The Child Molester as Sales Tool

 Here’s hidririabk
a little excerpt from a very positive review of the book, “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned” in today’s New York Times:

“….In the other stories the danger may be less operatic, but it’s no less alarming: a child molester lures a 7-year-old boy into a portable bathroom at a carnival; a tattooed stranger tries to abduct a teenage girl…”

Talk about the perfect Mother’s Day gift!

Now, I’ve got nothing against authors choosing whatever subject matter attracts them. But if you ever wonder why we feel so worried all the time about pedophiles and abductions and even — especially! — public bathrooms, just look at the world view  pop culture feeds us. Whether it’s CSI, Law & Order, the movies (Changeling, Taken), the tabloids, the TV news or “literature” (see above), the way they grab us is by showing children in dire peril.

We get so used to slogging through these stories every day that they start to seem commonplace. I mean, the author profiled in today’s paper could have written about a man who cleans portable toilets, rather than a guy who lures boys into them. He could have written about tattooed strangers who spend their time studying sea turtles,  rather than abducting teens. But no — there has to be a child rape and/or murder involved to make things “interesting.” (Which, by the way, I think is usually a cheap trick, on par with comedians using swear words. That way, even if they’re not that talented, they’re still “shocking.”)

Anyway, the good news is that, in the real world, crime peaked in the early ’90s and has been going down ever since. Best of all? The U.S. Department of Justice reports that sex crimes against juveniles declined 79% from 1993 to 2005.

Just don’t expect to read a book about it. (Except mine, of course.)

 — Lenore

32 Responses to The Child Molester as Sales Tool

  1. The Mother March 25, 2009 at 1:31 am #

    I fume at the sensationalized news. I guess it’s boring to announce that no one abused a child today, but wouldn’t it be nice to hear?

    And the way the media is handling that 19 yo transplant donor and his obviously not well informed family is more than tragic; it’s irresponsible.

    Donor cards will not be signed because of this.

    Just like the kids who didn’t get vaccines because of some media hype about made-up research.

  2. Lisa Z March 25, 2009 at 1:33 am #

    Right on, Lenore. This stuff not only sells newspapers and magazines and other media, it also sells STUFF. Just think of how much less we’d need if we got ourselves and our kids outside more often. Less toys, less video games, less electronics in general, less “educational materials”, less safety equipment, etc. I’m not saying all those things are bad, but it certainly pays for the “powers that be” to keep us afriad and holed up in our homes, for sure.

  3. Greg L. March 25, 2009 at 2:44 am #

    How come you never see news stories titled “Driving to Target while talking on cell phone: 1000 times more likely to injure your child than anything we run stories on”.

  4. David Veatch March 25, 2009 at 3:05 am #

    It should go without saying that if it’s in the news (or fiction worthy), it’s rare, or at least uncommon. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go without saying, because the way the human brain works is to latch onto anomalous events while ignoring the commonplace. That’s why terrorist attacks are so much more terrifying (interesting) and appear on the front page so much more than automobile mishaps. But care to guess which of those causes more misery on a daily basis?

    We’re interested in the extreme events, not the every day events, no matter which one actually carries more real world risk and threat.

    As for the driving question, Greg, I believe that’s because driving is seen as an inalienable right, and is taken completely for granted by nearly everyone who sits behind a wheel. The media would risk losing readers and viewers if they said anything that smacked of infringing on that right.

  5. BB March 25, 2009 at 3:39 am #

    David – exactly. If car accidents were rare, they would make the news.

    This reminds me of my late grandfather. He refused to fly, citing airplanes as dangerous. Even after seeing all the numbers to disprove that. Even after losing two of his grown children in car accidents. Just wouldn’t fly.

  6. Karen March 25, 2009 at 3:54 am #

    I learned pretty soon after having my first child that the less of this kind of ‘entertainment’ I watch, read, or listen to, the better is my state of mind. It helps me keep the perspective that those things are rare, and also it helps me to sleep better.
    Thank you for this post!

