Men & Boys in the Locker Room

Hi Readers — Just got this interesting story from Australia: Boys have been banned from a Sydney public pool’s locker room because the ADULT MEN using it fear they may be falsely accused of being pedophiles.

So, for a while the boys had to change behind a stack of chairs, and now they’re changing in an unused clubhouse.

This is not happening in clubhouses all over the place, so it’s not like a sweeping change. What IS sweeping is the hyper focus on — nay, obsession with — pedophilia, to the point where we almost can’t help thinking about it in any situation where men interact with children.

The other day I heard the story of a young man who was at the grocery and waved at a child in a cart. When the mom and child showed up in the next aisle, he waved again. By the time he reached the third aisle, the manager asked him to leave.

No one wants to ignore any kind of sexual harm being done to children. But our awakened concern is over-ripening into hysteria.  Sometimes a wave is just a wave. In fact, USUALLY a wave is just a wave, and ESPECIALLY when we’re talking about a man, a little kid and HER MOM, in public, at a grocery. So let’s try to stop folks when they start thinking in terms of the weirdest, wildest notion: That the young man is — what? — getting off on this sick encounter? Or “grooming” this stranger’s kid for the next time they’re together, which is probably never? Or planning to pluck the kid from the grocery and run off without anyone noticing? Even if the young man WAS a perv (and there is zero evidence of that), what on earth could he get away with in the canned goods aisle?

But when folks don’t even stop to ask, “Wait? Does this worry make any sense?” you can see where undressed men in a locker room would be wary of being anywhere near some undressed boys.  — Lenore

 

Oh look! frolicking prey! Or wait. Maybe they're frolicking false accusers?

 

Thinking The Worst First

Hi Readers — Let’s take a vow: Let us vow to see men and women as decent until proven otherwise. Let’s vow to interpret their deeds as non-malicious, until proven otherwise. And let us vow not to assume the worst first. Here’s why:

Dear Free-Range Kids:  You’re always talking about how its a real shame men are so often assumed to be predators, to the point that they hesitate to help a kid in need for fear they will be accused of having ill intent. A friend of mine told me something along those lines that is even more disturbing.

She was having a conversation with some male family members at a family gathering. There were kids in the pool and another male family member who didn’t have kids was in the pool, playing with them. The group of male family members who had children remarked that the other guy had no business out there playing with the kids because he didn’t have any. Since my friend also follows your blog, she began to ask them: Why? Why couldn’t this other male family member play with the kids? And why are men who either aren’t in uniform or don’t have children with them forever banned from interacting with children?

The men had no real answer other than that it just seemed “suspect.” My friend challenged that notion and told them about the little girl who drowned because the man who noticed her by the side of the road was afraid to stop and help her [for fear of being branded a predator if someone saw him with the girl in his car]. And do you know what their answer was to that? “It is a necessary evil. To keep children safe.”

Except — she wasn’t safe! BECAUSE of that attitude!

What is our society coming to that a man can’t even play with the kids at a family function? Or is considered suspect  for doing it because he doesn’t have children? Just so kids can be “safe,” men should’t interact with children unless they have their own?

To which I replied: This is sickening and sad — and ironic. Shouldn’t the dads be glad another grown-up is in the pool, keeping an eye on their kids? Shouldn’t we ALL be glad when we watch out for each other?

These paranoid papas remind me of the folks who were upset about the 3-year-old girl who walked a few blocks to the local fire station to help her dad, who was slipping into a coma. “She could have been kidnapped!” wrote some tsk-tskers.

What about the dad? He was ABOUT TO DIE and SHE SAVED HIM! But the “What if?” people actually feel smug and “protective” thinking up their hideous fantasies instead of looking reality in the face: The girl was NOT in much danger and her father WAS.

No, they think the worst, first: All children are in danger, all men are potential pedophiles, the boogey man lurks beyond the front door and any child who does anything on her own is asking for trouble (as are the parents who let her).

