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Mark Williams-Thomas - Child Victims as Symbols: Media, Crime and Ideology

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Mark Williams-Thomas - Child Victims as Symbols: Media, Crime and Ideology

Post  Guest on Sat 17 Apr - 3:33

Child Victims as Symbols: Media, Crime and Ideology

Today we are now able to access a wide variety of media interactive technologies which have completely revolutionised the ways in which we are able to access and receive information. The use of television, which now offers 24 hour news channels, satellite, telecommunications, including mobile phones, the internet (websites and blogs), radio and newspapers, have completely reconstructed our concepts of time and space as we are now able to access first-hand information from around the world. These new technologies have also completely restructured the way in which the media ‘does’ news reporting. Now the media is able to present global news stories to a wide variety of viewers from a range of respective cultural backgrounds. The media’s ability to transmit live images through satellite to an ever-present audience has completely changed our perspective on news reporting.

This relative ‘revolution’ in communication technologies, systems and media structures has also been met with a protracted growth in media discourses towards crime.

In the modern context, crime has continued to represent a considered proportion of news reporting, with dedicated crime reporters giving detailed, up to the minute accounts of recent cases on Television news shows. Newspapers give ever increasing column inches to the latest crime headline and internet websites provide sources of information and dedicated blogs for members of the public to indulge.

We have also seen a growth in both fictional crime programmes and crime documentaries, both on Television and through Film, with film-makers following Police on their latest case, ‘cop’ shows gaining high TV ratings, and the shows like Crimewatch becoming a regular part of British evening viewing.

With these developments, we have also seen a growing sophisticated body of criminological analysis which has examined the media-crime relationship. These analyses have continued to reflect upon how crime news has been presented through the media, often focusing upon how it is constructed and to what purpose the media has reported them. What we have subsequently been left with is a rich tapestry of literature and examinations which have continued to represent that the relationship between crime and the media has become as central to criminological discourses as its usual focus on law and order institutions, social control mechanisms, and social deviancy.

For instance, in focusing upon the media and its relation to crime we should perhaps ask ourselves whether the mass media presentation of crime is real or a distortion? How does the mass media construct crime and why does it focus on certain cases? What does media discourse reflect within the wider public context? And does the media influence public perceptions of crime? Although such questions are forever present within any examination of the relationship between the media and crime, such questions are often relevant to contrasting theoretical and epistemological approaches to understanding media and crime.

A recent examination upon the media’s reporting of crime has seen a considered proportion of its time and resources focusing upon child victimisation cases. Although this may still pale in comparison with the reporting of other forms of victimisation, child victimisation has found itself occupying a more central role in media discourses towards crime.

As equally important as this, media discourses on child victimisation, have continued to inform public ideas about crime and social reactions towards crime. Consequently, what we have been left with is a growing public debate about child victims, with ever increasing measures to protect children within the public sphere.

Although media depictions of child victim cases have forever remained an ever-present within media reporting, a more casual shift towards media reporting of child victims grew during the 1990s following high profile cases including James Bulger, the crimes of Fred and Rose West, and a number of cases relating to child sex abuse in care homes, which helped to capture the public imagination. Despite this relative shift in media reporting, a more collective representation of child victimisation has not been realised. Instead, the media has continued to show it’s pre-dominance towards child victim cases of sex offences, abuse, abduction and murder. This focus on highly emotive cases has consequently only sought in playing upon existing public anxieties.

The media’s continued pre-occupation with such extraordinary cases is, on reflection, a largely pragmatic one, given the relative emotiveness and shock-value of the crime leading to widespread public interest and higher viewing figures, listeners and sales figures.

However, such analysis continues to underplay and devalue the very important role that social ideologies play in the selection, construction, dissemination and overall discourses of child victim news stories. Central to this focus is a respective understanding of the media as a reflection of its own pre-existing ideologies through its selection of individual cases and presentation of particular details, values, voices and ultimate solutions to each case.

