What’s Wrong with This Ad?

Take your blood pressure medicine before watching this so-called public service announcement .

The spot shows two women in a coffee shop, one of them with her kid. The three chat for about 15 seconds, the mom buys a coffee and then off the mom and child go, leaving the  other woman — for no apparent reason — with a sneaking suspicion that the mom is a child abuser.

The mom has said nothing harsh to her child. The child is communicative and bears no visible bruises. In other words, the mom and child look like me and my child, or you and your child, or any mom and any child and yet,  for some reason, that is enough for the other woman to feel the prickles of concern. And then she is urged to act: “If you even suspect abuse, call 1 800 4 A CHILD. Trust your instincts.”

Trust your instincts to what? Suspect every seemingly normal parent  is hiding a deep, dark secret? In the ad, the mom  is wearing a t-shirt that says, “CHILD ABUSER,” to show that this other woman’s instincts were right.

Too bad the Ad Council sat out the McCarthy hearings — it could have had a field day! “If you even SUSPECT your neighbor is a Communist…” And it’s really sad we didn’t have 30- second TV spots in Salem in the 1600s: “If thou even  SUSPECTETH sorcery…” 

The problem is: In our commendable desire to keep kids safe, we have gone overboard and turned into a country where all parents are suspected of not being good enough, or — now — even actively bad. Just imagine if this woman had let her kid wait in the car! — Lenore

78 Responses

  1. Heh. That reminds me of those ads in Virginia a couple years ago that angered many fathers because it seemed to suggst all men are suspicious of seual abuse:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB118782905698506010.html

  2. Thanks TFO, I’ve been trying to find that to post here. And even on this blog, I’ve noticed a lot of people say they tell their children ‘to find a mommy’ if in trouble. On the one hand, we should all have the right to give our children the safety advice we deem appropriate.

    On the other, I hope we’ll all consider the complete message we’re giving our children.

    As to the ad in question, it does remind me that Jaycee was saved by the instinct of two police officers. Although they had a lot more reason to feel hinky that the woman in this ad, that’s for sure.

    Oh, and try this one: http://www.metacafe.com/watch/1086187/child_abuse_prevention_elevator/

  3. I took my BP meds this morning. They didn’t help.

    Yes, it’s very good to want to prevent/stop child abuse. But we’ve gone completely overboard with this, succumbing to paranoia, and harassing parents who aren’t doing anything wrong at all simply because some busybody has decided that they’re “doing it wrong”.

    I’ve had CPS called on me half a dozen times in 17 years of parenting – because I don’t make my kids wear socks if they don’t want to, because they’re whip thin like my husband instead of a fatty-patty like me, because I let them ride the bus across town to the 13 year-old’s guitar lesson by themselves, because I “spend too much time online” (I work online. For a large software company!).

    Nothing ever comes of it. I resent the intrusion on my peaceful home life – brought on by ads like this one.

  4. I don’t even get what is supposed to be suspicious here. That the woman commented on a haircut and then told her kid it was time to leave? Man, if someone called the cops on me everytime they saw me tell my kids it’s time to leave (and sometimes far more sharply than this woman did) I’d never stop dealing with them!

    For that matter, why not be suspicious of this woman who approached this little girl sitting by herself and started talking to her? Even if she does know her, should she really be TALKING to a child that isn’t hers? Maybe she is a child molester! Where is her shirt??

    We’ve gone over the deep end…

  5. Reading this blog has convinced me it is not the helicopter parents who are the problem, it’s all the buttinskys out there. I”m more terrified of the neighbors than ever, but not because I think they might be child molesters.

  6. My server here at work tagged the ad as porn and will not let me view it. Sounds like the server has it right. This kind of ad is fear porn.

  7. I thought that, because of the small talk, there is an implied history between the two women and that the “instinct” is based on more knowledge than we (the viewer) has.

    I’d suggest that the knowing the people in your neighborhood and keeping an eye out for and about them is a good thing.

    Reporting someone to the authorities has got to be a serious undertaking, but one that we should be willing to do at some point.

  8. It took me a minute to get the point. ‘If only child abuse were this easy to recognize.” As in, what if all child abusers wore t-shirts so we’d know who they were before they hurt a child. Nothing’s supposed to be suspicious in the ad. I don’t want strangers trusting their instincts. What if someone decides I’m abusive because my kid has bruises on his legs, for example? He’s a four year old boy. They get a LOT of bumps and bruises. I don’t prevent it because I won’t put him in a bubble.
    What really sent my bp soaring was the picture of the man and child holding hands captioned, “i just don’t feel right when I see them together.” (TFO posted the link) Kind of crazy, because watching my hubby treating our son with affection never fails to make smile. Also, don’t tell, but I left the boy with a male friend of ours and his two girls the other night while his wife and I were both at church (my hubby was working). Never, ever, not in ten billion years and then some, would it ever occur to me to fear leaving children with this man. I can not find words to express how irritated these so-called ‘service’ announcements make me. Who exactly are they serving?

  9. I had a conversation with my children recently about what to do if they lost me. The first suggestion was to find someone with a crew T shirt on (we were at a festival of history at the time). We then extended it to what if it was in the carpark for example, where there aren’t any crew, and we did decide that approaching a family was a better idea than approaching single or older ppl, but that was because an obvious family would be most likely to recognise the trauma of a lost child and do something about it rather than because of any specific safety issues with non family types.

  10. I read the ad totally differently. Its tag line is “if only child abuse were this easy to recognize”, i.e. if only all abusers wore t-shirts identifying them as such. The two mothers clearly know each other, commenting on “you cut your hair”, “she’s getting big”. I think the viewer’s meant to assume that the one has some previous context to be suspicious of the other, but doesn’t openly acknowledge it until the other shows up in a “child abuser” shirt. The coffee-shop interaction isn’t supposed to be evidence of abuse — it’s just a chance encounter with another mother about whom she already have some reservations.

    Not the best-written ad in the world, obviously, but I don’t think the intended message was “OMG CHILD ABUSERS EVERYWHERE!”

  11. A friend and I were discussing “red flags” that social services looks for when investigating child abuse. The reason we were having the discussion is because a neighbour who is in a spat with her completely unrelated to her parenting or her children has threatened to call CPS on her as part of his revenge.
    She’s TERRIFIED.