  7. steve March 25, 2009 at 4:33 am #

    Not to be a total #ick, but I’ll bet you $50 that all of the children placed in harm’s way in this book are white.

    // I can’t wait until it stops raining constantly in Oregon, so I can let my 6-month-old roll around in the dirt in my backyard…

  8. Jennifer March 25, 2009 at 4:58 am #

    I’m so glad you pointed this out, Lenore. As a parent, I steer clear of shows like “SVU” that almost exclusively portray stories about child abductions and molestations.

    And, yet, wouldn’t you know that when I lost sight of my 2 year old for 1-2 minutes at a city playground that my heart completely stopped.

    Sigh – a work in progress this parenting gig is.

  9. ebohlman March 25, 2009 at 4:58 am #

    Steve: I sometimes wonder how much less carbon dioxide would have been emitted had Adam Walsh been black (on a related note, far more students were shot in school during the 80s than have been in the last 15 years. But they were mostly black).

    Lisa: the scarier the real world looks as portrayed by the media, the more comforting the fake world shown in the commercials looks.

    That major decline in sex crimes against juveniles is probably because step-parents, priests and other such authority figures now know that if they mess with kids, they’ll be reported and the reports will be believed. Part of, I’m afraid, is a decline in false reports of child sexual abuse that were parts of rumor-panics or other forms of mass hysteria (it’s good that such reports are going away, but it can make the news look better than it really is).

  10. Mad Woman March 25, 2009 at 6:50 am #

    I watch those shows. But (contrary to some popular belief) I watch them for the forensic content as opposed to the sensationalistic story lines. And yes, I know the forensic content should be taken with a huge grain of salt.

    Every time another person questions my decision to allow my 6 1/2 year old daughter to walk home from school on her own, or for her and my 4 1/2 year old son to play in the housing complex playground on their own while I read a book inside, I find myself reminding them that the same things are happening today that were happening when I was a child, they’re just on tv and in the papers more now.

    Now, I’m only 29…so we’re only talking about 25 years ago but still.

    Oh and that tattooed stranger? *I* am a tattooed stranger to most of the world. I am certainly not a predator. Neither are most of my tattooed friends. Ahh.

  11. Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake March 25, 2009 at 10:05 am #

    These sorts of stories make the world seem a more threatening place because of the “availability heuristic”, a (very flawed) way that our brains attempt to prioritize threats we don’t have personal experience with. Bruce Schneier quotes a piece from Psychology Today that explains better than I ever could. I think many of your readers would like Schneier. He addresses the same sort of issues on a societal and political scale that your writing addresses on the family and community level.

  12. Doris Jeanette, Psy.D. March 25, 2009 at 10:10 am #


    I do not watch TV. Are you saying that the TV shows you see do not raise awareness of the real problem of adults ruining the lives and sexual enjoyment of children. It is only to sell the show? Wow, I had no idea.

    I have spent 33 years helping women and men reclaim their sexuality which was ripped away from them in childhood by needy, insecure adults. The solution is to raise children to be assertive, teach them to disagree with adults and kick butt when they feel like it! I’m not sure I trust those stats that you mentioned.

  13. MarvinMerton March 25, 2009 at 10:31 am #


    Why do you have to wait for it to stop raining? Mud rules. Just ask my three-year-old. He’s out it in all winter long.


  14. MarvinMerton March 25, 2009 at 10:32 am #


    What stats do you trust?

  15. MarvinMerton March 25, 2009 at 10:34 am #

    Mad Woman,

    That is the funny part, isn’t it? In many circles, it’s the non-tattooed who are in the minority, anymore.

  16. Lara Starr March 25, 2009 at 11:03 am #

    Every so often I do an experiment to see if I can go a whole day without encountering a media mention of a sexual assault of some sort (rape, pedophilia, molesting priests) and I’ve never been able to make it.

    I’ll admit, I’m a fairly heavy consumer of media, but still – it’s no wonder we see boogie men behind every corner….