Few recent cases in living memory have received the high level of public attention and media frenzy than that of the most recent case of Madeleine McCann. This story of a young British girl who, in May 2007, when she vanished from her parent’s holiday apartment, captured the public imagination and was met with virtually unprecedented media attention and reporting. The media’s near hedonistic reporting of the case, its round the clock updates on TV news channels, the continued presence of the story on newspaper front-pages and the considered advertisement of the international campaign to find missing Madeleine keeps the story within the public sphere and marked it out as one of the most significant ‘signal crime’ within the 21st century to date.

On reflection, the media attention is hardly surprising given its usual pre-occupation with child abductions, child murders, and possible sex offences. Historically, the media has continued to focus upon possible cases of stranger danger, especially if they are seen as more extraordinary within usual depictions of crime cases.

The case of Sarah Payne, a small British girl, who, in 2000, was murdered near her home in Sussex, has become as big a part of the collective public conscience as any case which has proceeded or preceded it since. The murder, committed by a convicted sex offender who had been released back into the community, led to widespread public outrage and culminated in a ‘naming and shaming’ campaign led by the News of the World, in which details and photos of convicted sex offenders were printed in their pages. It also led to a nationwide public campaign to introduce ‘Sarah’s Law’, a community notification scheme, which ensures that the public are notified when a convicted sex offender is released into their community.

In 2002 the issue of stranger danger and sex offenders in the community once again rose to prominence within the media following the tragic deaths of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells in a small Cambridgeshire town called Soham. Their deaths, again highlighting the perceived threat of stranger danger, was met with a collective outpouring of public grief and high media attention with round the clock updates of the case, extended column inches in newspapers, and the inclusion of expert analysis.

The media, with ever growing public interest, continued to use traditional discursive practices, a relative ‘story narrative’ in which individuals became actors on a stage, each detailing their experiences of the case for public consumption.

The considered media attention given to the murders of Jessica and Holly, the lurid details of the background of the man charged with their murders, Ian Huntley, and the media’s detailing of systemic failings within the Police Force and Social Services, all led to growing pressure to introduce reforms to protect children in the future. The resulting inquiry, the Bichard enquiry, was ultimately a product of such pressures, and introduced extensive reforms, including a national information system for Police in England and Wales, and the new Independent Safeguarding registration scheme which comes into force in July this year for those who wish to work with children.

Although the cases of Madeleine, Sarah, Jessica and Holly, stand alone in their relative emotiveness, collective public interest and media attention, the obvious common threads in the media’s construction and discourses towards each case are plain to see. Given that each girl was white, photogenic, from a respectable middle class home, and was the victim of a stranger (thus was a prime example of stranger danger), only colluded in making each case equally more newsworthy and the victim more ‘deserving’ of media attention. Fundamental to the media’s selection, construction and consequent dissemination of each story were underlying conservative ideologies with regards to family structures, victims and stranger danger.

The media’s continued pre-occupation with the threat of stranger danger, its continued focus on victims of strangers, has only sought to re-affirm pre-existing conservative ideologies within the public sphere. It does this by firstly constructing an image of the ideal family (or individual) that is under threat from a demonised ‘other’, an alienated individual, who lives in the margins and no longer plays a central role in ‘normal’ family life. The contrast is consequently centred upon the family who offer security and sanctity through parental responsibility, good homes and discipline, and those who no longer abide by these rules and seek to destroy it. Secondly, the media re-affirms conservative ideologies by focusing on cases, which deflect attention away from the more obvious sites of child victimisation and thus underplay or ignore the fact that sexual violence exists- indeed, is endemic- in all communities and that sexual abuse of children and infanticide are more likely to occur within the family than at the hands of an evil stranger.

In the 21st century, new communication technologies have revolutionised the ways in which information and news stories can be disseminated to the public. However, despite these new forms of disseminating information, what is clear with recent cases of child victims, is that the media will still select and construct the cases through dominant existing conservative ideologies.

The media’s presentations of high profile, emotive cases of child victims, have in essence been able to construct, replicate and re-affirm conservative ideologies within the public sphere.