    Now, I thought she was over reacting. But here’s the thing she is a child psychologist and she knows the standard issue list they look for and JUST ABOUT EVERYONE would fail into several categories on it. Your 9 year old attends sleepovers? WARNING SIGN OF NEGLECT. You let your own 17 year old babysit his 10 year old brother in the evening WARNING SIGN OF NEGLECT…Your child or children are deeply involved in an activity like music, a solitary sport or art (dance, fencing, etc) WARNING SIGN OF ABUSE, you homeschool, you family bed, your dishes aren’t done, your backyard isn’t fenced, your kids have bug bites, you are a SAHM, you are a WAHM, Your kids are not doing well at school, your kids are doing very well at school but don’t participate in the school social activities – ALL ON THE LIST OF POTENTIAL SIGNS OF ABUSE. I won’t even get into the free range stuff.

    Its sick, and its scary, and this kind of ad is part of the reason we don’t have a television (ANOTHER THING ON THE LIST!)

  12. Thank you for this! I hadn’t seen these ads, and indeed they did leave me with a very sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

    I like the use of the label “fear porn” by David Watson. This is exactly what it feels like: watching these ads left me feeling dirty and in want of a shower.

    While I’ve got to agree that we do well to look out for our neighbours, I think we need to use the same judgement in filing a child abuse report that we would in reporting any other suspected crime.

    Know that every report will be investigated, and that investigation is invasive, humiliating & stressful. Know that a child is scarred by the shame and the stress of that investigation, just as surely as if he were being abused by a parent.

    We ought to have more than mere instinct in mind when we make any accusation. These are real people’s lives we’re talking about. That’s nothing to play with.

  13. ““I just don’t feel right when I see them together.””

    See, this is the exact problem; because something we do, or say, or don’t do, makes someone ELSE uncomfortable, we are supposed to change OUR lives to make that other person feel better, instead of the person who’s uncomfortable examinging WHY they’re uncomfortable, and see if maybe it’s not something from their own mind they’re projecting instead. No no, that’d be too much WORK.

    We’re not supposed to trust our neighbours and their ability to parent their children; if they’re doing something we don’t like, well they’ll just have to change! Nevermind they may have been brought up differently, and therefore raise their children differently, thanks to socio-economic or ethnic reasons or simply doing things the way they work best for their family.

    For example; to potty train Gabe, for the past three months this summer, there have been lots of times when he’s been in the house naked. He doesn’t like just wearing a shirt and no shorts/diaper, so we let him run around naked. He was completely potty trained in no time but I know that it made some of my family uncomfortable to see that. They would say “Can’t you put some pants on him?” and I’d say “No, I can’t because it will mess up all the potty training we’ve been doing.” I don’t let him run around naked because I don’t care about him, because I can’t be bothered to get him dressed or some other negligent reason; I do it because that’s been the only thing that’s worked to train him. If someone from Child Protection had popped in when he was running around naked, I wonder what THEY would have thought?

  14. So sorry about the bold! Must’ve not closed a tag. >_<

  15. I agree that the intended message wasn’t that the one woman was actively sending signals that she was an abuser, but THAT JUST MAKES IT WORSE. The intended message is, “there’s no overt sign of someone being an abuser, so cultivate your suspicions of other people.”

    I understand that they’re trying to say that it’s better to say something than keep silent if a kid is really in danger, but it’s another symptom of this “there is no downside” mentality that is such a problem. There IS a downside to false reports of child abuse, even well intentioned ones. Not only does it endanger the freedom and of innocent people and put huge stress on families, it actually makes it harder to enforce real abuse, because it clogs up the system and makes the authorities take reports less seriously.

    The reality is, unless I’m much mistaken, that the kids who “fall through the cracks” and wind up killed or severely damaged from abuse aren’t mostly in that situation because somebody missed really subtle signals and didn’t act on vague suspicions. It happens because people overlooked or were afraid to speak out about much more obvious things, because family members chose to protect adult relatives rather than the children, because the authorities didn’t act appropriately on what they DID know, or because the abuse was able to be conducted mostly out of sight (e.g. the rash of infants that have been shaken/beaten to death in this area over the last year or so, which happens over a fairly short space of time and isn’t as visible or obvious to outsiders.) It’s not because people aren’t suspicious enough of their neighbors based on vague feelings of discomfort.

    As for the “kids with normal bruises” thing, thankfully, most child services people and medical people understand that active kids get hurt. And usually, if you keep your story straight and don’t act evasive when asked for an explanation (e.g. for an injury at the ER) they know how to sort out the suspicious stuff from the non-suspicious. A friend of mine once had a doctor tell her that she worried more about the kids who showed NO signs of wear and tear, as that was more likely to mean they were being neglected and overly confined. Which makes it doubly ridiculous that average citizens are told to act on their vaguest instincts when people who work with kids every day know that signs of abuse actually aren’t vague at all.

  16. Dang, that last one from Ray was actually me, using my hubby’s login.

  17. I am angered by this ad. I have enough trouble with people on the street who question me when they think I don’t walk close enough to my grandson when we go to the store or to the park. Paranoid parents become paranoid neighbors who need to mind their own busness. It is one thing when there is a real problem and quite another when parents don’t treat their children the way you want them to.

    We all need to back off a bit. Learn the facts about crime and stop watch ad like this one.

  18. If someone from Child Protection had popped in when he was running around naked, I wonder what THEY would have thought?

    Hopefully that it’s nearly impossible to keep clothes on a kid that age anyway, and that if he’s potty training there’s no point.

  19. Hee, hee… There is a way to play this paranoia to your advantage, you know. Whenever I have to run an errand in a child-unfriendly environment (the bank, town hall offices, or any of those red-tape loving places), I take all four of my children with me and start acting as the level-headed, soothing sort of mother I am expected to be. Of course, none of the tactics those so-called child experts work at all (try to convince a three year old boy that this kind lady is not the wicked witch and he should stop trying to impale her with his toy sword – it´s just not polite, dear). I manage to get all my paperwork done in just one morning, and I can see people around me actually wondering if a timely smack on the head would be such a bad idea, after all…

  20. I have to admit that at first I thought, “so what’s the big deal?” about this commercial. But then I read your comments, Lenore, and it was like being slapped upside the head and brought back to reality. Hopefully future generations will look back on these times in the same way that we look back on McCarthy and witch hunts–as unenlightened eras driven by fear. But for that to happen people must begin to stand up to it. Thanks again Lenore for being a voice of reason and for keeping your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you.