Our pledge is to reject Worst-First thinking. Our pledge is to think, period. — Lenore

Outrage of the Week Reversed! Maybe All Men AREN’T Pervs, Airline Realizes

Hey Readers! Good news! You’ll recall that British Airways had a rule that forbid any adult male from sitting next to any minor who was not his own child. Blogged about it here. The (unstated) reason for the rule? ALL MEN ARE PERVERTS…until proven otherwise. And since there’s really no way TO  “prove otherwise,” they airline simply assumed the worst.

British Airways didn’t move women, it only moved men, perhaps believing that guys routinely use this time in a public space,  surrounded by lots of other passengers, and people walking through the aisles, and flight attendants, to prey upon young folks. It’s a lovely view of the world, and males in particular. But Mirko Fischer took exception. Here’s the story, from the BBC:

Last year he was on a flight from London back to his home in Luxembourg when his pregnant wife Stefanie asked him to swap seats so she could sit next to the window.

He took her middle seat but cabin crew, who mistakenly believed he was alone, told him to move back to his original seat as he had ended up sitting next to a boy he did not know.

In June Mr Fischer told the BBC: “I felt humiliated and outraged. They accuse you of being some kind of child molester just because you are sitting next to someone.”

Fischer sued the airline for sex discrimination — and won. Though the airline admitted sex discrimination only in this one case, it has changed its seating procedure and will now group unaccompanied kids together. (Avoid sitting in front of that row!)  Unlike many American litigants, Fischer didn’t sue for a lot of money and, in any event, he’s giving the damages he received plus about $5000 of his own money to charities that protect children.

Protect them from real dangers, that is: abuse, neglect, hunger. Not from the vast majority of men who — surprise! — have zero interest in having sex with young kids. — Lenore

Guest Posts: Why I Didn’t Help A Lost Girl (And Troubled Boy)

Hi Readers — I got both these letters today and felt that together they make the point: We must start letting men know we TRUST them around kids. Thinking the “worst first” of all males is not only insulting, it is damaging the fabric of our society, pulling men away from their age-old jobs of  protecting and mentoring. (Yes, women fulfill those roles, too.  But the more the merrier!)

“You like kids? You must be a creep!” is a weird, paranoid, Nancy Grace-induced attitude. No one’s saying we should be naive about child abuse. But to have child abuse top-of-mind every time any man has anything to do with a kid is, well, perverted! Talk about ironic! — L.

Why I Didn’t Help a Lost Little Girl by Alan, in Utah

Our city had a carnival today.  While my 3 youngest boys were off at the dunk tank. (*Gasp* — by themselves!  With money even!) I was sitting at a table with all of the boys’ stuff (shoes, socks, stuff from the parade) when I noticed a little girl separated from her mom.  It must have just happened because she looking around bewildered at first, but within just a few moments she was crying pretty hard.

My first instinct was to go and see if she point out her mom, but Iwas worried about someone accusing me of something and being arrested and my boys coming back to an empty table.  So I sat and watched uncomfortably while this poor little girl became more and more agitated and crying more and more loudly.

Now, the part that bothers me the most about this is that there was a group of three women standing not 5 feet from this little girl.  They ignored her completely.  I finally decided to get up and do something and had gotten just a few feet from this little girl when one of the women butted ahead of me and asked her if she’d lost her mother.  As she escorted the child past she hissed, “Pervert!” at me.

I kept thinking of that poor man in England who saw the little girl walking who ended up drowning and was too afraid to stop and help her. I remember thinking when I heard that that there was no way I’d just drive off and leave her … but I know better now.  I’m much less likely to help a distressed child because I’m too afraid of what might
happen to my own kids.  And that’s just sad. — Alan

And here’s the other note

Why I Didn’t Help A Lost-seeming Boy, by “Philosodad”

“Stranger Danger” does cut both ways. Over the fall and winter I used to take my son to a playground closer to my daughter’s daycare. The kids there would ask me to play quarterback in the pickup football game (and let my three-year-old play, which was awesome). This was a lot of fun for everybody and gave the kids an unbiased referee (me), a quarterback who could throw deep passes (me), and a kid with a *brand new football* (my son), which is more or less pickup football nirvana.