Mark Williams-Thomas
April 2010


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Re: Mark Williams-Thomas - Child Victims as Symbols: Media, Crime and Ideology

Post  Guest on Sat 17 Apr - 10:17

Dogwood wrote:Although the cases of Madeleine, Sarah, Jessica and Holly, stand alone in their relative emotiveness, collective public interest and media attention, the obvious common threads in the media’s construction and discourses towards each case are plain to see. Given that each girl was white, photogenic, from a respectable middle class home, and was the victim of a stranger (thus was a prime example of stranger danger), only colluded in making each case equally more newsworthy and the victim more ‘deserving’ of media attention.

Has he proved this was true of Maddy then?

No Dogwood Mark Williams-Thomas is referring to the media's conclusions regarding Madeleine not his own.

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Re: Mark Williams-Thomas - Child Victims as Symbols: Media, Crime and Ideology

Post  Guest on Mon 19 Apr - 8:37

Child abductors usually a familiar face

Parents have warned their kids about ‘stranger danger,' but now child safety experts say those warnings are outdated, even misleading

Published on Monday, May. 25, 2009

While shocking in its apparent randomness and brutality, experts say the case of Victoria Stafford may be typical in one way. The woman (Terri-Lynne McClintic) charged with abducting the 8-year-old from Woodstock, Ontario, was not a perfect stranger – rather, she was an acquaintance of her mother.


For decades, parents have warned their kids about “stranger danger.” But now child safety experts say those warnings are outdated, even misleading.

Even though there are about 50 reports of stranger abductions in Canada each year, in most of those cases, the abductor is not a complete stranger. Most often, they are someone the child has met, or at least seen before.

“In most cases in Canada that have been solved, they found that the child was aware, or knew or familiar with the person that took them,” said retired Staff Sergeant John Oliver of the RCMP's National Missing Children Services.

“And that's very difficult for a parent to try to educate their child against,” says Staff Sgt. Oliver, who has worked for over 20 years on missing-children cases.

In 2004, Marlene Dalley, a research officer with the RCMP, released a report on stranger abductions where she analyzed over 90 stranger-abduction cases in Canada. She found girls around the age of 10 are “prime targets” for abductors, who most often seek sexual gratification or power. Most children in stranger abductions are taken within close range of home.

Citing the Canadian cases and other U.S. studies, Dr. Dalley said the typical child victims are from a middle-class family and live in cities or the suburbs. Abductors, on the other hand, tend to be men in their 20s, and if they murder their victim, almost always have a history of violent behaviour. They rarely stalk their victim but tend to be highly skilled manipulators, luring children with requests for assistance.

In five Canadian cases that Dr. Dalley analyzed in depth, only one abductor was unknown to the child. The other four were friends of the family or neighbours.

With this in mind, child-safety experts are now veering away from the old “stranger danger” approaches that have been used for decades. Staff Sgt. Oliver found that most children perceive strangers as “ugly or mean.” They also tend to trust people if they've met them more than once.

“The average person thinks ‘stranger' means the man wearing the dark coat – and that's not at all the description of a stranger in these statistics,” said Marilyne Aalhus, director of development for the Missing Children Society of Canada. “It could be the neighbour next door, and that's the thing that we need to be educating our children about.”

Rather than teach children to fear a certain individual, organizations such as Child Find Canada and the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children urge parents to teach their children routines and strategies to deal with unsafe situations. These strategies include creating a family password, teaching a child to scream or run away if they feel uncomfortable or implement strict routines.

“We try to reinforce that the child should let their parents know if they're changing their schedule,” said John Durant, executive director of Child Find Ontario. “If they're not coming home at a specific time, or if they're going to the mall instead of going straight home, they should let their parents know where they're going to be.”

Yesterday, the RCMP released its most current statistics on Canada's missing children. Of the 56,102 reports of missing children in 2008, 72 per cent were runaways, 300 were parental-abduction cases, and only 56 were reports of stranger abductions – the same number as in 2007.

Police consider anyone other than a child's parents a “stranger,” so the 56 cases include, along with actual strangers, cases involving relatives, neighbours and family friends.

