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Paedophile paranoia.

My husband loves kids, particularly those in the 2-5 year old age range, because let’s face it, it’s a very sweet spot for humans. Of course, they’re much cuter if they are not yours, particularly when they get tired and hungry.

But not everybody feels the same way. Recently we went to a function where not only would no one admit to liking kids but some of them became quite ridiculous when my husband acknowledged that he did.  Just mentioning the looks of a small child spurred some ridiculous commentary from the assembled guests. It’s like people are afraid to like children in case they are labelled a pervert or worse a paedophile.

Why is it no longer socially acceptable to like kids just because they are, well kids?  This so called “paedophile paranoia” means that my husband feels like he can’t talk to the little boy at the beach about his lost toy truck or play peek-a-boo with a little girl at the supermarket checkout because it is suspected by some that his intentions aren’t pure – that he can’t possibly want to talk to the children because he just likes kids. I, on the other hand, can talk to any child, at any time and people just believe that I am maternal – good with children.

It is disconcerting that we’ve allowed ourselves to become gripped by the fear that there are paedophiles patrolling our parks.

The paranoia we feel is actually hugely disproportionate to the actual danger our kids face.  Surely we shouldn’t shut down normal emotional responses or stop smiling at kids just because we’ve read a horrific story in yesterday’s newspaper.

Sexual abuse statistics, especially where there are children involved are highly unreliable because of the number of cases that go unreported. In its February 2011 publication, the Australian Institute of Family Studies reported that there were 5,880 cases of substantiated child sexual abuse in Australia 2009/10.  Although this is genuinely shocking and disgusting it is worth putting into context.

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The majority of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by family members or other persons close to the child. In fact a 2005 parliamentary inquiry found that only 15% of child sexual abuse was committed by “outsiders”.   It follows that there were less than 1,000 substantiated child sexual abuse cases involving outsiders in 2009/10.

If we make a very general assumption that there are around 4 million kids in Australia under the age of 16 and that each one of them interacts with 10 “outsiders” each day, we are talking about 14,600,000,000 child /outsider interactions each year. That is one case of sexual abuse by a stranger for every 14.6 million interactions.

I’ll be honest here – my husband did the maths and research on this one – he is as good with numbers as he is with kids but the numbers make sense to me.

I’m not trying to demean the horror of child sexual abuse by allowing him to reduce the discussion to statistics but that’s the language my husband speaks – he gets the stats and probabilities but he never gets to play with the kids at the park because no one else is thinking about these numbers.

Children are cute, they have to be, or else we’d kill them, it’s an evolutionary protection mechanism. Let’s celebrate our children, encourage them to smile at strangers and encourage the strangers to smile back. Be wary yes, but don’t close yourself off – it may be that that man on the beach knows where your little boy left his truck.

Do you think we place to much emphasis on Stranger Danger? Not enough? What were you taught as a kid and if you are a parent, what do you tell your kids?

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