One of the kids, who didn’t have a dad at home, got very attached to me… told me all his stories, wanted to stand close to me, wanted approval, Dad stuff, I guess. And because of this whole “stranger danger” mentality, I could just sense this sort of wary disapproval from the few other parents at the playground (none of whom were playing with any kids, not even their own) who just sort of watched. Watchfully.

I felt weird about the situation, so I just stopped going to that playground. Which was probably the wrong thing to do. It’s sad that even though I knew that I wasn’t a creepy stranger, I was so worried about being seen as a creepy stranger that I gave up a perfectly good opportunity to mentor a troubled kid for a few hours a week. — Philosodad

Oh no! A grown male near a child!

Guest Post: Stranger Danger Stupidity

Hi Readers — I think a lot of us have been in “stranger danger” situations like the one described by Renee Jacobson, a teacher for 20 years, below. Her blog is called “Lessons from Teachers and Twits,” and it’s a twit that she learned this particular lesson from. — Lenore

HEY LADY: I AM NOT A CREEP! by Renée Schuls-Jacobson

I was in the epicenter of suburbia, standing in a Target store, holding up two bathing suits, and feeling a little indecisive. A little blond-haired girl who couldn’t have been more than three stood in her bright red cart while her mother, standing an arm’s length away, sifted furiously through a rack of summer shorts.

“I like the pink one with the flowers,” the girl offered, unsolicited. “It’s pretty.”

“I like that one, too . . .” I said. “But I think I’m going to get the black one.”

Suddenly, the little girl’s mother swooped in, a deranged lioness. “We don’t talk to strangers!” she shouted loud enough for not only her daughter to hear, but for everyone in the entire department. Clearly, the message was more for me than for anyone else. Then she pushed the cart (and her little girl) far, far away from (dangerous) me.

Heaven forbid, her daughter and I might have got to talking about shoes.

Okay, I get that there is this weird, American fear about strangers. I don’t seem to have that fear, but I know a lot of people do. That said, 99.99% of the world is composed of strangers, so I have always been of the mindset that one of my many jobs as a mother includes teaching my child about how to respond appropriately to strangers because – let’s face it – sometimes, a person needs to rely on other people.

At age 10, my son doesn’t have a cell phone. He can’t call me or text me for immediate rescue. So if, for example, we happen to get separated at the grocery store and he really can’t find me after searching the aisles for a few minutes, he has learned to go to Customer Service and calmly state that his mother has gotten lost (ha!) and ask for me to be paged. Or, if we are at an outdoor venue, I have taught him to find a mother and ask her – this stranger – to call me.

He knows not to get into a car with someone he doesn’t know. He knows not accept anything from anyone offering him candy or kittens or balloons or free iPods. He knows not to go anywhere with a stranger asking for help. He’s known these things since he was small, and he’s actually had to put some of them into practice. I guess I’d rather have my kid feel he can trust other human beings.

So, really, what did the mother in Target succeed in teaching her daughter by sweeping her away from me so violently? That people are terrifying. That no one can be trusted. That the world is a scary place, and that her daughter is utterly unequipped to function in it. She taught her daughter not to speak. That even casual conversation is dangerous.

In short: That mother didn’t teach her daughter a thing about safety. She taught her daughter about fear. And as far as I’m concerned, she also taught her daughter a big lesson in how to be downright rude. –Renee Jacobson

Only Perverts Talk to Kids

Hi Readers! Just got this wonderful little clip from The Big Bang Theory (which happens to be my older son’s favorite show. Yes, even Free-Rangers end up watching some TV.) It’s all about what happens when a stranger talks to a kid. Sheldon, the main character, is — as you will soon see — socially awkward. Enjoy! — Lenore (who thanks Lin for sending this in!)