  21. I hate these ads. Not only are parents being encouraged to be paranoid of the entire world, but the general public is being taught to suspect ANYONE with a kid of being an abuser. We are headed down a seriously dark road here.

    I remember a moment of panic just before my son’s (I believe it was 2 months) checkup when he grabbed a toy and happily waved it around. Of course, he smacked himself on the head with it, leaving a red mark. WHY should I have to worry about what the Dr was going to write or say when my son is just doing normal development things?

    Jen, your story is great– and sometimes, you have to do what you have to do during the learning process.

    Lola– great story/strategy! The only time my son was in the bank with me, he decided it was TIME TO EAT. I ended up nursing the small fry in the bank….and amazingly, got positive comments about it from an employee & another customer. You never know where you’re going to get support!

  22. As a child welfare worker – this ad makes me cringe/roll my eyes/bang my head into my desk. We have enough cases of actual, documentable, life threatening abuse – we don’t need every “suspicious” behavior to be called in! Not that I don’t think that people should be aware and report actual instances of child abuse. But the truth is, without some proof – bruises, doctor’s report, etc – we won’t be able to help anyway!

    Instead, if you “suspect” that something may be going on and that a child may be at risk – please see if there is any way you can HELP the family. Volunteer to do some babysitting, ask if the mother needs help with anything, just lend a listening ear! Most child abuse happens because family stressors get too high and children are unfortunate targets.

    Instead of reporting – actually get in there and attempt to help reduce the stress – which will PREVENT abuse. Thank you!

  23. I think the abuse in the ad is that the woman left her child sitting at the table by herself while she went to pay the bill. :-)

  24. @Socialwrkr24/7 Well-said!

  25. I think what creeped me out most about that ad was the not-so-subtle “Turn in your neighbors to the authorities!” vibe it gave me. As if we need any more encouragement.

  26. I hadn’t seen either of those ads (they evidently aren’t running on any of the US stations we get here, B”H!), and now I wish I hadn’t. Ugh. Never mind that the kid seems perfectly normal and happy, and the parent seems perfectly normal — better report them to Children’s Aid, just in case, because you JUST NEVER KNOW!

    My daughter (who is seven) and I were talking about this just the other day, actually (while eating at Wendy’s! I let her have fries! CHILD NEGLECT!). I forget how the topic came up, but I was telling her about the time when she was a toddler and refused to have her shoes put on in the morning, and I shrugged and put her in the sling and her shoes in my bag and set off for the office anyway, and as we were waiting on the corner to cross the street to the subway station a total stranger accosted me: “Why doesn’t your baby have shoes on? It’s cold! She’ll get frostbite!” Unfortunately, my response involved shrugging and saying, sort of ruefully, “Well, she just didn’t want to put her shoes on this morning…” Which naturally led the lady to reply, “Well, she shouldn’t be making that decision, should she?! That’s what parents are for!” Then the light changed and I said, through my teeth, something like “Thank you for your totally unsolicited opinion!” and stalked off across the street, fuming.

    Now, thinking back, I suspect it’s a good thing this person didn’t spot me and my shocking behaviour closer to where we lived, or I might’ve had Children’s Aid dropping by the next day to investigate.

    Now, a few things here. First, I’m sure she meant well (I’m also sure she didn’t have any kids herself, because if you have ever tried to get shoes on a recalcitrant two-year-old at six in the morning, you will understand the utter futility of the exercise). It wasn’t that cold, but it was pretty chilly; and the walk wasn’t that long, but she didn’t know that. She probably really did think that DD should have (a) had shoes on and (b) been in a nice warm stroller instead of that weird sling thing. Second, I do look young for my age, and she may well have thought I was too young and inexperienced to know what I was doing with a baby. She may also have thought DD (who’s never managed to crack the 5th percentile on the growth charts) was a lot younger than she in fact was, and therefore more vulnerable. Third, I have to respect that she said something to me instead of, say, calling Children’s Aid or the police or something.

    Nevertheless, the incident upset me — a lot — enough that I still remember it in vivid detail more than five years later, and remembering it still makes me mad. If she’d approached the situation in a different way — sympathetically, say, instead of judgementally — I’d have reacted a lot differently. There’s another incident I remember: one day, at the far end of that commute, as I walked from the bus stop to DD’s daycare, I was hailed by an elderly couple who wanted to tell me that they had an old stroller at home that they’d be happy to give me, so I wouldn’t have to carry the baby everywhere. They were very nice and kind, and when I thanked them for their kind offer and explained that we did have a stroller at home, but it was a huge pain in the butt to bring on the bus, and DD and I both really liked the baby sling, they accepted my explanation and wished me well.

    That’s the difference between busybodying and trying to help, IMO.

    Anyway, DD and I were talking the other day about how sometimes you see things that you don’t agree with, but you don’t know all the circumstances, so although it’s fine to offer to help someone who looks like they need it (returning a lots toddler it to its mother, for instance), you shouldn’t always assume that you know what’s going on and how to fix it, or that it’s your job to fix it. She thought about this and then said, “But if you saw someone, like, spanking a little kid, you would tell them to stop, right?”

    Yup. She gets it.

  27. Boy does this hit home. I teach CCD (Sunday School) in a Catholic parish, and besides being repeatedly background checked, required to take a “spotting abuse” course every few years, and made to learn all the things I can’t do (like I couldn’t hug a little girl in tears whose parents were going through a horrific divorce, because the diocesan lawyers won’t let us initiate physical contact) … besides all that, I have to identify potential abuse and notify the parish authorities on any suspicion.

    Because nobody is going to take a chance on losing all the diocesan assets because one priest, employee, or volunteer missed something. Even on this blog, I’ve read comments saying or implying that parents should be worrying about priests, not (fill in the blank). As long as that attitude–that sexual abuse of children is a particularly Catholic problem–persists in the American public (despite the actual low rates of priest molestation) I must, and do, report anything even slightly suspicious that I see involving kids or parents in my class or on parish grounds.