It is unclear whether Victoria Stafford had previously met Terri-Lynne McClintic, the woman now accused of leading the little girl on April 8 to Michael Thomas Rafferty, the man charged with murdering her. Victoria's mother, Tara McDonald, told reporters that police told her Ms. McClintic said she didn't recognize the little girl, and if she had, she would have chosen a different child.


For years, children were taught to stay away from strangers. Now experts say this concept fails because it's difficult for children to grasp and often a perpetrator is someone the child knows. They say it's better to empower children with confidence and the skills to deal with a potentially dangerous situation. Here are some lessons that parents can teach their children:

Children should know their name, address, phone number and parents' names, places of work and contact numbers. Also, how to dial 9-1-1.

Teach children that it's okay to say “no,” and if they feel uncomfortable, to yell and scream to attract attention.

Never wander away from where you first get lost.

Always check with a parent before accepting a ride, gift or candy from someone, even if you know the person.

Have a secret code word that only the family knows.

Source: RCMP's Our Missing Children website


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Re: Mark Williams-Thomas - Child Victims as Symbols: Media, Crime and Ideology

Post  Dimsie on Mon 19 Apr - 13:52

It's rather ironic that so much attention has been paid to 'stranger danger' while all the time the real danger to children is far more likely to be from those they know. Children need to be wary of strangers, but how do you teach a child to be wary of the people they know and trust, including those within their own family circle? Children need to feel safe, so how do you get them to be wary as well?

And then think of those cases involving paedophiles at nursery schools or play groups; how could those children have known their teachers couldn't be trusted? I've a friend who worked in a nursery school until last year and she said their practice was that if a child had to go to the loo two teachers had to go with him/her, to safeguard both the child and the teachers. My sister was a Sunday School teacher for many years, she eventually gave it up but helps out occasionally; she's reluctant to do so nowadays because sometimes the teacher has to take a child to the toilet and it worries her. What a strange and sad world we live in.
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Re: Mark Williams-Thomas - Child Victims as Symbols: Media, Crime and Ideology

Post  LJC on Mon 19 Apr - 14:30

"Children should know their name, address, phone number and parents' names, places of work and contact numbers. Also, how to dial 9-1-1".

She did not even know where her parents were let alone be able to phone them - she was probably too young to do this anyway.

"Teach children that it's okay to say “no,” and if they feel uncomfortable, to yell and scream to attract attention".

If she did yell and scream, no one could hear her apart from Mrs Fenn.

"Never wander away from where you first get lost".

Well, she did as she was told on this point, at least the McCann's assure us she would not have wandered off.

"Always check with a parent before accepting a ride, gift or candy from someone, even if you know the person".

Madeleine's parents were actively encouraging their friends to involve themselves with Madeleine and her siblings.

"Have a secret code word that only the family knows".

Lets try, "Why didn't you come last night when I was crying", or is that too obvious a code?

Poor Madeleine,
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Re: Mark Williams-Thomas - Child Victims as Symbols: Media, Crime and Ideology

Post  Guest on Wed 21 Apr - 17:55

Keeping Children Safe: Rhetoric and Reality

by Ernest E. Allen (President & CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children)

Don't take candy from strangers." We all remember our parents passing on these words of wisdom with the hope that they would protect us from harm. Wouldn't it be wonderful if life were that simple? Unfortunately, children are at risk of abduction and sexual victimization, and most of the individuals who perpetrate these crimes are not perceived as strangers by their victims.

Are traditional child safety messages effective, accurate, and complete? Do they adequately warn children about the threats to their safety? Do they unduly frighten children and parents? Are we giving children information that makes them more vulnerable to victimization rather than less?

To answer these questions, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) reviewed existing research and its own data base of long-term abduction cases that do not involve family members. This review helped test long-standing child-protection messages while providing a basis for creating more effective messages.

An Underreported Problem

Child victimization is a large and underreported problem. Too many times, problems are not found because no one is looking for them. In recent years, we have finally begun to look:

"Considerable evidence exists to show that at least 20% of American women and 5% to 10% of American men experienced some form of sexual abuse as children" (Finkelhor, 1994).

