafficked.
We don't know the families or children that are in this video. We don't know what kind of trauma or experiences these girls have. The reality is kids often engage in risky behavior in person and online because they are hurting, and abusers are waiting to pounce on hurt kids. Children being lured online is a very real and very serious issue but we have to talk about why that happens.

Some common life experiences that can leave kids vulnerable to engaging in risky behavior online (i.e meeting older people, sending sexts or taking/sending nude photos) are:

  • Divorce
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Community Violence
  • Physical Abuse
  • Loss of a Parent or Close Loved One
  • Exposure to Pornography
  • Domestic Violence

Many are saying, "I bet they won't do that again." There is really no way to know that because we don't know why they did it in the first place. Bottom line, we saw a snapshot of their lives so we can’t judge what they learned from this experiment or why they were willing to engage in such risky behavior with a stranger.
As a mom, I teach my kids all sorts of lessons. I most certainly teach them Internet safety and about everything from body safety to how to cross a street. These conversations need to start very young and be ongoing, relaxed and common.
You can find out more about teaching your kids about body safety and sexual abuse here:
10 Ways to Talk to Your Kids About Sexual Abuse.
By taking the scared straight approach, or putting our children in an ivory tower with no Wi-Fi, we are taking the easy way out, and the least effective. We have to have the hard conversations with our children early and we need to start using education instead of fear as a means of prevention.

Savannah J. Sanders is the author of Sex Trafficking Prevention: A Trauma-Informed Approach for Parents and Professionals and a leading advocate in the effort to stop sex trafficking worldwide. She teaches professionals to identify vulnerable youth and the steps to prevent them from being trafficked. Savannah was the Human Trafficking Services Manager at the Sojourner Center in Arizona where she managed the SAFE (Safeguarding Adolescents From Exploitation) Action Project to help combat child sex trafficking, an initiative of The Sandra Day O’Connor Institute.

Sanders shares her compelling story of abuse and recovery from trafficking as a source of inspiration and motivation for audiences everywhere. She resides in Arizona with her husband and children.