    Last year I was faced with reporting a parent whose bad English left me very unsure whether she was really saying the things she seemed to be saying. I reported her, and the diocese and CPS were involved within 12 hours. I have no idea how it turned out; but I know very well how it would have turned out if I *hadn’t* reported her, there had been actual abuse, and it was discovered that I had had suspicions.

  28. She probably really did think that DD should have (a) had shoes on and (b) been in a nice warm stroller instead of that weird sling thing.

    Just to clarify for those of us who don’t have slings (I can’t imagine it either, but it happens) – you’re a lot warmer snuggled up to mom than in a stroller!

  29. sylvia rachel’s story reminds me of the time I let my 3 year old walk barefoot through the snow from the car to our house (only about 10 feet). Every time I put her in the car seat she took her boots off and refused to put them back on. So instead of struggling with her again, I just said, ok, leave your boots off. She didn’t even complain when she was walking, but after that she left her shoes on in the car.

    I suppose I’m lucky no one saw and reported me. I just wasn’t worried about walking 10 feet through the snow to our front door. Of course I wouldn’t have let her play out in the snow barefoot, but that’s a different situation.

    On another note, my kids, now both 6 years old, run around the neighborhood and parks barefoot all the time (weather permitting). People are always asking them and me where their shoes are, in a tone that clearly says I’m a negligent parent for letting them go barefoot. Somewhere between my childhood and now, the shoe police seem to have arrived on the scene and try to make kids wear shoes everywhere. I have friends who won’t even let their kids go barefoot at the beach or a pool. And then there are all those play areas that require kids to be in socks, which I don’t understand. They say it’s for health reasons, but surely the kids’ hands, which are constantly in and out of their mouths and touching everything, have way more germs than their feet. And they don’t make the kids wear mittens to play!

  30. @Uly — oh, totally. The winter she was really little, I wore my husband’s parka and zipped her slinged little self inside it to keep her warm. Of course, then total strangers asked me if I was really sure she could breathe in there …

    @Jen — I know, what is it about the shoes!? Our day camp requires “water shoes” for outdoor water play, and I’ve been lectured by little old ladies at the swimming pool about how I’m going to get fungus/plantar warts/heaven alone knows what all on my feet if I don’t wear flip-flops. (I never have.) My kid also goes barefoot at the playground (I started letting her do that years ago, the first time she freaked out about sand getting in her sandals), and although there are other kids who go barefoot too, there’s also usually a parent or two loudly explaining to their kids why it’s not safe to go barefoot outdoors. Whatever, dudes ;). BTW, I would have handled the shoes-off-in-car situation exactly the same way :)

  31. Of course, then total strangers asked me if I was really sure she could breathe in there …

    Oh, I remember *that*! This is where my grandmother comes in handy.

    See, when she was a young mother, she used to take her new baby (my mom) to the park in a stroller for naps. It’s what you did. And my mother would scream and scream. As she tells it, one day she’s there with my mother screaming away, and wishing and praying she could one day be like That Other Mother, sitting on a bench further down, whose baby was sleeping so quietly.

    She found out later that the baby had died that day, in the stroller, in the park. And nobody knew – she was looking and wishing, but the baby was quiet because the baby was dead.

    Which doesn’t mean that strollers are inherently unsafe, it was just one of those “things”, but it does mean that I have a good rejoinder to “are you sure she can breathe???” – Yes, I’m sure, because I’d be able to feel it if she stopped.

  32. Oh, how awful! :(

    And, yes, I admit that exact thought was in my mind when people would ask me that: I wanted to yell at them, She’s millimetres from my skin! Do you think I wouldn’t notice if she stopped breathing?!! I didn’t, because I am a nice polite Canadian. But I wanted to.

  33. Ah, the barefoot thing. Several summers ago, one of my children stepped on a bit of glass on the sidewalk and cut her foot slightly. My (60-something, never-married no-kids) neighbor lady noticed, and while she wasn’t snippy about it, and has always been unfailingly kind, did make some remark about how it’s not safe for kids to go barefoot, with a hint (don’t remember exactly how she phrased it) that this was just common sense for all people in all places. My internal, unspoken reaction, while not resenting her intended kind advice, was “No, my kids should be able to go barefoot in their own yard. What people SHOULDN’T do is throw their beer bottles out of their cars onto my sidewalk every weekend.”

    Given that people do that, I did make my kids wear shoes as long as we continued to live in that neighborhood. But the danger isn’t actually the bare feet, it’s the people who treat other people’s front yards like garbage cans and ashtrays.

  34. Yeah, and the whole idea that you care more than I do whether my child can BREATHE??!?!? It’s one thing to shake your head at a maybe-inexperienced mother who might possibly not understand a child’s sensitivity to cold, but the implicit assumption that ANYBODY but a maniac walks around doing things to their kids that might (in very obvious ways) KILL them? Crazy.

  35. Thank God they don’t air that ad on Canadian television. I

    ‘d be in the slammer for sure with my sense of humour. I routinely tell my children they are lucky I don’t beat them more, threaten withdrawl of foodstuffs and, at the top of the cruelty list, REFUSE to buy my 10 year old daughter $50 jeans.

  36. Looking at those two ads again (the coffee shop and the elevator), is there some subtext that children who are being abused will look longingly for rescue at complete strangers?

    I’m no expert, but I wonder if there’s any reality to that whatsoever. I’ve heard that chronically abused kids are actually either taught or learn on their own to fear outsiders, because letting people in on the dirty family secret will only bring repercussions. At any rate, should it be meaningful if a child LOOKS AT YOU twice in 15 seconds?

  37. What irritates me most about the advert is that a good portion of the time there *are* signs of abuse and/or neglect. People simply refuse to acknowledge them. So instead of helping children who really need it we’re being encouraged to waste resources on parents who do things as horrible as buying their kid a doughnut.

  38. “Yeah, and the whole idea that you care more than I do whether my child can BREATHE??!?!?”

    There’s a local outdoor shopping center that has a big dancing fountain. Of course lots of kids like to sit and dance on the wide edge. The official policy is as variant at the security guard of the day. One of them says children must be seated. My son can’t stand with my arms wrapped completely around him, but he can lie on his stomach stretching his hands as far as he can reach.