"Most sexual abuse is committed by men (90%) and by persons known to the child (70% to 90%), with family members constituting one-third to one-half of the perpetrators against girls and 10% to 20% of the perpetrators against boys" (Finkelhor, 1994).

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, teenagers and girls are among the most frequent victims of sexual attacks (Masquire and Pastore, 1997).

The U.S. Department of Justice also estimates that the victims of two-thirds of imprisoned sexual assault offenders are younger than the age of 18 (Greenfield, 1997).

According to the Washington State Attorney General's Office, the average victim of abduction and murder is an 11-year-old girl who is described as a low-risk, "normal" child from a middle-class neighborhood who has a stable family relationship and whose initial contact with an abductor occurs within a quarter of a mile of her home (Hanfland, Keppel, and Weis, 1997).

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's (OJJDP's) National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (NISMART) found that as many as 114,600 children reported attempted abductions by nonfamily members in 1988. An additional 3,200 to 4,600 successful abductions were reported to police (Finkelhor, Hotaling, and Sedlak, 1990).

NISMART also found that two-thirds of the cases of nonfamily abductions reported to police, most of which were for relatively short periods, involved sexual assault (Finkelhor, Hotaling, and Sedlak, 1990).

"Stranger Danger"

Dr. David Warden, psychologist at the University of Strathclyde in the United Kingdom, evaluated the efficacy of child safety programs. He emphasized that the responsibility to identify a potential assailant cannot be left to the child alone (Kent, 1990):

No matter how intelligent the child, he or she does not see the world through skeptical adult eyes . . . Children live very much in the present. They can't foresee someone's actions or judge their intentions, certainly not at primary school age. They have a very weak understanding of motives, they simply take someone at face value. The concept of stranger danger is difficult, because it clashes with the social constraints on children to be polite to adults. Research suggests that children don't really know what a stranger is. They feel that once someone tells his name, he ceases to be a stranger.

Dr. Ray Wyre, a noted authority on the treatment of sex offenders and director of therapy at the Gracewell Institute in Birmingham, England, cautioned that "the first step in advising 'never talk to strangers' is to make sure that the child understands what a stranger is. Children might believe it means a person who looks odd, rather than someone they do not know." Dr. Wyre further observed that a child's image "of a stranger is different from an adult's. The person trying to ensnare them could seem caring and persuasive and not at all threatening. After ten seconds' chat, they are no longer a stranger to a child" (Rayment, 1991).

On the HBO special "How to Raise a Street Smart Child" (1987), host Daniel J. Travanti asked, "Does your child know what a stranger is? The fact is most children just do not know. They think a stranger is someone threatening and evil. The problem with telling your children, 'don't talk to strangers' is that the bad guys don't always look bad."

On the same cable program, young, elementary schoolchildren provided their definitions of a stranger:

"A stranger sometimes wears a hat . . . sometimes a black or brown jacket and is a guy with a beard . . . some hair and a moustache and some glasses."

"A stranger looks mean and ugly . . . a creep."

"Big . . . bigger than you, bigger than most people."

The concept is clearly a difficult one for a child to grasp. A neighbor, a familiar face in a child's daily routine, or someone the child's parents know well enough to speak to or whose name the child knows is probably not regarded as a stranger.

The Myth of the Stranger

Research on the victim/offender relationship in child abduction/molestation cases is not new. Using a sample of 148 offenders who sexually assaulted youth and were sent for observation to a Massachusetts treatment facility, Groth and colleagues (1978) concluded that only 29 percent of the offenders studied were complete strangers to their child victims. In 71 percent of the cases, the offender and victim knew each other at least casually, and in 14 percent of the cases, the offender was a member of the child's immediate family.