  17. Rob C March 25, 2009 at 11:26 am #

    “This reminds me of my late grandfather. He refused to fly, citing airplanes as dangerous. Even after seeing all the numbers to disprove that. Even after losing two of his grown children in car accidents. Just wouldn’t fly.”

    Forget that. If Superman says that flying is still statistically the safest way to travel, that’s good enough for me!

  18. Rob C March 25, 2009 at 11:31 am #

    “Every so often I do an experiment to see if I can go a whole day without encountering a media mention of a sexual assault of some sort (rape, pedophilia, molesting priests) and I’ve never been able to make it.”

    Yeah, they just love rubbing our faces in that kind of thing, don’t they?

    Of course, they know it’s because it’s what a great deal of their viewer/readership wants. I had to tell my own mother, in no uncertain terms, to stop literally shoving the paper under my face every time she came across a story about a child being abused in some fashion. I know this stuff does happen sometimes, but I don’t need to wallow in it.

    Fear is just another product they try to sell us, but we don’t have to buy into it.

  19. Doris Jeanette, Psy.D. March 25, 2009 at 11:38 am #


    Not many! I studied stats in graduate school…they don’t tell you the truth.

    Rob, the truth would make you cry.

  20. Renee March 25, 2009 at 11:38 am #

    Doris, the point here is to put risks in perspective. I’m not sure the statistic quoted means the streets are safer, myself – I do suspect it relates to some degree to the changes in behavior. However, I do not think what we’ve gained by becoming helicopter moms is an improvement, on balance. We need to learn the RIGHT lesson, not the EASY one.

    Yes, of course there are real dangers. I almost got picked up by someone I firmly believe to this day intended to at the very least sexually assault me (when a strange man tries to get a child into the car to show him how to get somewhere, while wearing unzipped pants with no underwear, it’s not hard to conclude intentions were not good). I was the age my daughter is now – about 14. This doesn’t mean I keep her under wraps at all times. Like I did, she needs to learn to manage risks.

    You simply can’t keep a kid safe all the time, and if you do, all you’ve done is raise an adult who doesn’t have any survival instincts of their own. I’ve worked hard to develop my daughter’s survival instincts – to trust the voice that says “something’s not right”. To fight and fight dirty if it comes to force. To be aware of her surroundings. That most strangers are safe, but the instant they approach her for help, offer her a ride, or otherwise entice her away from the mainstream, they are suspect. To call me any time night or day if she isn’t comfortable at a friend’s house.

    Someday, she’s going to be an adult. She’ll go to college, and face dangers there – possibly more than in our quiet neighborhood. She HAS to develop those instincts, and a little risk is worth it. That’s the lesson I learned both from everything I hear and my own experiences. You cannot withdraw from the world out of fear; you must figure out how to reduce the real risk, for a lifetime, not a moment.

  21. MarvinMerton March 25, 2009 at 1:03 pm #


    You’re not the only one who has studied stats. However, you cannot ignore them. If you really went to grad school, you understand that the peer-review process is quite lengthy. And you understand that professional organizations expect their practitioners to be up on research, in order to perform at a level of best practice. If you are up on the research, then let’s see some evidence.


  22. Rob C March 25, 2009 at 1:37 pm #


    You work all day, every day with victims of abuse. Of course you’re going to perceive that the world is full of abusers and their victims. That doesn’t necessarily make it true, however.

    And yes, the truth does make me cry on occasion. That’s why I avoid going out of my way to read/hear about it, rather than wallowing in it like so many people seem determined to do.

  23. Lola March 25, 2009 at 9:06 pm #

    The saddest thing about this particular paranoia is precisely what Renee says. I hate having to teach my children to be suspicious about someone who asks for help. I would love to tell them to be aware of the needs of others, and to try to go out of their way to lend help, as they are really privileged children.
    Oh well. First, let them learn their judo. Then, teach them to save the world. After all, a helpless child can´t lend help. Now, a black-belt in judo…

  24. SheWhoPicksUpToys March 25, 2009 at 11:57 pm #

    As for making outrageous, unusual scenarios the subject of fiction, well, that’s what fiction does, to one degree or another. Even a relatively placid story (think something like “Pride and Prejudice”) is interesting to us precisely because it is full of scenarios different from our normal experience to some degree or another.