    In addition to the ‘policy’ that each guard makes up, I find it amusing that they presume that their ‘rules’ for my son’s safety are going to make him more safe than my own. I know they don’t want to get sued, but really, who is more engaged in my child’s safety?

    “I‘d be in the slammer for sure with my sense of humour”

    Reminds me of a friend who was at the airport with his 2 year old who was behaving extremely well. Someone commented and asked how he did it. In a heartbeat my friend said “Rum!”. Stranger was taken aback, but at least got the joke.

  39. I’m glad someone else has realized that this is nothing more than a witch hunt.

    The world is infested with child abusers I have here in my hand a list of 90,000.
    Senator McCarthy, have you no shame?

    The world is infested with sexual predators. I have here in my hand a list of 750,000.
    Senator McCarthy, have you no shame?

    The Internet is infested with sexual predators. I have here in my hand a list of 1,000,000.
    Senator McCarthy, have you no shame?

  40. I routinely tell my children they are lucky I don’t beat them more, threaten withdrawl of foodstuffs and, at the top of the cruelty list, REFUSE to buy my 10 year old daughter $50 jeans.

    No way!! BAD MUMMY!!! ;)

    I refused to buy my seven-year-old $65 running shoes a couple of weeks ago. She got over it remarkably quickly when I explained that since she needs both outdoor and indoor shoes, and may well have outgrown whatever we buy now by January, we can’t blow the entire shoe-buying budget on one pair. But maybe she’s just saving it up until she’s ten …

  41. this ad, actually makes me think of REAL suspected abuse witnessed by a neighborhood mom at a neighborhood McCrackalds. She watched the woman drag the child (3yo, approx) into the bathroom and literally toss the kid against the wall. The mom said something to her and the abusive mom threatened her. So she asked for the manager, who said they wouldn’t get involved. So she called the police. And then the POLICE told her IT WAS A CULTURAL THING and to mind her own business. The reporting mom was caucasian and the kid-flinger-against-waller was hispanic. Now. I am hispanic, and I can say that draggin kids to the bathroom and tossing them against walls is not part of our culture. But whatever.

    In this case, it appears you can suspect and report abuse that you make up in your head, but that if you report actual possible abuse, the AUTHORITIES TELL YOU TO GO HOME. Crazy.

    Good NIGHT, just wait until it gets out that I’m a LESBIAN MOM!

  42. Slogans from the movie ‘Brazil’:

    • “Be Safe: Be Suspicious”
    • “Suspicion Breeds Confidence”
    • “Trust in haste, Regret at leisure”
    • “Don’t suspect a friend, report him”
    • “Who can you trust?”

    It’d be more funny if it wasn’t true.

  43. Now that I’ve actually bothered to go and watch the video…

    The problem is that there are two totally contradictory messages here. The first is that child abuse isn’t easy to spot (unless the mom is wearing a shirt that says “Child Abuser”). Totally true.

    The other is that if you suspect something, you should say something. That’s true to a point – if you really have reason to suspect abuse and you actually know what the signs of abuse are and have been paying attention, you should, in fact, report it. However, absolutely nothing this woman does in this ad is suspicious!

    I mean, her kid has long sleeves (to cover bruises?) but so does everybody else, so it’s not like they’re not weather appropriate. (And some cultures/religions require people to wear more modest clothing, and some children just like to dress oddly – sleeves alone do not abuse make.) She kinda hurries her kid outta there when the woman makes conversation… but maybe it’s just a bad day, or maybe she just doesn’t like this other woman, whatever.

    So overall, this is a FAIL ad.

  44. Let me get this right. So, if you violently struggle with your 2yo to get his shoes on while he pulls one of those tantrums, you will be accused of child abuse. But if you let the kid find out for himself (after warning him for the hundredth time) that snow IS uncomfortably cold on your bare feet, you will be accused of child neglect.
    Hasn´t any of these people met a 2yo in their life????

  45. She kinda hurries her kid outta there when the woman makes conversation… but maybe it’s just a bad day, or maybe she just doesn’t like this other woman, whatever.

    Or maybe it’s as simple as she has another place she’s got to be and only had time to stop for grabbing coffee on the way.

    I agree, this ad is far too ambiguous.

  46. I also read this ad differently from Lenore and the majority of the commenters here. As Lenore says:

    “….leaving the other woman — for no apparent reason — with a sneaking suspicion that the mom is a child abuser.”

    The other woman just read the mom’s tshirt, which clearly says “child abuser.” That’s a pretty definite reason to have suspicions; I’m not sure where Lenore’s “no apparent reason” comes from. The woman is looking all weirded out as the mom & child leave because she’s trying to process the t-shirt’s message. She’s confused by the t-shirt. And the ad states “if only all abuse was as easy to spot.” (or something similar.)

    There is NOTHING in the ad, aside from the message on the tshirt, to indicate an abusive situation. I think that’s the point of the ad, that abuse is NOT easy to spot. Sort of how people always say about serial killers “oh, he was such a nice man, great neighbor, etc. He certainly didn’t LOOK or behave like a serial killer…” Abusers aren’t so obvious, either.

    I don’t think it’s promoting paranoia, I think it’s just asking people to remember that a child abuser doesn’t look like a child abuser, whatever a child abuser “looks” like – a lot of people have prejudices based on appearance, and appearances are often deceiving.

  47. Sorry, too sick to post a coherent thought right now but wanted to subscribe for your great posts!

  48. But Carrie, by that interpretation, what are we supposed to DO? Report everyone? Report especially the people who DON’T seem to be doing anything wrong?

    That’s the problem with the ad — the only logical thing we could DO in response to this ad is decide that everyone’s probably an abuser because you can never tell — or else that it’s not worth worrying about because you can never tell. It gives absolutely no guidance about what you SHOULD be concerned about. So if anyone’s likely to have any takeaway from the ad at all, it will be, “Gee, you never can tell — I’d better be suspicious!” Or else they’ll shrug their shoulders because there’s no way you CAN tell so why bother — and then the ad is a complacency-inducing waste of time.