Outrage of the Week #2! British Airways Treats All Men as Pervs

Dear Readers: Businessman Mirko Fischer is disgusted with British Airways for treating all men as perverts and I hope he sues their pants off (as it were).  Here’s the deal:

The airline’s policy states that a grown male is not allowed to sit next to any child he doesn’t know.  It doesn’t matter if the kid’s parents are elsewhere on the plane, the revolting pervert…er…possessor of a Y chromosome MUST change his seat or the plane will not take off.

I am so on Fischer’s side! His suit arises from a trip he and his 6-months-pregnant wife were taking. His wife wanted to sit next to the window to be more comfortable, so he sat in the middle seat. Next to him sat a 12-year-old boy. The steward asked Fischer to change his seat and when Fischer refused, the steward ostensibly raised his voice and Fischer felt humiliated. Eventually he did change seats, but he is suing to make his point (and he’ll donate any compensation to charity): It is wrong to treat ALL MALES as a sexual threat to children. As he put it so well:

“Statistically, children are far more likely to be abused by a member of their family. Does that mean that British Airways are going to ban children sitting next to their own parents?”

It really doesn’t surprise me that it is a British airline with this policy, as Britain already demands adults undergo background checks when they want to have ANY contact with children — be it as the class mother who brings in cupcakes, or as the mom or dad who carpools kids more than once a month.

It is a country gone crazy with pervert fear, seeing smut in every smile and depravity in every dad. But the best way to protect kids from abuse is not to separate them from the entire adult male population. It is to teach them to say no to untoward advances, and report on anyone or anything creepy.

A creepy, weird, sex-obsessed airline, for instance. — Lenore

If You Don’t Want Your Kid To End Up on a Sex Offender Registry…

….please read this amazing letter to the editor that ran in the Eastern Arizona Courier the other day. So glad it was forwarded to me. Voila:

Dear Editor:

I am writing this because I am tired of seeing young men’s lives destroyed.

Young men, there’s a real danger out there you need to be aware of that can destroy your lives forever. That danger is young girls wanting to be popular by dating older guys. You know the ones, those who want to be known as the girl with the more mature boyfriend. It may even be that her mother thinks it is kind of cute that her young daughter can attract an older boy. She may not even mind your spending a lot of time alone with her younger daughter or even your spending the night at their home. It may even be that this young woman is sending explicit pictures to you and your friends on her cell phone.

I know you are probably saying, “What is wrong with this? Her mother does not seem to mind my being with her daughter.” This, however, is where the danger lies. You see, it does not matter what this mother lets her daughter do. If you allow yourself to fall into the trap of being sexually involved with this young woman in any way, your life will be destroyed forever. It does not matter that you have not done anything like this in the past or that you are known to most people as a great young man who is a hard worker and loves his family. It does not matter that you have many friends you have helped and have been of service to. I say it does not matter because in the eyes of the law you have committed a very serious crime and will be treated as a dangerous criminal with no value to society.

You will soon be known by some new names. These are sex offender, predator, child molester or pedophile. People will start treating you differently. Your employer, who has always been pleased with your work performance, will bow to public pressure and tell you that you no longer have a job.

Oh, and you can forget about finding another job because everyone who does a background check on you will see that you have been arrested for a sex crime. The newspaper wanting a front-page story will run your picture and write about how you took advantage of this innocent little girl. Strangers will come up to you on the street and threaten you. Others will call you on the phone and taunt you. Law enforcement will discourage them from doing this but will do little to help you. You and your family will spend thousands of dollars defending you in court and paying for damages done to your vehicles by this young woman’s family.

If you are lucky, you may get only three to five years in prison, but you could get up to 50 years or more. Then if you are lucky enough to get out of prison alive and not warped by years of being around hardened criminals, you now get to register as a sex offender. Everywhere you go, your picture will be published in the newspaper so people will know to avoid you. If you are lucky, no one will harm you.

