Most of us lead what would be considered low risk lifestyles; we don’t invite strangers to our homes a few minutes after meeting them, we don’t shoot up drugs in flop houses, and we aren’t turning tricks in some dark alley or parking lot. In other words, our chances are considered pretty low of being the victim of a violent crime. However, low risk doesn’t mean no risk.
I grew up in the era of Stranger Danger. In other words, I was taught that the man in the van with the lost puppy is probably a serial killer or at the very least, wants to shoot dirty pictures of me because he’s a pedophile. With the internet came new warnings: You don’t know who is really on the other side of the screen.
The dangers of the internet an strangers are real, but somewhat exaggerated. It’s the modern version of Stranger Danger. Internet predators do exist in all forms and they are monsters in human skin. They maim, rape, kill, molest, and do other unspeakable things, but they really aren’t the biggest concern.
I will point out that serial killers do tend to kill strangers, so we’ll consider that a bonus of those warnings, but it’s not a hard and fast rule and it doesn’t mean our neighbor isn’t one, it just means there is less of a chance that our serial killing neighbor is going to chop us up in and eat us for dinner. That would be high risk for a serial killer. Back to the point.
That means Stranger Danger is really more about warnings regarding serial killers and serial rapists… which completely makes sense. It started in the 1960s, when serial killers were creating a disturbing trend in the world; they were on the rise. By the 1980s and 1990s, it wasn’t really a disturbing increase anymore, it had leveled off.
However, teaching Stranger Danger never went away and it seriously downplayed where all of us are vulnerable: People We Know Danger. The truth of the matter is, each and every one of us are more likely to be victimized by someone we know and trust. Especially when it comes to violent crime. You are more likely to be raped by a neighbor, family friend, or ex-lover than you are a stranger. You are more likely to be beaten up by a friend, lover, or ex-lover than a stranger. And you are a lot more likely to be murdered by someone you intimately know. For children, it’s usually a family friend that is their biggest threat.
I’ll give an example: When I was 18, I got a call from a friend. She was in an abusive relationship. I had reported the boyfriend a few times when she would call me to take her to the ER. That night, she called and said she was ready to leave him, she wanted a ride to her mom’s. The boyfriend wasn’t home, she didn’t know where he was, please hurry. I did hurry, but I didn’t go alone. I took a friend with me, the man Malachi Blake is based on. I am so glad that I did. She had lured me to the house because the boyfriend was mad at me and wanted to get revenge. The Real Malachi ended up getting stitches that night. The boyfriend went to jail and served prison time for assault and got a broken leg for good measure. I walked away unscathed. I had known this girl since elementary school. I understood why she did it, but it wasn’t something I could forgive. Stranger Danger didn’t help me in the least with this situation. Knowing the boyfriend and his temper/drug habits did. I can’t even imagine what would have happened if I had gone alone.
Don’t cancel all your playdates just yet. Yes, people we know are more likely to victimize us than strangers. And yes, our children are even more at risk than our adult selves from family friends. That doesn’t mean you should lock yourself in your house (which isn’t all that effective really) or refuse to let your kids play with the neighbor kids.
What it does mean is that while teaching your children about Stranger Danger, in its many forms, you should also be teaching them about the dangers of people they know. As an adult, you should be aware of your surroundings, not just at night in a shady part of town, but at the neighborhood barbecue with all your friends. We are most vulnerable when we are unaware of those that surround us.
Awareness is our biggest weapon against being victimized. It goes beyond checking for strangers in dark parking lots. We have to be aware that just because someone appears nice, happy, kind, and even-keeled at the neighborhood barbecue doesn’t mean they don’t go home later that night and beat the shit out of their wife and kids because someone forgot to put away a dirty sock. You can’t see everything a person does, so it’s not a bad idea to be a little wary of going over to Bob’s house at 10 pm on a Tuesday when his family is out of town because he claims his garbage disposal isn’t working. Now, if my BFF called me at 10 pm about her garbage disposal not working, I’d tell her to call a plumber in the morning. Telling Bob the exact same thing, isn’t a bad idea. Now, if she needed an emergency plumber for a water leak, I’d make sure she wasn’t alone when he showed up, because I was raised in the era of Stranger Danger and so was she… but I certainly wouldn’t tell her to call Bob the guy next door to see if he could fix it because, like I said, she’s more likely to be victimized by Bob than the 24-hour plumber…