  49. Child abuse is a tricky thing.

    Case in point, last year my Brother in law was arrested, and my niece was taken out of the home. Why?.. Because she drew a phallic symbol at her preschool. Which automatically turned into her daddy was abusing her, right? He has since sued the preschool.

    On one hand it was great that someone took the time to care, and was concerned.. On the other hand, if they had simply talked with Violet (my niece), and asked her she would have said she was drawing a castle, having no idea what a penis is. Instead they pulled her out of school, no conversation with anyone and called the authorities. It took them weeks to sort everything out, get out of the system and get their little girl back.

    I find it absolutely appalling how many children are abused, but I think people need to learn how to communicate again.

  50. I get what the ad is trying to communicate, but really, what’s the point of telling people to report the child abuse that they CAN’T SPOT? I mean, the whole point of the ad is that child abusers aren’t obvious. Is there any way this ad will actually improve someone’s ability or likelihood to report actual child abuse?

    Maybe it’s just me, but wouldn’t an ad that showcases, you know, ACTUAL SIGNS and indications of child abuse go farther towards the stated purpose?

  51. As a former abused kid who has many friends who were abused, abuse is really damn easy to spot. We all knew whose parents were abusive, and I dare say the teachers had a pretty good idea. I know that I outright told 2 teachers and a guidance counselor about what was going on at home, and not one person helped me.

    In my experience people are quick to help out a child younger than 5, but once they become “big kids” they’re on their own.

  52. Since Lenore asked, some signs that mean something is really going on:

    1) If the kid says as much. I have yet to meet someone who lied about it. Believe them.
    2) If the story the kid tells are rather disturbing. I, the straight A student, once had to explain to my history teacher that my mom simply refused to let me finish my homework, and destroyed my assignment (true story). A friend of mine mentioned to a teacher that his mom sold his nintendo for beer.
    3) If the kid seems inordinately afraid of getting in trouble.
    4) If the kid has lots of unexplained absences from school or extracurriculars. Sure, they could just be sick, or it could be that their mom burnt down their bedroom and they’re crashing with a friend (true story, I was the friend).
    5) If the kid goes out of their way to avoid you meeting their parents. I know that I never wanted people to meet my mother, and she did not meet a single teacher of mine after 7th grade, despite my intense involvement in band or theatre. Similarly my abused friends’ parents were notably absent from events that other parents would attend.

    Short of the 1st one, none of these are definite signs of abuse, but are suggestions that something is going on. By all means talk to the family, offer support. Obviously if abuse is clearly going on, call CPS, but I think friendliness/neighborliness should always be the first line of action.

    In my experience, not one person inquired into my situation. Not teachers, friends parents, guidance counselors, or neighbors. No one talked to me or my mom, and everyone pretended we were all normal. I think because I didn’t have any bruises…

  53. Ashley,
    I’m sorry that happened to you. The staff that you spoke to should have lost their licenses. I’m still amazed that the family I reported because of belt marks on the child’s arm and the boy with an untreated broken hand were visited once. I shouldn’t be it took something like 60 complaints to save three students from starving to death. One still has major food issues.

  54. I also have a different interpretation than many on here.

    I think that as important as it is not to view the world as filled with child predators, it’s important not to view the world as filled with paranoid busybodies just dying to call CPS. Of course there’s always do-gooders that will arrogantly report anyone for anything; but there’s also always child molesters out there somewhere as well. ;) The point is in odds. ;)

    Most people realize the damage done to a family by reporting to CPS. That seems to be the ad’s point. Some of the people that “ignore” signs don’t do it because they don’t take it serious; they do it because they think “well I”m only suspicious” and give the other parent TOO much benefit of the doubt.

    Another point brought up by other posters is that CPS will take complaints from multiple different people much more seriously than a complaint from only one person. If there’s something real going on, there’s probably multiple people whom are suspicious.

  55. I do get the point you’re making, I really do. But I also grew up in a physically, emotionally, and sexually abusive home – terrified to outright tell someone because I thought my mother would kill herself if I did, but desperately trying to drop little hints to the authority figures in my life and making promises to God that I would be good for the rest of my life if he made someone intervene. No one ever did. And no one did for my friend whose mentally ill mother regularly made him stay up all night cleaning until his hands were burned from the chemicals; no one intervened for my friend who was being molested by her father; no one intervened for my friend who was living off nothing but saltine crackers in a house smeared with animal and human feces. In fact, of my high school gang of about six friends – of whom all had been abused (we knew our own, I guess) – only one had Children’s Aid intervene, and she was given back to her mother, who was still bringing johns into the house.

    No one intervened because our parents didn’t wear shirts that said “child abuser” (my mother was educated, worked, and took an interest in my school life); or because we weren’t doe-eyed waifs with unexplained bruises (surprise, surprise, most of us were unpleasant children with behavioural problems); or because they knew that calling Children’s Aid can ruin someone’s life and they had a niggle but they weren’t completely certain.

    It actually would have been a great comfort to me just to see that commercial as a child; fantasies of someone rescuing me weren’t as good as the real thing, but they made me remember that what was going on was wrong. Yes, it does great harm to remove children from their homes for frivolous reasons. Yes, the foster care system is in desperate need of reform in almost every place it exists. But for pity’s sake, whenever the topic of stranger danger comes up, people point out that the vast majority of children who are murdered are murdered by a family member, the vast majority of children who are raped are raped by a family member. There are a lot of children out there being hurt, and it makes their world a much smaller, much more hopeless place when they believe that no one gives a damn about what’s happening behind closed doors.

  56. Strange ad. I have no idea what would make this woman suspicious.

  57. “If you even SUSPECT your neighbor of heresy…”

    “Well, I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition.”

    “NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

  58. An ad that really showed the typical situation where one should call the authorities would depict a close relative witnessing a parent “discipline” his/her child.

    However, such an ad would spark much more controversy, because it is widely argued that this type of child abuse should be legal. (This is also the reason why the United States and Somalia still have not signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.)

  59. 1) If the kid says as much. I have yet to meet someone who lied about it. Believe them.

    I actually *have* met the kid who lied about it, but a. that person is a pathological liar and b. it was a bad home situation ANYway, even if it wasn’t as bad as they claimed.