    The mistake comes in when people allow fiction to overly inform their perspective on reality. Fiction actually does have the ability to do that well, but it’s most useful for understanding human nature by seeing int variously portrayed in both normal and strange characters; less useful for giving an accurate portrayal of what daily life is like.

    And that gets back to what other commenters have said — a steady diet of such sensationalistic stuff can warp the perspective. It’s probably not good for people with young kids to be too into stuff like CSI (if it’s good for anybody at all.) What you read and watch can affect your outlook, and if you find yourself worrying too much, ask yourself if you’ve been reading or watching stuff that aggravates the feelings unnecessarily.

  25. Renee March 26, 2009 at 10:30 am #

    Lola, I don’t teach my daughter to be afraid to help people – only adults, for now. She can and does reach out to help children, and I reach out to help kids when I can (though never bringing them into my house or car – I’ve washed and dressed a couple of scraped knees on the street in my time). My whole idea is that an adult never has any business asking a child they don’t know for help – doubly so if there are other adults around, and quintuply so if it involves leaving the vicinity together. To me, that’s a reasonably suspicious circumstance. Other than that, interacting with people is a good idea, rather than not. Learning about different types of people is a survival skill, and it’s best practiced as much as possible, because people are plain confusing!

  26. Lola March 27, 2009 at 9:10 pm #

    “Learning about different types of people is a survival skill, and it’s best practiced as much as possible”

    That´s the spirit! Now, it is a pity that sooo many people just hole in at home and prevent their children interacting with other human beings…

  27. Charles March 27, 2009 at 9:47 pm #

    What I take offense to in the quoted passage is phrase “a tattooed stranger tries to abduct.”

    I personally have 7 tattoos. I do not like the stereotyping that is done and is then used to influence children in what they construct as an image of a “villain.”

    I am a medial professional, does it make any difference in the way in which I will treat a patient because I have tattoos? Not in the slightest?

    Tattoos and Piercings ( I have no piercings) have become commonplace enough that we need to get beyond the old stereotypes.

    This arguement goes back to just teaching children to not talk to STRANGERS. The definition of a stranger is supposed to be someone that you do not know, NOT somoene who just looks strange.

  28. Uly March 27, 2009 at 9:49 pm #

    Not to mention, Charles, that anybody deadset on harming strangers is likely to contrive to appear as normal as possible to increase the likelihood of success.

    Not that it matters, as most abductions are done within the family, as are the vast majority of molestation cases.

  29. Casey March 27, 2009 at 11:56 pm #

    I sometimes shock acquaintances by allowing my ten-year old son to use public men’s rooms when we’re out and about. I’m freaked out by how panicky some parents get about this, but they have no problem letting their daughters use the ladies’ room alone, nor do they fear for their own safety in restrooms.

    Reading Gavin DeBecker’s “Protecting the Gift” was helpful to me, not only because it put the risks from strangers into perspective, but because it gave us some workable tools for assessing risk, things to teach our kids without scaring them half to death, and his guidelines allow them to develop those skills they need to assess people and situations for themselves. Granted, it’s not an easy read because he does talk about kids in peril, but I felt much calmer and in control after finishing it.

  30. baby carriers backpacks March 28, 2009 at 12:50 pm #

    I agree to Greg L.
    Its seldom on the news..

  31. exjapanaddict March 28, 2009 at 9:35 pm #

    Someone close to me was molested over a long period of time by her father who was an executive at one of the largest employers in town. When she finally had the courage to turn him in, the police promised the media would not find out about it.

    We fully expected the arrest to make headlines…but the police kept their word. I think incest cases should be brought to light…but not a sensationalized light. In our case no one would have suspected the man; but upon reflection there were clues. He was a fan of pornographic lolikon materials…anime and such.


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