If I were in Singapore, or the Philippines, the answer would most definitely be no, but the US and other Western countries are gripped by paranoia and fear. Every man is a potential molester, deviant or criminal. Every woman, on the other hand, is safe. Or at least that’s the common belief, despite the fact that there are documented cases of female murderers and molesters.
Earlier today, I was checking Facebook and a relative had posted a link to a Wall Street Journal Article called “Eek! A Male! Treating all men as potential predators doesn’t make our kids safer.” It’s a good article, and one part of it in particular caught my attention.
In England in 2006, BBC News reported the story of a bricklayer who spotted a toddler at the side of the road. As he later testified at a hearing, he didn’t stop to help for fear he’d be accused of trying to abduct her. You know: A man driving around with a little girl in his car? She ended up at a pond and drowned.
At first I was shocked by the guy’s behavior, but after I thought about it a bit, I realized that I don’t really blame him. From the time kids are old enough to talk and understand what they’re being told, they’re told to be wary of strangers, and especially so of strange men. The idea that every man is a prospective child molester is embedded in the national consciousness. We grow up with it the same way we grow up knowing that cereal is a breakfast food. Not that it’s a good thing, but that’s just how it is.
If this guy had been found with the girl in his car, it could have gone badly for him even though he hadn’t done anything. They might have suspected him of being involved in the girl’s disappearance somehow, or at the least have questioned him and landed his name in a police database somewhere. Or, the girl could have decided that she wanted to tell a fun story, partially prompted by the questions the police would invariably ask her, not realizing the consequences, but having heard it on television and having decided it would be exciting. Maybe the guy would have been arrested and tried for something he never even did, all because he stopped to lend a helping hand to a lost kid. Maybe he even would have found himself being jailed over it.
Ridiculous? Well, is it really? How many times do you hear in the news that someone was found to have been innocent of a crime they were convicted of decades ago, and that they’d spent most of their life rotting in prison as an innocent man? Juries aren’t selected based on who’s the smartest. The prosecutor and defender fight to keep people on the jury that are biased in their favor.
So, it all comes down to a question of self preservation. What’s more important? That random kid, or your well being, and if you’re a family man, the well being of your family? If you wind up smeared and/or in jail over accusations of something like child molestation or abduction, it’ll have a lot of repercussions not just on yourself, but on your family as well.
Even if none of that happened, what if the kid twisted his or her ankle, or cut his or her finger while in your care? Everyone’s looking to make a quick buck these days with a lawsuit. If a woman can win a lawsuit for spilling hot coffee on herself and getting burned, and a criminal can win a lawsuit for hurting himself on a knife in the house he broke into, do you really think parents who let their kid wander on the side of a road might not sue you for a twisted ankle or other accidental injury?
And, beyond that, what if it were all a trick to get someone to stop and get out of their vehicle? Something like a kid on the side of the road, looking helpless and in distress, would be particularly good bait to get women into a vulnerable, isolated situation.
My relative asked me if I could live with myself knowing that a kid had died because I didn’t stop to pick him or her up off the side of the road, and the answer is yes, I could. It wouldn’t be a very pleasant thought, but given how stupid and paranoid most people in the US are, and all of the things that could go wrong, I wouldn’t want to risk it. Like I said, if I were in Singapore or the Philippines, I wouldn’t worry about that sort of thing. Not as much anyway, and it certainly wouldn’t worry me enough to stop me from helping some lost kid. Here in the US? I don’t really know. I certainly wouldn’t stop. I wouldn’t let the kid in my car. The safest way would be to call the police from a payphone and then leave. Depending on the situation, I might stop a distance away and call it in on my mobile.
What would you do? Would you pick up a random kid off the street? Would you simply call it in and keep going? Would you call it in and hang around and wait for the police to show?