In 1985, research conducted by Dr. Gene Abel of Emory University in Atlanta examined a group of sex offenders. Funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, Dr. Abel's research concluded that the typical sexual offender against children is male, begins molesting by age 15, engages in a variety of deviant behavior, and "molests an average of 117 youngsters, most of whom do not report the offense." Dr. Abel emphasized that offenders seek legitimate access to children, noting that "child molesters seek out jobs to access kids" (Abel, 1985).

Case in Point

OJJDP, in conjunction with NCMEC, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (1990), sponsored the Case in Point series. The series used case studies to profile and analyze the methods of offenders who victimized children. For example, the series reported on a study of 157 abducting and nonabducting child molesters at the Massachusetts Treatment Center (MTC) in Bridgewater, MA, which was established in 1959 for the evaluation and treatment of sexually dangerous persons. State law provides that a person found guilty of a sexual offense can be committed to MTC for terms of 1 day to life if judged sexually dangerous.

In the MTC study, the term "child molester" was defined as someone whose sexual offenses were against victims under the age of 16. "Sexual offense" was defined as any sexually motivated assault involving physical contact with the victim. When the victim-age criterion was not sufficient (for example, because the offender was young or because of multiple victims of varying ages), several additional guidelines were used. Age discrepancy between offender and victim was considered, as was the predominant age of victims and any other victim age trends.

The study determined whether an offender was an abductor or a nonabductor based on detailed information in the offender's research file. Each offense was coded in terms of the place in which the offender initially encountered the victim and the place in which the offense actually took place. If the place of encounter and offense differed on 50 percent or more occasions for all known offenses, the offender was coded as an abductor. Offenders were coded as nonabductors when the place of encounter and offense differed on less than 50 percent of all known offenses.

The MTC study examined a number of characteristics of child molesters (table 1). It is particularly significant to note the similarity of the MTC data to Groth and colleagues' results more than a decade earlier. The MTC study found that 66 percent of abducting child molesters and 80 percent of nonabducting child molesters were known to their victims.

Nonfamily Abductions

In another study, NCMEC reviewed cases of nonfamily abduction (NFA). Because NCMEC serves as a resource center for law enforcement agencies and families in cases of missing and exploited children, its caseload is weighted toward long-term cases. If an abducted child is recovered quickly, the local agency is less likely to ask NCMEC for assistance. Therefore, the sample of cases chosen included the most serious child abduction cases in which there was the greatest threat to the child, including risk of loss of life, and in which the child was missing for a substantial period of time. The composition of this sample was such that it more likely included a higher share of abductions by "strangers."

A sample of 260 NFA cases was selected. The following definitions were used:

Stranger: An individual completely unknown to the child; someone with whom the child has had no prior contact of any kind.

Acquaintance: An individual whom the child has seen on a regular basis or with whom the child may have had some contact, but does not necessarily know by name. Examples include babysitters, neighbors, custodians, workers at a school or apartment complex, children's group leaders or volunteers, teachers, coaches, cashiers at a grocery or drug store, friends of a parent, or other authority figures.

All cases involving infants were eliminated due to the inability of the child to make a judgment about the abductor. Several other cases were eliminated due to subsequent information indicating that the cause of death was an accident or a suicide.

The child was deceased and the abductor unidentified in 72 cases.

The child was deceased and the abductor identified in 54 cases.

The child was alive and the abductor unidentified in 34 cases.

The child was alive and the abductor identified in 100 cases.

For purposes of further analysis, the 72 cases in which the child was recovered deceased and the abductor remained unknown were eliminated. In another 33 cases, NCMEC was unable to develop information sufficient to make a confident categorization.

Of the 155 NFA cases chosen for final analysis, the child was recovered alive in 106 cases (68.4 percent). In 89 of these cases (84 percent), the child knew or was acquainted with the abductor to some extent. In 33 of the 49 cases in which the child was recovered deceased (67.3 percent), the child knew or was acquainted with the abductor; in 16 of these cases (32.7 percent), the child did not know the abductor (table 2).

Fueling Fear

A 1987 Roper poll found that 76 percent of children "feared being kidnapped" -- their number one concern (Feinberg, 1987).