For the rest of your life, you will not be allowed to be with any females under the age of 18 without being supervised. You will not be able to go to a public park or swimming pool. You will not be able to see your children participate in school activities or sporting events. You will not be able to go to the toy aisle at Wal-Mart so your children can show you what they want for Christmas.

You will have to pay hundreds of dollars a month in probation and counseling fees for the rest of your life. You will only be able to work in certain jobs and live in certain neighborhoods. I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture.

Hopefully, young men and you parents of young men will heed my warning and wake up to the danger that surrounds you. My heart goes out to those young men who have fallen into this trap, and to their families and friends who know their true characters.

Carol Chavarria

This Is When I Despair

Hi Readers! I usually don’t like to comment on the comments — “Everyone’s entitled to his own opinion,” etc. etc. –but this time I must. This comment arrived in response to the story I posted last night (below this one) about a teacher who wanted an author to speak to her fourth grade class. Since the  school and the author are 1000 miles apart, the author suggested using the video-chat service Skype. The teacher said no — not unless he could come up with a way the kids could see HIM, but not vice versa.

Then, to add insult to injury, here is what someone commented right here, on Free-Range Kids:

“The teacher is likely (legitimately) concerned that the kids’ faces could end up plastered all over the internet.”

Excuse me? Legitimately concerned that —

1 – A children’s author she has invited will turn around and take photos of her class and post them without permission?  That that’s what men do all the time? Can’t trust ’em for a second?

2 – That boring photos of a 4th grade class are so exciting that they will take the Internet by storm? (Because, of course, there are so few photos of school children available.)

3 – That someone will see this particular photo, obsessively focus on the kid in the third row and move heaven and earth to come find this child and stalk, rape or kill him/her? And that we must keep Third Row Kid safe at all costs?

These are insane fantasies! Perfect, text-book examples of the way so many of us now jump to the absolutely WORST CASE SCENARIO and then work backward from it, preventing something harmless or even wonderful from ever taking place just in case. Using this method of risk calculation, a teacher could politely request that from now on, no one serve her students lunch at school. Because what if one of the lunch ladies is secretly a psychopath and she is intent on murdering the kids one by one? It COULD happen, right? Let’s be prepared for the ABSOLUTE WORST! After all, we’re only thinking about the good of the children!

I am so sick of this “We must protect the children” attitude when we are NOT PROTECTING THEM FROM ANYTHING! We are simply seeing everyone in every capacity as a potential nut job and then we act accordingly. Who’s the nut job there? 

In this case, take your pick:  The paranoid teacher preventing an author from Skyping her class. The paranoid commenter saying, “She has a legitimate safety concern.” Or the paranoid country that thinks every time a child has ANY interaction with ANY adult, even from 1000 miles away, those children are in GRAVE DANGER.

When people think that way — and congratulate themselves for being so “caring” (not to mention clever! And proactive!) — THAT is when I despair.

Lenore

Outrage o’ the DAY: Dad Branded ‘Perv’ For Photographing Own Kids in Park

Folks — it doesn’t get any creepier than this: A dad in Britain takes pix of his adorable sons on an inflatable slide and finds himself accused of all manner of disbusting stuff. Can we say it again? We are in the midst of a Pedophile Panic!

When Gary Crutchley started taking pictures of his children playing on an inflatable slide he thought they would be happy reminders of a family day out.

But the innocent snaps of seven-year-old Cory, and Miles, five, led to him being called a ‘pervert’.

The woman running the slide at Wolverhampton Show asked him what he was doing and other families waiting in the queue demanded that he stop.

Gary Crutchley pic of sons Cory and Miles

Picture of innocence: The photograph Gary Crutchley took of his sons Cory and Miles

One even accused him of photographing youngsters to put the pictures on the internet.

Mr Crutchley, 39, who had taken pictures only of his own children, was so enraged that he found two policemen who confirmed he had done nothing wrong.

Let’s hear it for the police…and sanity! — Lenore