  60. People and their judgments nothing irritates me more. My husband passed away and I started seeing another man and eventually moved in together. My daughter, eight at the time, needed her physical for school so he took her to the doctor’s office. After the appointment I got a phone call saying I needed to go to the Dr’s office immediately. The doctor was concerned that my daughter was being abused. I was stunned and asked what symptoms did my daughter exhibit that would make her think she was being abused. She said that my daughter didn’t exhibit any symptoms it was just that my partner had long hair, wore a long trench coat (winter in Vermont) and the two of them played together and laughed a lot so she was concerned. I was livid. My daughter now sees a pediatrician instead of that doctor. My partner and I are still together with a two year old daughter as well. The sad part is now my partner is self conscious of how other people will see his relationship with her and is very careful as to what he does with her. No more spontaneous hugging in public, hand holding. He is just too scared. So this ad? This ad is infuriating.

  61. Robin — I am very sorry for the terrible things you have suffered. But can you explain how an ad like this would have helped, even indirectly, you, or someone like you, or some of the situations you’ve referenced? Because all I can see that the ad does, is to tell people that you’ll never know who’s an abuser, because you can’t tell, so there’s nothing you can do. And what you’ve described backs that up — no one from outside had a way of being aware of what was going on, so how would an ad that simply makes a statement that you never know what’s going, have benefited anyone? The only rational choice someone could make as a result of this ad is to conclude that since you never know, you should suspect everyone. EVERYONE. Because you can really NEVER KNOW. And of course, that’s not rational in the larger sense.

  62. Or, as you’ve said, there was a way of knowing, people did know, and still nothing was done. Again, an ad that says you can never know who’s abusing their child, does nothing to change that. That was the fault of those who failed in their responsibilities, but this ad doesn’t address that.

    BTW, I agree that paranoid fear of social services intervention is about as bad as paranoid fear of predators. In both cases, the proper choice is neither to dismiss the possibility and act unwisely in regard to the potential danger, nor is it to assume that the world is crawling with the threat at every turn.

  63. Pentamom – As I said, that ad would have been a comfort to me because it would have told me that what went on inside my house /was/ other people’s business. And it would have meant the world to me to see someone other than a poor, alcoholic, angry father cast as an abuser – because very often I had trouble even conceiving of what was happening at home as abuse because I just did not see people like my mother doing what my mother did; it was a complete aberration in my mind.

    And that’s where I see this ad as being helpful, because if the media’s presentation of what a child abuser is and isn’t made such an impression in /my/ mind, it certainly must have made an impression in the minds of others. I don’t think a mandatory reporter hesitates to call when there’s a kid who comes to school with a black eye and whose big angry father shows up drunk to parent-teacher night – but this ad is about a woman who knows her neighbour, and who has a bad feeling about her neighbour’s interactions with her daughter, but who doesn’t think of the word ‘abuse’ because her neighbour just doesn’t fit the stereotype.

    I don’t see the message of this ad as being, “Child abusers are everywhere!” but rather, “A child abuser can be of any race, gender, or socio-economic group.”

  64. I questioned the authorities here in Queensland Australia and was told that they only have to believe any or all reports to take action. They don’t have to prove it to be correct before taking action, the parent or care givers however do have to find a way of showing innocence. You are deemed guilty in your absence. They seek court orders without you knowing about them until after they do so. I went to collect my children from the bus one day, I never seen them for 3 weeks. Four police officers and two dept workers went to the school and rounded them up like animals. All this is based on their own facts not real facts. It only takes one anonymous complaint via a phone, be it malicious or so called gut instincts from the caller/s, you are doomed to facing the wrath of an overbearing, stand over government who has the legislation in place that enables them to do this. They need to concentrate on real child abuse and protection.

  65. By this ad, my mother and late-father must have abused me. I mean, by all considerations, we are a happy family and have no visible quarrels with each other. My mother even homeschooled me (and my sister)! What was going on behind closed doors?! *cue creepy music*

    I really think this is an attempt to transform the mass populace into a kind of US Red Guard, forever watching for unapproved actions and reporting everything, even if there’s nothing really to report. How about we leave this to people who actually know the signs, shall we?

  66. Robin, I hear what you’re saying, but how would any of that have HELPED? The problems you describe seem to be either things that happened out of sight, or things that were known but the authorities egregiously failed in their duties after being alerted. In either case, how would the public being more generally aware of what abusers are like and the fact that abuse occurs, without having any reason to know that it was happening to you, and without being able rely on those with the power to stop it to do so, actually have HELPED you or any of your friends?

    I hear what you’re saying about how it would have been comforting to see the ad and hear that people were being made more aware of the situation. I’m not discounting the effect that might have on a child. But wouldn’t it make more sense to make people aware of the situation in ways that actually enable them to help, or at least provide real, useful information about what they could do or what they could look for? Providing you that drop of comfort along with some actually constructive information that people could use to know when or how to help would have been much better, wouldn’t it?

  67. Mudmama:

    My God, what state or country do you live in? Letting a 17 year old babysit a 10 year old, letting a 9 year old go to a sleepover, solitary art and music activities, home schooling, etc. were not taught to me ( a retired child services caseworker) as signs of neglect or danger. In fact these were common activities for my own and coworker’s children. If your child psychologist’s information were accurate I would be surprised and worried about the child protection services in your jurisdiction. Any other cps or social worker out there share my reaction?

    That said, I have seen people threaten to phone in false reports for revenge and to manipulate people. Usually a skilled cps intake worker will smoke this out in minutes, and if they don’t a cps/lea investigator’s visit will. We are especially careful when checking out divorcing parents. I have even had clients tell me their lawyer recommended they make a complaint to cps over some minor issue to be used in later divorce proceedings. It is a rough world out there and cps and the police sometimes have to sort it out. We have Judges and clients lawyers immediately and constantly reviewing our work and hopefully catching any mistakes we make.