In 1988, Peter Hart found that the second greatest perceived risk of parents regarding their children was "being kidnapped" (37 percent) (Colburn, 1988).

In a 1997 survey conducted by the Princeton Survey Research Associates Poll, the top worry of parents is the fear that their child might be kidnaped or become the victim of violent crime. In the same survey, parents' fear that their child might become a victim of sexual abuse ranked fourth, just behind serious accident or illness (Kantrowitz, 1997).

In 1991, Mayo Clinic pediatricians Gunnar B. Stickler, M.D., Daniel D. Broughton, M.D., and Anthony Alario, M.D., in conjunction with Margery Salter, Ph.D., published an extensive examination in Clinical Pediatrics (Stickler et al., 1991:527). The authors reported that 72 percent of parents feared "that their child will be kidnapped by a stranger" but noted that, "as in other violent crimes such as rape, physical abuse, and sexual abuse, a child is more likely to be abducted by someone known to the victim than by a stranger. Anticipatory guidance in these areas needs to be aimed more at interpersonal relationships than at 'stranger danger.'"

Although intense media focus on the most extreme cases has led millions of Americans to define the missing and exploited children problem in terms of the rarest cases, some media have performed a public service by focusing national attention on the need for research, common definitions, and consistent reporting of missing children.

Hidden Victims

Child psychologist Robert L. Geiser (1979) observed in his introduction to Hidden Victims that "social problems have an uncanny ability to survive most attempts to remedy them. Their first line of defense is to hide from public awareness and then later to spring onto the scene as full-blown crises."

Today, America has awakened to the problem of missing and exploited children. As Daniel J. Travanti observed in "How to Raise a Street Smart Child" (1987), "Ignorance scares a child more than knowledge does." The challenge is to create awareness of the risk faced by children and to avoid incomplete or inaccurate messages.

NISMART provides an important starting point for understanding the full range of the problem. Armed with a more accurate picture of those who victimize children, we can provide more effective information to families to help parents keep their children safe.

Rhetoric Versus Reality

For generations, our fundamental messages to children have contained three basic premises.

"Don't take candy from strangers." As indicated above, in at least two of three cases, the offender is not a stranger in the mind of the child. Usually, the victim and offender know each other, at least casually. Child molesters often seek legitimate access to children and then victimize them through a process similar to seduction. This reality does not make the message wrong, only grossly inadequate in providing protection for children, who need more comprehensive information about the dangers they are far more likely to face.

"Don't be a tattletale." One of the most stigmatizing names that a child can be called is tattletale. From their earliest moments, we consciously and subconsciously encourage children not to communicate. Thousands of children are hidden victims, and the key to prevention and detection is communication. Children must be taught that if something is happening in their lives that they do not feel right about or that makes them feel uncomfortable, they must tell somebody they trust.

"You're just a kid. Be respectful to adults; they know what they're doing." With this final message, we face a delicate challenge. All parents want their children to be polite and respectful to adults. Our message is not that we want children to be disrespectful, but that we must empower them to realize that they have the right to say no to those who would abuse their authority as adults. As educational consultant Stephanie Meeghan aptly expresses during many of the training sessions for teachers that she has held since 1988, "We must make children aware that their safety is more important than good manners."

Combating Fear With Facts

America's families need not live in fear, but parents need to be fully informed about the dangers their children face and the most effective ways to educate them and guard them from harm. The key to child safety is communication. Children should recognize that "strangers" often do not look strange, and parents should recognize that most abductions and assaults involve an offender and victim who know each other. The exaggerated fears of "stranger danger" generated by lurid tabloid headlines need to be replaced with solid facts garnered from serious research.


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Re: Mark Williams-Thomas - Child Victims as Symbols: Media, Crime and Ideology

Post  Guest on Sat 24 Apr - 9:35

Dimsie wrote:I've a friend who worked in a nursery school until last year and she said their practice was that if a child had to go to the loo two teachers had to go with him/her, to safeguard both the child and the teachers. My sister was a Sunday School teacher for many years, she eventually gave it up but helps out occasionally; she's reluctant to do so nowadays because sometimes the teacher has to take a child to the toilet and it worries her.

I think the case of former teacher Carol Clarke is a wake up call to all parents. Its shocking to learn that this outwardly respectable & trustworthy teacher was sexually abusing children in toilets and driving around Grimsby looking for a child to "kidnap, sexually abuse and kill" but we must not allow our shock, disbelief & denial to get in the way of protecting children.


Last edited by Schnuffel on Sat 24 Apr - 13:55; edited 2 times in total

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Re: Mark Williams-Thomas - Child Victims as Symbols: Media, Crime and Ideology

Post  Guest on Sat 24 Apr - 9:59

This is a wee bit OT and quite worrying, but a wee bit funny as well.

My daughter is now 14 and a very striking looking young lady, with a gorgeous figure, waist-length chestnut hair and huge, dark eyes! She is gorgeous, and very clever (doing 10 GCSEs) but still very much a child - she still likes Pokemon and stuff like that, hates make-up and "girly" clothes, and runs a mile from anything even remotely pink or glittery.

Well, the other night I sent her up to Sainsburys to get milk and a couple of tins of cat food. It was still quite early, only about 7 O'Clock, it's a five minute walk and it's right in the centre of town, so I figured she'd be safe enough; she has further than that to go in the morning to get to school.

Now she'd gone to Sainsburys and bought the shopping, and was on her way home, when a young lad grabbed her. He was with a group of lads who'd been drinking, and from what I can gather they were just fooling around.

He picked the wrong one to mess with. She swung the plastic bag with the shopping and clattered him on the side of the head with two litres of milk and three tins of Felix. The milk carton broke and she legged it. She arrived home breathless but unhurt, splattered with milk and clutching a soggy bag with three soggy tins in it. And she was more upset about breaking the milk than anything else!

Well, last night she was out with her brother, and they spotted the gang of lads again. Only now one of them has an absolute beauty of a shiner (black eye) to show for his trouble. I was about to go up there and have it out with them, but my son said not to, as he's probably learned his lesson!

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Re: Mark Williams-Thomas - Child Victims as Symbols: Media, Crime and Ideology

Post  Guest on Mon 26 Apr - 15:08

Kids Often Misled About Child Abuse

Parents warn of stranger danger but not relatives or friends, survey finds

April 9 2010

(HealthDay News) -- Parents often incorrectly tell their kids that strangers are most likely to sexually abuse children when, in fact, relatives and acquaintances are the usual perpetrators, researchers say.

By doing so, parents may be failing to give their children enough information about how to recognize sexual abuse when it happens and try to stop it, the study authors warned.

"At least 85 percent of the child sexual abuse is perpetrated by relatives, or by individuals who are known -- but not related -- to the child," study lead author Esther Deblinger, co-director of the Child Abuse Research Education and Services Institute at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey -- School of Osteopathic Medicine, said in a university new release.

"But more than 90 percent of parents in our survey identified strangers as the biggest danger when talking to their children about sexual abuse," Deblinger said. "More than a third of parents failed to identify adults the child knows and more than 55 percent did not mention relatives as potential abusers. These are essentially the same mistakes parents were making 25 years ago."

The study authors surveyed 289 parents and guardians of kids in grades K-3 at three elementary schools in New Jersey. The researchers found that the responses had changed little compared to responses noted by other researchers in 1984 and 1992.

"Too often, parents assume that their kids are too young to understand, or that their children are not at risk for sexual abuse," Deblinger said in the news release. "In fact, estimates suggest that as many as one in five individuals report experiencing sexual abuse in childhood or adolescence. The victims of child sexual abuse come from all ethnic, racial, cultural, economic and religious groups. Abusers rely on children's lack of knowledge and use it to their advantage."

The study findings were published in a recent issue of the journal Child Maltreatment.

More information

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has details on child sexual abuse.


(SOURCE: University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey -- School of Osteopathic Medicine, news release, April 5, 2010)


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Re: Mark Williams-Thomas - Child Victims as Symbols: Media, Crime and Ideology

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