    In most states it works something like this. Complaints are quickly referred to cps intake who decides what complaints are solid enough to require either immediate or later followup by police and/or cps caseworkers. Cps and/or lea(police) as first responders decide if the child or children are in danger and whether that danger is likely to be something on which the DA can file a legal petition or charge (if not, we leave). In rare situations the danger may be found so serious and immediate that the children are placed with a safe relative or last resort, certified fostercare. The next business day (if children removed, later if at home) everyone (often with lawyers) shows up for a preliminary hearing with petition/charge before a judge who reviews cps/lea reports and hears from the family and any lawyers. The judge then decides whether there is probable cause to continue to a future adjudicative hearing on any charges in the petition and where the children need to be pending that hearing (home, relative care, or fostercare etc), and whether children services involvement should continue. The judge also makes sure everyone is again aware of their right to a lawyer, including a seperate one for the children if needed.

    Sounds messy and complicated and it can be. It is very frightening for families and children who requires a lot of explaining and support from workers and lawyers. By the way, most Judges I knew who also had childre let 17 yearolds babysit, 9 year olds go to sleepovers, encouraged their kids to enjoy solitary music/art, etc.

  68. “As for the “kids with normal bruises” thing, thankfully, most child services people and medical people understand that active kids get hurt.”

    Yes, thank God. I was shuddering in dread when I took my one-year-old to the baby clinic with a big blue bruise on her forehead, but the nurse took one look at her and said “Been learning to walk, have you?”

  69. If they wanted to an ad about reporting child abuse, then they should have shown the woman actually doing something that would imply her being abusive, like smacking the kid or something.

  70. Pentamom, just because there’s no OBVIOUS signs of abuse doesn’t mean that there’s NO signs of abuse. Unless you’re an extremely paranoid person, if you have suspicions, there’s a good chance that there may be something going on.

    Haven’t you ever had a sneaking suspicion that you were being lied to but blew it off for lack of “proof”, and later found out that you actually HAD been lied to?

  71. Sneaky suspicions are just that, suspicions but not proof in a lot of cases. People are entitled to their own opinion but they are NOT entitled to their own facts.

  72. What I would like to know is what are the statistics for actual child abuse cases in which the initial report was someones “instinct”, just an instinct, not any kind of observation. Because if they are significant, then this ad would make sense, but I have never heard of that before. There is a difference between an observation (no matter how subtle), and an instinct, even the police women who were responsible for finding Jaycee Duggard noticed several unusual traits in her children that set off alarm bells, but they were observations. Because guess what? Our kids who aren’t being abused aren’t going to show any outward signs either.

  73. I agree with you Lenore about the paranoia (now normal) that pervades this ad. The other (sad) part of this coin is this: family moves into the neighborhood, mom had left years ago, dad (immigrant) is overworked working 2 jobs. 12 year old girl is basically running the place. After months and months of interaction, comments slip out. Me being asked if just the 2 girls (not the 2 boys) can come over right now because their uncle is over. 5 year old girl commenting about how weird pubic hair feels…and smells (what the?) and various other tell-tale signs. So I called Child Protective Services and couldn’t believe how much they WOULD NOT do. Stopped at the house once, family moved, and they never followed up. I am pretty level-headed, and was flabberghasted by their reaction of me as a mettling neighbor. It totally threw me for a loop.

    Maybe their reaction would have been more sincere if they weren’t immigrants? I don’t know but it broke my heart.

  74. The problem lies in what kinds of errors we’re willing to accept.

    If we notice something that might be abuse and we don’t report it and it does turn out to be abuse, we’ve made an error. But if we do report it and it turns out not to be abuse, we’ve also made an error. The problem is that we feel forced to choose between committing one of these errors. And we feel that way because we are in the habit of retroactively questioning our judgment calls.

    In order to prevent one or the other type of error exclusively, we’d have to go to extremes like paranoia or allowing children to be abused. Rather than choosing which extreme we’d prefer, what we really should be doing is forgiving ourselves (and others) for making mistakes in judgment in a situation of incomplete knowledge.

  75. Wacky I agree only in part with you. In your last paragraph you state… Rather than choosing which extreme we’d prefer, what we really should be doing is forgiving ourselves (and others) for making mistakes in judgment in a situation of incomplete knowledge””…. Bet those on the receiving end of mistakes in judgement would not agree and neither do I. If you have ever been on the receiving end of this kind of mistake, you would appreciate how soul destroying it is. This of course does not abdicate those monsters who are committing child abuse and neglect.

  76. WOW. Where do you even begin with this kind of thing?

    Ok, Mom didn’t take any time to discuss her daughter when the “friend” commented on how big she’s getting…maybe she was simply in a hurry? SHAME on her for not being an annoying, overly-proud parent who sucked 15 minutes out of her “friend”s day to tell about her daughter’s accomplishments. Or maybe the FRIEND was the creepy one, commenting on “what a big girl she is.” (It’s a miracle we give and receive compliments anymore…maybe the compliment-giver is a pedophile, potential stalker or rapist…)

    Yes, the little girl had on long sleeves–but so did pretty much everyone else. Was she hiding bruises, or staying warm on a chilly day? Too bad the mom didn’t say, “hey, I’d love to chat–but we’re in a huge hurry!” Then maybe the “friend” (who drew back in a very calculated, what-are-you-trying-to-hide sort of way) might have thought, “how nice to run into her–too bad she didn’t have more time to chat!” instead of instantly jumping to CHILD ABUSER!

    This is the kind of fear that causes people to lose their children because (as mudmama pointed out) their dishes weren’t done and there was some clutter lying around. You’d better believe when I raise my voice to my children I worry that someone HEARD ME, since all it takes is some nut to think you’re an abuser because you don’t say, “Sweetie, that’s not a good choice. Can you tell me what would be a GOOD choice?” every time your child needs some guidance.

    PLEASE do not think I am condoning abuse. But a firm hand with your children is NOT necessarily abuse. Too bad more people don’t know that, since we’re being overrun with coddled little monsters.

  77. I think the point is that child abusers don’t wear signs, not that every one should be considered an abuser. I don’t like the “trust your instincts” tag line, though, We have been bred out of trusting our instincts in this country and that line could create a lot of paranoia.

    but “regular” people DO abuse kids and many kids have no outward signs. It really WOULD be nice if abusers wore signs and more kids were safe.

    But most people are not abusers. And it does no good to the kids to start treating everyone as if they have done something wrong.

  78. [...] vague suspicion of child abuse, or not? Trust your instincts, says a public service ad. Bad advice [Free Range Kids, Common [...]

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